Where have all the great advertising tag lines gone?

Even before I was firmly entrenched in the advertising and marketing business I always admired a good tag line.
– 7up – The Uncola
– Coke – It’s the real thing
– DeBeers – A diamond is forever
– United – Fly the Friendly skies

I could easily go on ad (no pun intended) infinitum. I’ve also wondered why brands move away from what would seemingly be an iconic tagline. Why kill ‘It’s the real thing’? In a world of ever increasing marketing noise wouldn’t an iconic tag line stand out more than some new one (unless it was killer)?

McDonald’s, for instance has gone through many, as have most brands, and they like most brands that change have had good ones and not so good ones (“I’m lovin’ it” does not really do it for me).

So why do brands change their tag lines if they are so memorable and admired? At what point do the brand managers decide that what has been working no longer does and it’s time for a new one. Of course if you ask any advertising or marketing agency about changing an iconic tag line the almost universal response will be “Sure”. After all there’s money to be made.

But what if a brand marketer came to an ad agency and suggested they felt their tag line was stale, and consequently was considering a change. Could an agency have the cajones to say – ‘Actually we think your tag line is awesome even if it did not come from us.” The rule of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ can be applied can’t it?

I’ve noticed that Facebook has no tag line. In fact there are a number of brands whose tag line is either non-existent or completely unmemorable. And yet when I think of brands that have had great tag lines “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is” (bet you know that one) I wonder what made them think – yes it’s time to retire that one?

As you can probably tell I am a big believer in a great, iconic tag line. But am I part of a vanishing breed?
Are tag lines less relevant today than they were twenty or thirty years ago? And if you think so why?

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver, baseball lover
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6 Responses to Where have all the great advertising tag lines gone?

  1. Bill says:

    Is it a multimedia thing? I don’t think we have a memorable tag line, but our company icon has been carefully redesigned to display clearly on a cellphone screen, and we now have a “company sound.” (Both meeting with considerable internal derision when they were introduced, of course…)


    • markkolier says:

      It could have something to do with the large variety of channels available and how to effectively use a tag line cross channel. But we agency folks are supposed to be able to do that right? I like your thinking on the idea the way it will render on a mobile device – more people have to think that way. And the company sound (like INTEL) is another good idea. Thanks.


  2. Nader Ashway says:

    Thanks for this post, Mark. I, too, love a good tagline. I think Bill is on to something regarding the fracturing of channels and the explosion of online as a reason for their new short lifespan. After all, we live in this “everything can change in a second” world, and it often does in the world of marketing.

    Perhaps one reason that taglines don’t carry the load they used to is because developing one and supporting it is a craft whose practitioners are few and far between, and whose tenets are often misunderstood. A good tagline is something of a complete ad in miniature, and should at least tell you something about the category the company operates in and the position that company is taking in the category. What really gets me is the myriad taglines that are just nebulous “feeling words” that don’t tell you much about anything, especially the product. It irks me when I see companies invest millions of dollars (in agency fees, media buys and publicity,) on a line that says almost nothing, and doesn’t even point a consumer in the right general direction. What a waste.

    The true litmas test: if you REMOVE the company name, can you tell what the company is or what they do from the tagline? [“Fly the friendly skies” told you a whole lot about United: you immediately knew the category was flying, and you immediately associated United with the position of “friendly.” All in just four words. And the “Uncola” was a classic positioning ploy that did both in just one word. Wow.] That’s a start to tell if you’ve got a good one.


    • markkolier says:

      There were so many excellent examples of tag lines tha transcended the brand or time they were used and that’ what supports my contention. Why did they take the iconic ones and change them? Volkswagon Beetle ‘Think small’ is another great representation of saying it all with only 2 words! Apple took off on that with ‘think different’. Great points Nader.


  3. Chris McTague says:


    Came upon your blog — thought I would offer my thoughts. I work for a marketing services company that spends a lot of time in the auto sector. There are more tag lines in that sector than probably any other industry in the country.

    I have found that my clients often are concerned about the media/medium that they are seen in. And which media will really often justify or not, the need for additional explanation of their brand. I think Bill sees this too…

    If a firm sees itself as a typical broadcast player — it makes sense to include an audio tagline. If it is a visual media — say print or billboard — perhaps the imagery of the product is more important.

    An internet presence is mostly active reading — with less immediate audio. So again I think a tagline may not be as readily viewed on the web or on a handheld because the audio aspect will be viewed as annoying to the user…and possibly to his immediate neighbors.

    One example that comes to mind…Mercedes-Benz…The Best or Nothing. This line is growing on me…but in an amazing act of message control… the tagline is only allowed to be used by Mercedes-Benz USA — and not by its dealers.


    • markkolier says:

      Thanks for the commment Chris. You are right to point out that the internet is different in that while it offers an interactive and personal one to one viewing atmosphere, it is very different than traditional broadcast and outdoor.


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