Taglines and Truisms

To bring her good luck, “white rabbits” was the first thing that my grandmother said out loud on the first day of every month. We all need a little luck, but we shouldn’t rely on it, especially when it comes to attracting new clients.

The first thing we say to a prospective client when they visit our website for the first time helps them to understand not only what we do but why we do it. We can also help them understand why they should choose to work with us over one of our competitors.

Take a minute or two to look at your competitors’ websites. What’s the first thing that they say about themselves? Do they say that they “design delightful digital experiences,” “craft beautiful experiences” or “create remarkable digital experiences?

It’s easy to find companies who introduce themselves with what they do, their proposition, but what a company does is only part of their story. Their beliefs and values, what they stand for why they do what they do are also important.

When someone visits our websites for the first time, we have only a brief moment to help them understand us. To help us we can learn from the advertising industry, where the job of a tagline is to communicate a concept, deliver a message and sell a product, often using only a few words.

When an advertising campaign is effective, its tagline stays with you, sometimes long after that campaign is over. For example, can you remember which company or brand these taglines help to sell? (Answers at the bottom of the article:)

  1. The Ultimate Driving Machine
  2. Just Do It
  3. Don’t Leave Home Without It

A clever tagline isn’t just a play on words, although it can include one. A tagline does far more than help make your company memorable. Used well, it brings together notions of what makes your company and what you offer special. Then it expresses those notions in a few words or possibly a short sentence.

I’m sure that everyone can find examples of company slogans written in the type of language that should stay within the walls of a marketing department. We can also find taglines where the meaning is buried so deep that the tag itself becomes effectively meaningless.

A meaningful tagline supports our ideas about who we are and what we offer, and provides a platform for different executions of them, sometimes over a period of time. For a tagline to work well, it must allow for current and future ideas about a brand.

It must also be meaningful to our brand and describe a truism, a truth that need not be a fact or statistic, but something that’s true about us, who we are, what we do and why that’s distinctive. It can be obvious, funny, serious or specific but above all it must be true. It should also be difficult to argue with, making your messages difficult to argue with too.

I doubt that I need remind you who this tagline belongs to:

There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard.

That tagline was launched in 1997 by McCann-Erickson along with the “Priceless” campaign and it helped establish MasterCard as a friendlier credit card company, one with a sense of humour.

MasterCard’s truism is that the things which really matter in life can’t be bought. They are worth more than anything that a monetary value can be applied to. In expressing that truism through the tagline, MasterCard’s advertising tells people to use not just any credit card, but their MasterCard, to pay for everything they buy.

“Guinness is good for you” may have been a stretch, but “Good things come to those who wait” builds on the truism that patience is a virtue and therefore a good pint of Guinness takes time to pour (119.5 seconds. I know you were wondering.)

The fact that British Airways flies to more destinations than any other airline is their truism, and led their advertisers to the now famous tagline, “The world’s favourite airline.”


At my company, Stuff & Nonsense, we’ve been thinking about taglines as we think about our position within an industry that seems full of companies who “design”, “craft”, and “create” “delightful”, “beautiful”, “remarkable digital experiences”.

Much of what made us different has changed along with the type of work we’re interested in doing. Our work’s expanded beyond websites and now includes design for mobile and other media. It’s true we can’t know how or where it will be seen. The ways that we make it are flexible too as we’re careful not to become tied to particular tools or approaches.

It’s also true that we’re a small team. One that’s flexible enough to travel around the world to work alongside our clients. We join their in-house teams and we collaborate with them in ways that other agencies often find more difficult. We know that our clients appreciate our flexibility and have derived enormous value from it. We know that we’ve won business because of it and that it’s now a big part of our proposition.

Our truism is that we’re flexible, “Fabulously flexible” as our tagline now expresses. And although we know that there may be other agencies who can be similarly flexible – after all, being flexible is not a unique selling proposition – only we do it so fabulously.


As the old year rolls into the new, how will your company describe what you do in 2015? More importantly, how will you tell prospective clients why you do it, what matters to you and why they should work with you?

Start by writing a list of truisms about your company. Write as many as you can, but then whittle that list down to just one, the most important truth. Work on that truism to create a tagline that’s meaningful, difficult to be argue with and, above all, uniquely yours.

Answers

  1. The Ultimate Driving Machine (BMW)
  2. Just Do It (Nike)
  3. Don’t Leave Home Without It (American Express)

About the author

Andy Clarke is an art director and web designer at the UK website design studio ‘Stuff & Nonsense.’ There he designs websites and applications for clients from around the world. Based in North Wales, Andy’s also the author of two web design books, ‘Transcending CSS’ and the new ‘Hardboiled Web Design Fifth Anniversary Edition’ and is well known for his many conference presentations and over ten years of contributions to the web design industry. Jeffrey Zeldman once called him a “triple talented bastard.” If you know of Jeffrey, you’ll know how happy that made him.

More articles by Andy

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