A love/hate relationship?

First let me be perfectly honest - I confess to loving brand strap-lines. Over the years they have become an integral yet subtle backwash to my everyday life and I am not ashamed to admit it! However, I realise that they can, for some people, all too readily become an intrusion and a source of confusion?

But first – let's go back to basics - What exactly is a strap-line or 'Brand Strap'?

Brand Strap-lines are also sometimes referred to as tag lines, brand-lines or slogans. Terminology apart these written word devices can, if created with care and consideration can form the central plank for building a comprehensive and effective marketing strategy.

A marketing strap-line should above all else epitomise exactly what an organisation, brand, product, service and increasingly a destination stands for through just a few carefully chosen and structured words. The choice of words may be deliberately inspirational - often confirming or underpinning a brand's philosophy, or in some cases can just be witty, occasionally provocative and maybe even a little cheeky.

The goal is to create a memorable form of words, a phrase, or ditty that will sum up the promoted brand, product or destination. It is possible to create a promotional campaign or marketing strategy without ever employing a strap-line but their use is becoming increasingly commonplace and when used intelligently and consistently, strap-lines can be a secret weapon, hidden in pain sight so to speak– quietly doing their job - supporting all the other marketing messages.

Once established and working for their living, brand strap-lines can be adapted and woven into a wide range of content to keep a consistent message running through consumer facing promotions – keeping a sense of consumer awareness and affinity whilst stimulating interest in new products and ideas. A prime example of this being Nike's classic 'Just Do it' which can be turned into a family of related straps including 'Just Swing It', 'Just kick it' - the options are endless...

A great brand strap can be a self-generating metaphorical 'marketing power station'. Constructed from just a few well-selected words or phrases, strap-lines have the power to inspire strong brand associations among consumers and thus enhance company brand equity, brand loyalty and not forgetting brand legacy.

Some are designed deliberately to spur you to excel, do more, run harder, jump higher, look better or go further, others may simply be a more subtlety clever play on words that can be equally effective in achieving marketing goals.

Often in direct association with your company name and logo, a strap-line offers your target consumers an additional piece of information about your brand. A strap-line does not have to be descriptive but should never the less; seek to inform the end user exactly what you are all about. A good strap-line will instantly form a connection in the consumer's mind with a brand, product/service offering or destination.

To be effective and successful, the underpinning concept behind the strap-line must be creative, thought provoking, memorable and of course make sense!

The benefits of developing and using your own brand strap-line include:

  • Instant brand positioning in just a few words
  • A memorable hook for potential customers
  • Help to develop affinity with your brand
  • Market differentiation amongst your competitors

It is almost impossible to go through a normal day without being bombarded by brand strap-lines. Over the years brands' strap-lines have come and gone like the wind but the truly unique ones have gained legendary status! Indeed, it could be argued that some of the old ones are the best? - Can you believe that 'Ah, Bisto!' from the gravy powder originators Bisto (Premier Foods) dates back to 1919!

Strap-lines are most definitely part of my everyday life. Sometimes in the car I've been known to let out a tune or two. One of my favourite random tunes is a short burst of "ba da ba ba baaaaaa" followed by my children in the back of the car immediately singing back to me "I'm lovin it!" testament to the strength of the class leading 2003 strap-line from McDonalds.

I'm also partial to a blast of "Always Coca-Cola" jingle from 1993 - a very clever strap from the world's most famous soft drinks brand. Another jingle that I can never get out of my head and I always have to belt out it is the 1989 classic "The best a man can get" from Gillette.

Having spent many years working within the Adidas group I must of necessity mention the perfectly formed 'Impossible is nothing' strap that has been associated with the brand since 2004 – a strap-line legend in the making?

Whilst writing this article my wife happened to pop her head into my office and not one to turn down an opportunity to have a conversation about favourite strap-lines I enquired what her choice would be? - Without hesitation her face lit up and with a flick of the hair she pronounced 'Because you're worth it', L'Oreal's timeless classic, originally conceived in 1971!

Some strap-lines that are so embedded into our unconscious, that they infiltrate everyday life without us even noticing it. The really successful ones have even been adapted by the consumer, I'm forever saying 'Once you pop' from the brilliant 'Once you pop you cant stop' Pringle's 1990 advertising campaign. Another strap-line I use on a regular basis is Ronseal's 1994 campaign 'Does exactly what is says on the tin'– so much so that I feel I owe them royalty payment!

There are even strap-lines out there that people who quote them may not even be able to translate such as Audis 1980's 'Vorsprung Durch Technik' which translates less prosaically in English as 'Advancement through Technology'. Not quite the same ring to it?

However, developing a robust strap-line that both works and has the potential to survive is much harder than it sounds.

Here are some golden rules and examples:

  • Ensure it has substance and meaning – 'Buy It. Sell It. Love It' - Ebay
  • Pack a Punch ideally with no more than five words – 'Little Tasty Drinks' - Innocent
  • Make it memorable - 'You can do it if you B&Q it' – B&Q
  • Stay on message by adding an extra dimension to the brand – 'Helpful Banking' - Natwest
  • Be creative, if it's exciting it's timeless – 'Taste the rainbow' - Skittles
  • Promote and reinforce your brand's value and ethos – 'Just Do It' - Nike
  • Engage with your target audience – 'The world's local bank' - HSBC
  • Simple is not stupid – 'Think different' – Apple

The above are merely a few of a host of strap-lines that colour our everyday world – the background music to our consumer world.

With 'practice what you preach' firmly in mind, my own organisation DESTINATION has only recently developed its own new strap-line – something we've been working on together as a team. Our unique role is all about generating awareness, interest and footfall for consumer and visitor destinations - in effect creating an attraction; hence we've adopted 'become our next big thing' as the focus for what we do best.

Now where was I – oh yes, thinking about strap-lines - definitely a case of 'Love it or hate it' - Marmite 1996.

Oh dear, there I go again - strap-lines really do seem here to stay!!

Matt Baker