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Is Your Tag Line a Saber-toothed Tiger or a Slug? 
Score it With Our Tag Line Rating Scale  

by Marcia Yudkin, Head Stork, Named At Last

A tag line – the little slogan that follows the company name – is an important element in branding. It represents a prime opportunity to set your business apart from competitors, to make a promise, to set a tone or to especially invite the customers you most want to be doing business with. The same goes for a product tag line.

Yet in looking at thousands of tag lines from organizations I come into contact in my local newspaper, in magazines, on the web and in the mail, it seems most of them have taken a slapdash approach to choosing their tag line. If it contains some of the right words and sentiments, those responsible stop messing with it. In turn, that leads to serious marketing misses and sometimes downright disasters.

Don’t let this happen to you. Before committing resources to a company or product tag line, run it through this rating system from my naming company, Named At Last. If you can’t come up with a tag line that scores at least 27 out of a possible 30, go back to the drawing board.

The Named At Last Tag Line Rating System 

Rate each proposed tag line from 0 (horrible) to 5 (excellent) on each of the following six dimensions.

1. How distinctive is the tag line? As business startup expert Guy Kawasaki explains, if you’re not saying something that your competitors couldn’t also say, then you’re really saying nothing. 

When Florida calls itself the “Sunshine State,” it’s definitely something my home state of Massachusetts couldn’t declare, and I’d give it a 4 for distinctiveness. Likewise, Louisiana’s slogan of “Sportsman’s Paradise” is highlighting something California, Illinois or New Jersey couldn’t credibly claim. On the other hand, I’d give a zero for distinctiveness to New Hampshire’s “You’re going to love it here” or Ohio’s “So much to discover,” since any other state that was proud of itself could say that.

Also give your tag line a low score if it’s derivative – something you’ve borrowed from another organization. For instance, I see many membership sites using the slogan, “Membership has its privileges,” which both literally and metaphorically belongs to American Express. Similarly, if you were to call your tractor, “The ultimate mowing machine,” that would be clearly derivative of BMW’s famous slogan even though the wording is not exactly the same.

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2. How rich in meaning is it? If your tag line uses wordplay, a pun, a metaphor, a clever twist on a familiar saying, double meanings or if it’s rich in associations, give yourself a score of 4 or 5. For instance, “Nothing runs like a Deere” evokes the swiftness of a deer at the same time it makes a statement about the quality of Deere tractors. Morton Salt’s “When it rains, it pours” not only calls up a familiar saying for abundance and flow, it also gets across the idea that the salt doesn’t clump together in damp weather.

On the other hand, tag lines like “We sell the most houses in Carson City” or “Promoting healthier lifestyles” get a low score on this dimension because they are factually true, without any multiple levels of meaning.

3. Does it have energy? This factor may seem a little hard to pin down, but your intuition generally can tell the difference between a tag line that sings and dances and one that simply sits there on the page. Does it sparkle? Does it motivate? Is there an emotional impact to it? 

Compare the emotional charge in the U.S. Army’s call, “Be all you can be” or the punchiness of Lay’s “Betcha can't eat just one” to a boring, lifeless tag line like “Excellent, simply excellent” or “A new you in four years.”

4. Does it have rhythm? Rhythm makes phrasing fun to say and easy to remember. Give your tag line up to 5 points if it’s poetic, sing-songy, snappy, crisp or flowing. If it’s clunky, it gets a low score for rhythm. 

I give the Haig scotch whiskey slogan “Don't be vague. Ask for Haig.” 5 points because it balances three short syllables in two successive sentences and rhymes besides. In contrast, a college’s “A liberal arts education for life” has no recognizable rhythm whatsoever. 

5. Is it unrelentingly positive? A tag line is supposed to persuade and sell, not to equivocate or put forth a wishy-washy message. So score your favorites according to whether or not someone could reasonably misinterpret your wording as neutral or negative.

For example, an accounting firm calls itself “Bean counters with a difference.” Hmm, but is that a positive difference? It doesn’t say, so you couldn’t rate this any higher than 3 on positiveness. A spa that offers massage says, “We rub you the right way,” and that’s cute, but because it brings up the idea of being annoying, it doesn’t have as positive an impact as it should have.

6. Does it resonate with the target market? Remember, whether or not it rings your bells is not as important as the ultimate customers “getting it” and responding. Tag lines can run off the rails when it comes to resonance because the tag line is too cute, too obscure, ungrammatical, corny, unbelievable or overused. Find four or five people who belong to your target market and ask how strongly the tag line makes them want what’s being sold.

The tag line, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” became a huge hit with the public because it winked at the long-standing reputation of Las Vegas as a destination for naughty pleasures. On the other hand, something like “Escape to Wisconsin” provokes puzzlement in many people who live elsewhere and can’t help wondering “Why Wisconsin?”

Sometimes a tag line does only so-so in the resonance department because it tries to make a virtue out of something that should go without saying. For example, when a home health aide company says, “We care,” it’s hard to get impressed about that.

While working on this scale, I discovered a tag line for a brand I was unfamiliar with and ran it through this rating system to see how well it scored. “Barq's has bite” is a slogan for Barq's root beer. I give it a 5 for distinctiveness, a 5 for richness, a 5 for energy, a 5 for rhythm, a 3 for positiveness and a 4 for resonance – 27 out of 30 points. After all, if it deserved a perfect score, wouldn’t I have heard of it?

Need assistance or advice?  Get help coming up with a catchy tag line or company slogan.

Copyright 2006 Marcia Yudkin.  No reprinting or republishing without written permission.

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