How to write a great strapline
The best brand straplines become part of our everyday vernacular. They can evoke strong feelings of nostalgia, make us laugh, challenge our beliefs and even deliberately make us feel uncomfortable. And of course, they can do wonders for our profile, businesses and brands.
And anyone can write a strapline. We could sit down and write one for your business in the next hour, over a latte. Why not? Well, because while anyone can write one, not every one of the many straplines or slogans we see is any good. And there have been some dreadful ones along the way. I’m thinking of when Dr Pepper came up with ‘It’s not for women’. I guess everyone who worked in marketing for Dr Pepper suddenly didn’t want to work there any more. Lloyds Banking Group excelled itself when its own customers, in a recent survey by ComRes, concluded it should be banned from using its ‘By your side’ slogan following the HBOS fraud scandal, not to mention its overall crappy service history.
And of course, the customer service ranking favourite BT has a new multi-million pound slogan ‘Be There’ that is either highly comical, ironic or insulting if you’ve ever tried to call them or book an appointment, reading more as a pleading request from yet another frustrated customer than a strong and confident statement of brand intent.
But there have been some great slogans too – Apple produced a classic in our industry and we take a more in-depth look at it later.
First, here are a few examples of brand straplines done really well:
‘No FT, no comment’ – clever, succinct phrasing hinting at clever, succinct content
‘It does exactly what it says on the tin’ – Ronseal’s grumpy piece of no-nonsense phrasemaking
‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ – the bold, untranslated line that gave Audi some proper German engineering credentials
‘Just do it’ – Nike’s slightly stroppy entreaty to sporting action, the undisputed gold medallist of call-to-action, attitudinal and monosyllabic slogans … in one glorious swoop
What makes these straplines so good is that (admittedly with the right budget behind them) they have become the most obvious and tangible aspects of that brand’s communication. They are simple, catchy and unforgettable.
Apple – the classic case study
Apple’s advertising slogan, ‘Think Different’ was created by the advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day that also coined Adidas’ slogan ‘Impossible is Nothing’, hence the similarity of the two phrases that both initially look grammatically incorrect. The ‘Think Different’ advertising campaign debuted in 1997, one year after Steve Jobs had returned to Apple, and it was highly successful in rejuvenating Apple’s public image and earned numerous awards.
‘The ads are for people who don’t care what the computer does, but care about what they can do with the computer.’
Allen Olivo, Apple’s senior director for worldwide marketing communications
The campaign included a TV commercial that featured the footage of icons of the 20th century, such as Albert Einstein, Buckminster Fuller, John Lennon and Martin Luther King, among many others, and the following words written by Rob Siltanen and narrated by Jobs himself:
‘Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.’
Narrated by Steve Jobs, 1997
One reason that the slogan was so memorable was the slightly irritating and grammatically puzzling formulation of the phrase, ‘Think Different’, which was criticised as grammatically incorrect by the ‘grammar police’ soon after its publication. The critics argued that the verb ‘think’ should not have been followed by the adjective ‘different’ but by the adverb ‘differently’, and so ‘Think Differently’ would have been the grammatically correct formulation. Nevertheless, the criticism couldn’t stop the positive development of the slogan and the outstandingly positive receptions it received.
The slogan and subsequent campaign were a turning point for the company as a whole and it became a cult – or even a lifestyle – to think differently from the vast majority who were using Microsoft’s products. With its slogan, Steve Jobs established a ‘counter-culture’ image of Apple and with it came the re-emergence of the company as the key player in the computer and ‘tech-lifestyle’ industry.
Get them right and straplines can strengthen almost every aspect of your marketing, and become so synonymous with the brand that you don’t even need a name any more. Which is exactly what makes the best ones so difficult to write.