Adopting a New Slogan
I wrote this piece for Deliver magazine, where it ran last year. A recent question from a client made me realize that it is high time to treat the marketing world to, as the networks call it, an “encore performance.” Please pay particular attention to the mini-study. It is instructive.
I cringed when I read an article on how to launch a successful business. The author claimed that after deciding upon a product or service, the next most important step was to come up with a “catchy slogan.” The article appeared in a national magazine. Heaven only knows how many more lame slogans you and I will have to endure as a result.
To be fair, there are good slogans. It’s hard to argue with, say, a mailer or TV ad that features a catchy line that also happens to be descriptive, believable and persuasive. Positive examples include a company that puts to charming use a double negative about nobody not liking their baked goods and, going back a few years, a watchmaker’s rhyme about its product’s ability to endure maniacal abuse and still function.
But needless and lame slogans abound, thanks to insecure marketers who fear a brand isn’t a brand unless they dollop it with one more flatulent boast. Often these slogans appear under the watchful eye of a TM or ®.
And thank goodness for that TM and that ®, too. Now marketers can sleep nights, secure in the knowledge that they have staked an official claim to the likes of “proudly serving you,” lest anyone suspect them of serving abashedly, or “a tradition of excellence,” which differentiates them from companies that brag about a tradition of mediocrity.
Not to be overlooked are myriad slogans using the word “people.” I came up with my own slogan for slogans with “people” in them: The Default Slogan.™ Or how about The Who Do You Think You’re Impressing Slogan.™ Sticking “people” in your slogan neither humanizes you nor endears you to your market. It will not set your business apart unless competitors start using slogans like, “Proudly hiring the dregs of society,” “Designed by feral cats,” or “Our employees don’t know which way is up.”
Bad slogans are not exclusive to amateurs. One of the reasons small companies come up with them is that large ones do.
But the real question is: Do slogans sell anything? For an answer, I conducted a mini study. I searched through a well-known magazine that carries an approximately equal volume of branding and direct response ads, and counted the number in each category that sported a slogan. As a Deliver® reader, you probably know that the effects of direct response advertising can be measured right down to cost-per-sale. Moreover, split-copy tests can tease out the effectiveness of individual elements such as slogans. (The ability to do split-copy tests, all but gone from magazines and newspapers, is still a major advantage of the direct mail medium.) By contrast, branding ads tend to be evaluated by indirect, inferential methods, such as recall, recognition and awareness scores, making it harder to link individual ad elements to specific results. So my underlying assumption was that if slogans help move products, brand marketers might know, but direct marketers would surely know — and use them.
Would you care to guess what percentage of branding ads versus direct response ads in my study featured slogans?
Every branding ad sported at least one slogan, some sported two, and one sported three. I suppose that last case doesn’t say much for the advertiser’s confidence in the first two slogans. As for the direct response ads, zero percent had slogans. I did not round the number down, meaning that not one direct response ad had a slogan. To paraphrase a famous, fierce direct response advocate: Between branders and direct marketers, who do you suppose knows more about what sells?
No law says your ad needs a slogan. History is full of successful, slogan-less advertising. But if you cannot restrain yourself, at least avoid the kind of self-serving drivel that impresses no one but the board of directors. Come up with a line that’s relevant, credible and compelling — from the market’s point of view.
Or, you could spare yourself the trouble, and spend your time applying already-proven tactics instead.