Slogans schmogans – a Clayton Hove column

(a little something for small businesses, and also not-so-small businesses)

Much like college students and tattoos, there comes a time in many a young business’ life when it decides that it needs a slogan. Not wants, mind you—needs!

And just like the aforementioned college-era tattoos, some slogans turn out to be quite fetching, some turn out to be just fair to middlin’, and some turn out to be abominations that inspire facial reactions usually only reserved for the sight of messy diapers and roadkill.

The good ones are also the rarest.

Slogans, or “taglines” if you want to be difficult, were originally battle cries yelled by opposing highlanders before beating the snot out of each other. Nowadays, slogans are usually brief little descriptions, catch phrases and/or persuasive devices used to help sell a business or product by being memorable, informative, compelling and/or clever. The better the slogan, the stickier it is, which helps to adhere it to the consumer’s noggin. And if it doesn’t stick, then it isn’t any good.

A word of caution to amateurs: Coating your slogan with epoxy, honey or other mucilage-like substance will only make a mess. Don’t be so literal.

Does every business need a slogan? The answer is no. It’s better to go without a slogan than to saddle yourself with a bad one.

So what’s a bad slogan?

There are several kinds:

Slogan by Committee
By the time everybody is pleased, these often turn out to be vapid, meaningless assemblages of utter nonsense, and are closely related to…

Made in Generica
These unfortunate bundles of blandness are usually nothing more than wasted time and space. Some examples are “We’re here for you,” “Something something something,” and “I forgot what this one said.” If you can attach it to almost any type of business and it doesn’t clash, then it needs to go away.

Horse Pucky
This is the lube shop claiming to be “For all your automotive needs,” the realtor’s “The best homes at the best prices,” and the local greasy spoon’s “The world’s tastiest chicken.” Unless you’re being ironic or cute and your customers understand irony and cuteness, don’t fib or overexaggerate.

When a slogan is in a paragraph, like above, I put it in quotations so that it stands out a bit. When a slogan is in its natural habitat, floating free or paired with a logo, the quotes come off. This includes quotation marks within the slogan as well as outside the slogan.

To find out why, just visit here (and here for examples of their first cousin, the bad apostrophe). You know who you are.

There are more types of bad slogans, but you get the idea.

When are slogans good?

If your business or product’s name doesn’t quite say what it is or does, then a slogan comes in handy. For example, Jones and Weatherbee could be a bar, a lawyer, a steak sauce, accountants or a massage parlor. The right slogan could eliminate this ambiguity quite nicely.

If your business or product has considerable competition, then the right slogan will help you differentiate and compete. Don’t copy your competition. Rise above it and stand out. And if you make a claim of superiority over your competition, make sure you back it up with actual superiority. Otherwise, it’s horse pucky.

New slogans are also good for breathing new life into a brand that’s faded a bit over time. The rejuvenation capabilities of certain slogans are astounding. The destructive capabilities of other certain slogans are also quite astounding. Choose wisely.

If you can build a sharp campaign around the slogan, then it’s not just a good slogan—it’s a very good slogan. A slogan shouldn’t be an afterthought or obligation tacked on to your advertising. It should be the epicenter to it all.

And every once in a while, usually when you least expect it, the clouds of marketing will part and a brilliant shaft of blinding creative light will shine down upon you or your ad agency, giving you the perfect word or words to use as a slogan. When this happens, you’d be a fool not to use it. Granted, this doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should, but it does happen.

So what am I trying to say? Heck if I know, but know this—don’t have a slogan just for the sake of having a slogan. If it doesn’t do anything for you, get rid of it. If it isn’t doing what it should, get rid of it. If it no longer does what it did, get rid of it. And if it does you good, then use it!

Like a good tattoo, a good slogan usually isn’t free, but it’s worth it. Finding the right talent is often integral to its success.

And like tattoo removal procedures, bad slogan removal isn’t free, but it’s a lot less painful than having laser beams aimed and blasted at your various bits and pieces.

Tattoos work for some people, and some people are fine without. The same goes for slogans and brands.

Now don’t get me started on jingles….

(originally posted at for the North Dakota Young Professionals network)

One thought on “Slogans schmogans – a Clayton Hove column

  1. John Backman

    Very nice summation of what every business ought to know. Here’s hoping the people who need to read it actually do.

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