The art of slogan writing: why you can’t ‘Just Do It’

I’ve been writing professionally for quite a long time now. 16 years. And in that time, I’ve been asked to generate company slogans maybe 40 times…in total.

That’s an average of 2.5 asks per year or 0.04 asks per week.

But in the first 8 weeks of South Africa’s 2020 lockdown, I was asked to generate slogans – also known as taglines, straplines or catchphrases – 5 times.

Now I don’t know what’s causing this client obsession with slogan generation. But I do know how tricky they are to write. They take a lot of research and a LOT of brain power. They may be small, but they can’t be dashed off in an hour, or in the shower.

This got me thinking.

So, if you’re wanting a new or refreshed slogan, tagline or catchphrase for a product, service or campaign (or your clients are), here’s some advice for you:

Start with a plan.

Where’s the slogan going to appear when it’s done? What’s it for? What’s the goal? Are there space, style or other parameters?

List the facts.

Explicitly unpack all of the key benefits that the user will receive. You won’t necessarily use these in your slogan, but it’ll help you to have them written down.

Find the USP*.

Differentiate. You need to tell the reader not what you do, but why you do it. Or rather, why they should care. Yup, that old Simon Sinek chestnut.

Make a short list of why you’re offering this product, service, etc, and a long list of why they should give a shit. It’s important to lift and separate from your competitors:

    • All the News That’s Fit to Print (The New York Times)
    • We Try Harder (Avis)
    • Think different. (Apple)

* Unique Selling Proposition

Write one sentence. 

This isn’t your slogan – not yet.

By shaving your facts and USP into a quick, clear nugget, you may start to find an angle for your slogan. Use as few words as possible. This isn’t easy, but it will force you to think about what’s relevant, and what might be unnecessary information.

Get the name down.

Write down the name of the product, service, brand or campaign. This has two functions: It ensures that your slogan complements your existing name, but it also means that you don’t have to repeat words. So if the business is called Online Sign Design, your slogan should not include the words ‘online’, ‘sign’ or ‘design’.

Use some tricks.

  • The sweet spot is 6-8 words in length, although some of the most famous slogans contain 4 words or less.
  • Consider including elements of a proverb, an idiom, a piece of pop culture or a well-known expression. These can provide a creative way to style your slogan. Look at these examples:
      • Have it your way (Burger King)
      • Beauty Outside. Beast Inside. (Mac)
      • I Think, Therefore IBM (IBM)
  • Ideally, your slogan should rhyme, have a rhythm, or have a ring to it.
    • For rhyming, you can use to help you.
      • Once you pop, you can’t stop (Pringles)
      • Wotalotigot! (Smarties)
      • Space. Pace. (Jaguar)
    • For rhythm, you can use the Rule of Three, like these:
      • Buy It. Sell It. Love It. (EBay)
      • Snap, Crackle, Pop (Rice Krispies)
      • Beauty. And Soul. (Aston Martin)
    • And for a ring, I find that alliteration, alternating alliteration and assonance work well:
      • Outplay. Outlast. (Survivor)
      • Push Button Publishing (Blogger)
      • Shave Time. Shave Money. (Dollar Shave Club)
  • Finally, there’s what the Neoclassicists called “the lowest form of wit”: punning. I love a good pun. Provided that it’s a GOOD pun. Like this one:
      • Understanding comes with Time (Time Magazine)

Tiffany Markman gives good advice on words and writing. Want some?

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