Lines of contention
Effective corporate and campaign taglines result from the perfect balance of brand strategy and creative expression. Good ones are hard, great ones even more elusive. At Melamed Riley, we fine tune the creative development process as much as possible by first focusing on a singular idea we call the Brand Essence — and then attempt to capture the environmental marketing dynamics in a strategic creative brief. But at the end of the day, most of the really good taglines developed by the agency are the offspring of hard, dedicated, often-painful effort by the creative team.
So, I find it somewhat ironic that some of the world’s best-known taglines have sprung from a wide range of rather non-strategic processes. Here are the “strategic” processes that led to some of the more iconic examples:
Process #1: Consult with a noted expert on the human experience.
Resulting Tagline: “Just Do It.”
The famous Nike slogan actually came from killer Gary Gilmore, who received the death penalty for murdering two people in Utah in 1976. Gilmore was asked if he had any last words and all he apparently could come up with was “Let’s do it.” When Dan Wieden of Wieden+Kennedy needed to create a tagline for Nike during the ’80s, something about Gilmore’s words just seemed to fit. “Let’s” was changed to “Just” to make it more emphatic. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, the creative team of Gilmore and Wieden has not developed any similarly successful work that we’re aware of.
Process #2: Repurpose the statements of famous personages.
Resulting Tagline: “Good to the Last Drop.”
While Teddy Roosevelt was visiting Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in 1907, he insisted on having a cup of coffee at the General’s dinner table. Supposedly, after enjoying his coffee, Teddy declared that the stuff was “good to the last drop.” Some years later, Maxwell House decided to use the slogan because it was catchy and it implied a “celebrity” endorsement. That said, there’s at least a small chance that the whole deal is merely advertising lore. Just saying.
Process #3: Sleep on it.
Resulting Tagline: “A Diamond is Forever.”
Copywriter Frances Gerety said the famous De Beers slogan came to her in a dream in 1947. That’s a pretty good night’s sleep because the tagline has been used for 65 years, Advertising Age named it the best slogan of the 20th century and James Bond ripped it off for a movie title in 1971.
Process #4: Ask the client.
Tagline: “We try harder.”
This one came right from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Since arch-rival Hertz had such a firm lock as the leading rental car company, copywriter Bill Bernbach asked Avis company president Robert Townsend why he thought anyone would use his company. “We try harder,” Townsend said. And they went with that. No word on whether Bernbach billed that hour to Avis. And there’s an OJ Simpson joke in here somewhere.
Process #5: Follow the strategic vision of Deputy Commissioner William Doyle.
Resulting Tagline: “I Love New York.”
In 1977, tourism was down and the Big Apple was getting a reputation for being dangerous and cruddy. So Deputy Commissioner of the NY State Department of Commerce William Doyle requested a catchy ad campaign to boost tourism. Designer Milton Glaser answered the call by creating the iconic image thinking it would just be part of a quick, three-month campaign. He had no idea it would still be in use 35 years later. We are still fact-checking “Cleveland’s A Plum” for inclusion in my next blog post.
Process #6: How it really works.
Resulting Tagline: “That was Easy.”
Ironically, this line was anything but. Leslie Sims, a senior VP at advertising agency McCann Erickson, apparently developed the positioning concept and then the hard work of paying it off began. While no exact production timeline exists, Staples’ Easy button and “That was easy” tagline took a good long time to come up with. This is generally how things work in the advertising business, somebody at the top gets a great idea, and everybody at the bottom spends endless months figuring out how to pull it off.
*This blog post borrows liberally from an article in published in Mental Floss.