A great tagline is smart, not just smart-sounding

Lettters in the air

A great tagline tells a story. That is, it conjures up a picture of your vision, what you do or what you stand for. Consider these:

All the news that’s fit to print

Just do it

The happiest place on earth

These taglines are frequently held up as hitting the gold standard: catchy, specific, simple. They’re above average because they evoke a story—of the newspaper that covers everything you need to know, an athletic wear company that believes you can do it, a theme park that delights.

Gold standard taglines are beyond clever

They also know their place. Taglines run the gamut from descriptive to emotive, but ultimately, a tagline is functional. It’s often the first thing people see—on your website, your business card or in your email signature—and it needs to communicate a core aspect of your enterprise. Gold-standard taglines are clever, but not at the expense of clarity; smart, but not at the expense of simplicity.

When creating Thinkshift’s tagline, “Brand building for revolutionaries,” we wanted to capture the essence of what we do and say something about our clients. It’s also a little mysterious, which sparks conversations.

Another tagline that packs a punchy description into a short phrase is “Planet-smart banking,” which we created for New Resource Bank. It’s snappy, memorable, and tells you exactly what they do. It also speaks to a benefit that isn’t obvious from the bank’s name.

The Earthjustice tagline, “Because the Earth needs a good lawyer,” is one of our all-time favorites because it’s a mini-story that’s very specific. Compare it to “Finding the ways that work,” the current tagline of the Environmental Defense Fund, which is vague and forgettable.

Sometimes it’s best to just say it

That’s not to say a good tagline has to be clever or bold. The tagline for the Fish 2.0 business competition, “Where seafood businesses and investors connect,” is excellent (Fish 2.0 is a client, but we can’t take credit for it). It tells a precise story that invites companies and investors to take part.

Taglines are a distillation of who you are, why you do it, the value you provide and the values you hold. They are best created as part of a comprehensive exploration—what you’d do for a branding refresh, brand story development or messaging work. They’re a natural fit with naming. But even if a new tagline is all you plan to tackle, it’s worth spending the time to develop a full slate of options and consider whether that catchy phrase is smart or just smart-sounding.

And it will be much more likely you create the tagline that’s fit to print—and fits you best.