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It may not be the marketing magic bullet, but a killer advertising slogan can help take your brand to the next level

Read all about it

Executed well, an advertising slogan has the power to influence a purchase decision with just a few words. So, while some people may live by the oft-said proverb ‘pictures speak louder than words’, plenty of creative minds out there are making their living from turning this statement on its head.

You could argue that ‘Just Do It’ and ‘Every Little Helps’ have almost become brands in their own right. The endurance of these slogans has played its part in cementing Nike and Tesco as the global giants they are. However, that is by no means to suggest that the advertising slogan is the be all and end all of building a successful brand – far from it.

“For me, it’s another tool within the brand identity system – the physical and emotional representation of a brand,” explains Shaun Bailey, the chief executive of direct, digital and engagement agency Jacob Bailey, and the chairperson of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Agencies Council.

“And while a slogan is only one element that makes up a brand identity system, the brand identity system is only one of many influencing factors that dictate an organisation’s overall brand perception.” Bailey cites media coverage, marketing communications, customer service, product performance, sales practice and corporate culture as the other key elements. He stresses irrespectively that a slogan “can be very powerful or it can be misused, but it has to absolutely differentiate you from the competition.”

That may explain why the leading brands invest big bucks on appointing the best of the best from the advertising world, who in turn invest considerable time and resources into making sure that the end result conveys everything that the brand stands for, and a bit more besides.

“This is the creative challenge, to sum up a business promise in a memorable way,” says David Howard, head of planning at London advertising agency Fold7. “Along with being a succinct reiteration of brand promise and business model, any line only works if it is also memorable and distinctive.”

Adam Arnold, managing partner of Zag, the brand consultancy and brand ventures division of global creative advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), adds: “It should be as enduring and timeless as possible. When this is not the case, and when it is changed regularly, it will categorically fail to add that critical intangible value to your business. It is very hard to cut through the sheer volume of marketing messages out there today, and it is doubly difficult to cut through without being consistent.”

Adam Arnold, managing partner of Zag, the brand consultancy and brand ventures division of Bartle Bogle Hegarty

And to really drive home the perceived importance of sticking with a slogan, Arnold concludes: “A slogan changed is more than a slogan lost; it suggests your company is either unsure of itself or flighty, neither of which engender love or loyalty.”

It almost goes without saying too that, as well as the slogan having to resonate with the consumer, the brand itself has to merit the slogan; it has to do what the slogan promises, or alludes to. Essentially, it needs to do exactly what it says on the tin. And there in itself is the classic example of a slogan entering the public conscious in a manner that many other brands can really only dream of replicating. What Ronseal relies on more than anything with its timeless slogan is believability; a trait which has certainly stood it in good stead for the best part of 20 years. Indeed, the credibility of a slogan is just as fundamental as its differentiation, durability, and memorability, according to Bailey.

“It has to be true to the organisations’ DNA and not a hollow PR exercise,” he states, before using the example of BP as a company whose slogan may not visibly tick all of those boxes.

“BP adopted the slogan ‘Beyond Petroleum’ a few years back (along with a new flowery logo) to emphasise its work on environmental/alternative energy forms and its new organisational aspirations. However, BP activity that can be defined as ‘Beyond Petroleum’ makes up such a small proportion of BP’s global enterprise when compared to its core extractive oil operations that the slogan, and therefore its positioning, doesn’t support the reality of the situation.”

Naturally, as with all things, there are various rules and regulations to keep in mind when developing a slogan – so a drop of due diligence also tends to go a long way.

Dan Smith, head of the advertising & marketing team at international law firm Wragge & Co, comments: “Certainly I would advise that any business looking to attach a slogan to one of its brands goes through the appropriate clearance program to ensure that it has its eyes open to the risk of any legal or infringement action from another business, and that it also has its eyes open to the risk of any potential issues under applicable regulation and self-regulatory codes.” These would include matters around misselling, for example, specifically the use of the word ‘best’, as well as an awareness of words that could potentially cause harm or offence. 

Drawing to a conclusion then, is it safe to say that companies can get by without a slogan? Thankfully, Fold7’s Howard is able put things in perspective for us: “Of course businesses can thrive without one, although there is little point in creating brand equity if no one is going to see it.” 

However, once the decision has been made to go down the slogan path, there is absolutely no margin for error. As Bailey elucidates, “If you get the component parts of the brand identity system right, then a slogan can without doubt enhance it. If used wrongly, however – it can also seriously diminish it.” So it is either one way, or the highway. How’s that for a slogan?


Case study

Adam Arnold, managing partner of Zag, the brand consultancy and brand ventures division of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), explains the thought process behind two of its most successful slogans


Audi – Vorsprung durch Technik

Audi was BBH’s first client, back in 1982. The marque had little awareness and even less preference among the British public back then. You had to buy one from the rear of a VW forecourt. We recognised that the most important thing to do was to impress on people that Audi was in fact high quality German engineering. This chimed with a deep truth about the brand – that it has always been been committed to bold leaps in technology. The line, Vorsprung durch Technik (Progress through Technology) does all of this semantically. It doesn’t matter if you can’t translate it – the vast majority of Audi owners can’t – because it intuitively implies Germanic precision and intelligence. Today, the UK market is one of Audi’s best performers and it has indeed become the leader of premium European marques.



British Airways – To fly. To serve.

Here is an example of BBH taking a statement from a brand’s rich heritage to underline a contemporary truth. It was stitched in to staff uniforms and emblazoned on crests – and it deserves to be front of mind for customers today. British Airways is entwined with the evolution of flight and air travel – its early pilots were literally pioneers – and all that passion and adventure is encapsulated in the words ‘to fly’. And the aircrew see themselves as dedicated to great service. This airline is not in the business of transport for transport’s sake – it is committed to an experience – and that is inside the words ‘to serve’. 

Adam Pescod
Adam Pescod

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