Why ad agencies are terrible at taglines

Now advertising agencies are good at imagination and creation, at mocking-up and perfecting collateral associated with a brand. But, and at the risk of being hung out to dry, those skills don’t cross-credit for your first, most important story – (or tagline). These two to 10 words are a real challenge to uncover no matter how big or small a company.

And it’s precisely because a tagline has to do such a lot of heavy lifting from a communications point of view, that fact’s way way better than fantasy, that a writer’s far more likely to nail it than a ‘creative’.

Let me explain why the process of unearthing a tagline isn’t about creativity or imagination.

Creativity’s a birdseye view of the landscape. It’s an idealised interpretation which often has no relevance at ground level. This is why an ad agency-created tagline commonly fails to resonate…because it unsuccessfully represents the business’s value proposition.

It’s why an organisation’s tagline has to be unearthed in the business trenches, WITH its owners and managers.

Rather than floating out a glamorised but unrealistic set of advertising and brand words, tagline wrangling requires a storyteller, a writer with the ability to listen, intently, to take the lead in the task.

Tagline wrangling also requires a sound understanding of business. Therefore, before any crafting of words, everyone needs to understand what makes the product or service offering faster, cheaper and better for a customer (i.e. smarter).

Once you fathom what makes the company smarter (in the eyes of customers) then other questioning spotlights can be applied. By deeply asking the different, desirable and deliverable elements around a company’s product or service, you distill the One Central Truth of their message.

This One Central Truth may form a tagline in its own right, or could need two to 10 fresh words reflecting the value proposition being expressed.

Crafting these words is likely to be a tangled, fun and challenging process, but what you end up with is a draft tagline. It will very likely be the stage where a thesaurus comes in really handy!

Like any piece of art though, the draft may need refinement and modification. Sometimes a word won’t feel right, and a subtle change makes a tagline much more fit for purpose.

At this stage the draft tagline can be tested outside the firm – and just as importantly inside it.

The tagline and its informal variations needs to be a comfortable expression which rings true across many locales; including a BBQ for example when someone asks “what do you do?”

As your first, most important story – the one popping up in Google search’s brief two line explanation of your company, a tagline is much much more than fanciful words.

A tagline forms the tip of your communications arrow across all formats.

A tagline reinforces and is reinforced by all company messages.

As a story, it is a promise grounded in truth, not a statement floating in the ether.

As a story, your shortest story, along with business managers, your tagline is best discovered and uncovered by a writer.

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