Thursday, March 19, 2009

of taglines and toilet paper

so one of my current tv faves -- and there are not many -- is Trust Me, the new TNT series featuring mason (eric mccormack) and conner (tom cavanaugh), who work for a chicago-based advertising agency. it's full of characters that i'm sure most people think are exaggerations but which, based on my experience, are dead-on accurate.

in the show's pilot, there's a discussion about taglines, which are the pithy little slogans that usually accompany an ad or brand campaign ... such as, say, "live like you mean it." conner tells mason they don't need a tagline for a campaign they're working on; mason says they do. when conner says, "nobody remembers those stupid lines anyway," mason's response is: “Just do it. Think different. Kills bugs dead. When you care enough to send the very best. This Bud’s for you. We try harder. The ultimate driving machine. Uh oh Spaghetti-os.”

actually, i think both characters are right. most of the time, companies don't need a tagline ... but the ones who develop great lines and invest in them effectively over time can leverage those ideas to gain significant competitive advantage.

one of the comments on my recent post re wisconsin and its tagline debacle suggested that: "[most people] view a state slogan about the way they would view toilet paper...when you need it, you use whatever's handy, and you don't particularly care about the color, they ply, the softness, or the texture."

and i suppose that's true, except that if we were to examine the toilet paper (the unused portion, that is) in the homes of those people, we'd find... what? charmin. scott tissue. cottonelle. northern. and sure, some store/generic brands, which i assume are resting comfortably in the bathrooms of the commenter. a wall st journal story from last fall points out that poor economic conditions are operating to increase sales of store brands as consumers look for easy ways to save money, but it seems people are more willing to scrimp on napkins and paper towels, and "toilet paper is holding up best."

the point is, a good tagline can help to solidify the emotional connection that all great brands have with their consumers. in "just do it," nike expressed the feeling that each of us has in our body somewhere, way down underneath the cheeseburger-and-fries excesses, an athlete, capable of physical excellence. we just have to get off the couch, which nike is happy to help us do, so long as we have $65 for a t-shirt (shirt = $5; nike logo = $60).

why do we have $65 for a nike shirt as opposed to $5 for the exact same cotton T from wal-mart? i suppose because we've come to believe that we somehow won't be able to "just do it" as well with walmart. they, after all, are about helping us save money so we can live better. i wonder if they thought that we'd be taking all that saved coin and spending it on nike stuff elsewhere???

great taglines can find their way into popular culture in a way that mission statements, value propositions and corporate-speak just can't. this may be reason enough to have one, although it's not an activity for the faint of heart (or pocketbook). but when you consider the impact on your target's propensity to purchase, the rationale is there. it's true nike spends a boatload on advertising ... but they make significantly greater money by selling products carrying the swoosh.

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