What Is a Tagline?

Definition & Examples of Taglines

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Getty Images / Thomas Barwick

A tagline is a short, memorable phrase used in marketing campaigns to convey the value of a brand or its products.

Before you coin one for your business, learn about their purpose and see examples of successful taglines and how to create them.

What Is a Tagline?

A tagline is, by definition, a pithy descriptor used in marketing campaigns to communicate the unique value proposition of a brand or its products. More broadly, the goal of a tagline is to leave consumers with a lasting positive impression of the brand.

How a Tagline Works

Businesses use marketing campaigns when they launch new or improved products or services, break into new verticals or markets, or want to reinvent or differentiate themselves. The goal of these campaigns is to convey a promotional message to your target market and have the market act on it, and firms develop taglines to help accomplish that.

As a tagline is designed both to convey the value of the brand or products promoted in marketing campaigns and to encourage consumers to form a positive association with the brand in a short period of time, it boils down what is being sold and what differentiates it from the competition in a catchy and memorable way that provokes an emotional response about the overall brand.

For example, the paper towel product Bounty, manufactured by Procter & Gamble, uses the tagline "The quicker picker-upper" in marketing campaigns on TV, online, and beyond. The tagline conveys what's being sold (a product that helps you pick up messes) and what sets it apart (speed and absorption). But it's broad enough to apply to the brand's other paper products, namely napkins.

However, taglines don't always convey direct information about either a product or the brand itself. Often, they describe a brand or product abstractly or merely appeal to customers on an emotional level. For example, Capital One uses the tagline “What’s in Your Wallet?” in TV spots to indirectly reference its credit cards by associating them with a feeling of financial security. Apple used the "Think different" tagline to differentiate the company's products without mentioning them by name simply by emphasizing the company's distinctive approach. The latter tagline accomplished this goal using only two words.

Once a business creates a tagline, it can be used in any marketing campaign, be it in print (in brochures or newspaper ads, for example), in radio or TV spots, at promotional events, or on the firm's business website or social media channels.

Typically, a business sticks to one tagline for its marketing campaigns, but it may cycle through many taglines over time as it reinvents the brand or its products and launches new campaigns. For example, The Coca-Cola Company has used many taglines over time for its flagship cola, from its initial tagline of "Drink Coca-Cola" in 1886 to the modern "Together tastes better." 

The more you use your tagline, the more it becomes a memorable part of your brand.

Types of Taglines

Taglines typically take on one of five main styles:

  • Descriptive: These taglines highlight the brand or product promise. For example, Walmart uses the tagline "Save Money. Live Better." It conveys the brand's promise to deliver low prices on everyday products.
  • Imperative: Imperative taglines such as Nike's "Just Do It" demand that consumers take action and usually include a verb.
  • Provocative: These taglines are usually posed as a question to get consumers to evaluate whether they can improve some aspect of their lives. A famous example is "Got Milk?" for the California Milk Processing Board.
  • Specific: This type of tagline highlight's the business sector of a firm. HSBC, for example, once billed itself as “The world’s local bank.”
  • Superlative: These taglines position a brand as the best in its class. For example, BMW has used the tagline “The ultimate driving machine” in reference to its cars.

How to Develop a Tagline

Follow these steps to create a strong tagline:

  1. Identify the brand's or product's value by defining what you're selling, to whom you're selling it (your target market), and why that market should choose your brand or products over the competition.
  2. Decide which of the five tagline styles will best communicate that value to your target market. This will help you hone in on the type of content to include in the tagline, as well as the format.
  3. Establish the feeling or idea you want your customers to associate with the brand or products and the tone needed to elicit that response. For example, Pringles' descriptive tagline "Once you pop, the fun don't stop" uses a playful rhythm and word choice to communicate the fun and addictiveness of eating Pringles. In contrast, the descriptive tagline for DeBeers, "A diamond is forever," conveys the serious emotional commitment associated with getting married and the timeless beauty of the product.
  4. Put it all together and express the brand or product's value and evoke a positive brand impression in no more than seven words ideally, using dynamic verbs and vivid adjectives but simple, clear language. While you can be abstract, avoid phrases that are overly bland, vague, or meaningless.

Restricted the length of your tagline to seven words or less to quickly make an impression on consumers.

Tagline vs. Jingle

Jingles are part of an extended category of taglines. They're similar in that they convey what a brand or its products offer and what differentiates them in memorable terms that also provoke an emotional response. But they're unique in that they're musical catchphrases lasting no more than 30 seconds to a minute. Some, but not all, jingles are also taglines or feature taglines. McDonald's jingle "Ba da ba ba ba...I'm lovin' it" is an example of a jingle that features the brand tagline.

Jingles can be more cumbersome to develop than traditional taglines because of audio production and airtime, compared to the simple method of typing a tagline and publishing it in print materials or online, for example.

But jingles can be even more memorable than traditional taglines when they're used correctly. Oscar Mayer, for example, created a lasting cultural reference with its catchy, "I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener" jingle. Moreover, jingles are versatile enough that they may be recorded as a full-length song originally but then clipped to create a jingle that can be used in more places than the full song can.

Tagline Jingle
Visual or spoken presentation Musical presentation
Up to seven words in length Up to one minute long
Easier to develop and distribute More complex to produce and air

Key Takeaways

  • A tagline is a short phrase used in marketing campaigns of a business to sum up the value of a brand or its products and create a positive brand impression.
  • There are five types of taglines, ranging from the descriptive to the superlative.
  • When creating a tagline, express what you're selling, to whom, and why they should buy it, in a tone and memorable terms that speak to them.