When Taglines Don't Work. Part III

Two months ago we looked at what taglines are, and what they're meant to achieve. I also encouraged you to try your hand at creating your own. Last month we looked at some author taglines that work well. This month, I want to round off this theme by looking at a few taglines that don't work, and why.

AT&T had a catchy tagline: Reach Out and Touch Someone. As an inspirational writer who has a lot of contact with people going through cancer treatment, I often encourage people to touch their friends and family if it is appropriate. By touch, I mean to reach out and hold a hand, or give a hug, to show them some love and care. So that seemed a good tagline.

That's before I looked up AT&T and discovered they are a mobile network company. Hmm. Where I understand what they're trying to say (I think) the idea of someone reaching out and touching me from my cell phone kind of gives me the creeps! This doesn't say what it's meant to say.

Electrolux marketed vacuum cleaners in the United Kingdom with the tagline, Nothing sucks like an Electrolux. That is a great recommendation for a vacuum cleaner or course, but it sure sucks as a promotion. Incidentally, although this was regarded by many as a huge blunder, the company claims this was a deliberate effort to gain attention. It worked! So, is this a good tagline or a bad one?

If you know Electrolux is a vacuum cleaner, it's a clever line. But if you don't? I know Electrolux is a well-known brand, but it is just possible there are some people out there in our global village who don't know. And that sucks! This tagline has a double meaning.

Kentucky Fried Chicken's finger-lickin' good is a well-known tagline, but they need to be careful if they translate it into Chinese. It then becomes "We'll Eat Your Fingers Off!" So it works well for its American market, but if it's used globally, and of course KFC is pretty world-wide now, it could cause some concern.

A well-known author uses the term HEA in her tagline. I read a comment by her on a blog recently where she says, "People would have to know what HEA stands for of course, but I’d assume most romance writers do."

Well, as a matter of fact I didn't. But then, I'm not a romance writer. So I Googled the term. I found it could mean:
  • Higher Education Act
  • Higher Education Authority
  • Hypospadias and Epispadias Association
  • Household Economy Assessment
  • High Energy Astrophysics
  • Happily Ever After 
  • and another 40-odd possibilities.
Ahh wait! She assumes most romance writers know what HEA stands for, so I'm guessing it's Happily Ever After. It's not her fault I didn't know that's what she meant, but then surely she wants her tagline to reach out and appeal to more than just romance writers? Maybe not.

Then we have
  • the car company that says We put people in front of cars. Really?
  • the airline that says, We get you there. Umm. That's probably a good thing. But they don't say how! It doesn't enthuse me to use their service. 
  • the spice that says it's Distilled in hell. As a Christian I would be apprehensive of sprinkling this on my food!
I could give many more examples but they're all there on the World Wide Web. You only need to Google "Bad taglines." The Internet has dozens of them.

It's not my intention to belittle the people who came up with these taglines. They're all pretty clever when you know what they mean. But what have we learned from these examples?
  1. Don't rush your decision. We need to consider the different cultures we're writing for, and think of whether readers in another land will understand our meaning.
  2. Be cautious of a clever play on words. The Upper Room, a devotional magazine that is published in over 40 languages, refuses to use any idioms that would not make sense to other cultures. That is a challenge; but then we're writers. We're up to challenges.
  3. Make sure it gives the message you want it to.  No creepy hands coming out of the mobile! Or people standing in front of cars!
  4. Avoid initials or abbreviations unless we are only using our tagline "in house," with a group of people that will know what we're talking about.
Hmm. Suddenly my tagline, The Write to Inspire doesn't seem so clever. It is of course a play on words: The Right to Inspire. Back to the drawing board!

How about you? Do you have any more advice? Points we should beware of when we come up with that startling, all-important, tagline that's going to shoot us up the charts of fame?

SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband, Rob. Her bookStrength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer contains 90 meditations based on her sojourn in the cancer valley.

Please visit Shirley's Write to inspire and encourage website or at  RiseAndSoar.com, where she has the Write to inspire and encourage those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or FaceBook

The first two parts of this theme can be read here:

Part I What is Your Tagline?
Part II Some Taglines that Work


Linda Wilson said...

Hi Shirl, this is not only an informative post but a funny and entertaining one! I'm keeping it in my "marketing" file for the very day I finally finish my book (soon, soon, soon!) and begin my marketing campaign. It will be a big help, so thank you!

Heidiwriter said...

This is great, Shirley. I love the "bad" examples. It really is difficult to come up with a great slogan.

LeAnne Hardy said...

Got some good laughs from your post. I once saw a billboard that used the expression "when pigs fly" to say how dependable they were. Except it showed the rear of a pig that had supposedly crashed into it, suggesting that pigs do fly, and so implying that they weren't dependable. Someone didn't think that through.

Magdalena Ball said...

Thanks Shirley - this is a great set of examples that had me laughing.

Shirley Corder said...

Linda, thanks for your comment, and I look forward to hearing that your book is finished! It'll be good to see your tagline!

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks, Heidi. Yes, I thought I'd done well until I finished the article and realised I'd nailed myself to the floor!

Shirley Corder said...

LOL! Thanks for sharing LeAnne. There re actually so many fun examples on the Web. I wanted to add more, but I didn't want to get myself sued!

Shirley Corder said...

Glad you enjoyed it Magdalena. There were lots more, but I decided to opt for caution. :-)

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Shirley,
I love your sense of humor! Thank you for giving us input about taglines.

Never Give Up

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Funny post Shirley. -- I actually like the AT&T tag line. My son lives on the other side of the country and I like the implied message of the tag line.

Shirley Corder said...

Glad you enjoyed it Joan.

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks Mary. Hope you have a chance to make use of AT&T again soon!

Karen Cioffi said...

Shirley, great info on why clarity is so important, especially in a tagline.

Melinda Brasher said...

Fun post. But I actually like the "nothing sucks like an Electrolux."

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks Karen, but as you saw I've written myself into a jam! I really liked my tagline. SIGH!

Shirley Corder said...

Melinda, I agree. I like it too. It's clever. But that's because I know Electrolux is a vacuum cleaner. :-)

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