Taglines – how copywriters say it all in three or four words

December 08, 2009

Creative Commons License” photo credit: Jonty Wareing

For their size, taglines sure carry a lot of weight.

In just a few mighty words, you are making a statement that:

  • Explains what your business is really about
  • Conveys your promise to your clients
  • Works for today – and has legs for tomorrow
  • Touches an emotional chord with the reader
  • Is easy for your target market to “get”
  • Has “stand-out” value

It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

It isn’t.

For me, taglines are among the hardest things to dig out of my copywriting repertoire. And I’ve been writing them for years.

Five steps to nailing the perfect tagline

1. Promises. Promises.

Begin with a solid understanding of a company’s promise to their customers. What exactly is the product or service, and what unique factors make the company stand out in the industry?

2. Do a brain dump.

Create two columns: Product/Service and Emotional. Under Product/Service, write down all the possible logical words you can think of that may relate to this company and its product or service. Scan the company website and other marketing materials as well as competitive sites. Which words keep popping up? Which ones jump off the page?

Under Emotional, consider the company’s promise to its customers. What are the emotional benefits? How would working with this company make a customer feel? What pains are they solving and what are the positive results when that pain goes away?

On both columns, put a check mark next to the words that you think may have the most potential . . . Are they tightly connected to the company? Maybe they’re clever words that one doesn’t hear very often. Perhaps they rhyme with the company name, or have a double meaning that you can play with. Keep your mind open and consider all options.

3. Start piecing words together.

Look at the selected words in both columns and start pairing them up. Which product words deliver an emotional response? This tagline is for a package design company: “Ideas that celebrate shelf-expression.”

If the name is self-explanatory in terms of what the company “does,” you can afford to put more emphasis on the emotional pull, like this tagline for a retirement home for active adults: “Leave your cares. Live your life.”

Have fun with idioms. An idiom is a group of words that, as a whole, has a different meaning from the meaning of the words taken individually. For example: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Sometimes, you can twist these into clever taglines. This tagline for a recycling company plays off the idiom “nothing ventured.” nothing gained. The tagline is: Nothing wasted. Everything gained.

Visit www.idioms.thefreedictionary.com for suggestions of commonly used idioms. You can type in your words and uncover many jewels.

4. Check your ideas against competitors.

With so much riding on the tagline, you want to make sure that your list is fresh and unique. Thanks to the Internet, this is easy to do. Just type the entire phrase into Google and see what comes back. You’ll be able to tell very quickly if your slogan or something close to it is already being used.

5. Narrow them down to 4 or 5 winners.

Whether the tagline is strategically targeted, highly creative or predictably pedestrian, at the end of the day, the final decision is subject to a client’s personal preference. It depends on whether he/she likes taking chances or prefers to stay in the safe lane. Because of this, you want to include a nice mix of taglines. However, make sure each one of them has real merit.

If you’re a copywriter who writes taglines, share your tips on creating them here. Or if you’ve composed some winners over the years, let the bragging begin!


  1. What great suggestions! No wonder you are so good at what you do.

    To a lesser extent, I do some of these with headlines or subheads for employee newsletter articles. For example, I once used “You want files with that?” as a subheading about students at work for Take Our Kids to Work Day.

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