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  • Mark Jamroz

The Evolution of Taglines

Have I told you how great I am? Have you noticed that only I have the whitest teeth and freshest breath? Did you know that I’m 99 44/100% pure? Have I told you that I’m the best buy?

Once upon a time, three channels (ABC, NBC, and CBS) ruled the airwaves and consumers had little choice but to listen to the messages. Sure, you could tell your friends that I wasn’t the best buy, but your chat at the water cooler paled in comparison to the power of television broadcasting. So in the early days, ad slogans or taglines, were all about the product and its superiority. Even before television, 75% of your audience could be reached with one ad in the Saturday Evening Post and LIFE. No wonder brands talked about themselves. In 1882, Ivory bragged that their soap was “99 44/100% pure.” In 1927, Wheaties claimed to be “Breakfast of Champions,” and in 1956 Allstate assured us that we were in good hands. Around the same time, we were told the Timex watch “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”

As advertising channels widened, consumers were exposed to more messages and became more sophisticated. So did the taglines. In the 60s and 70s, the emphasis was less on how great the product was and more about how great the consumer was. Near the end of the 60s, Virginia Slims led the edge on the women’s lib movement, "complimenting" their users with the phrase “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.” In ‘73, Burger King broke some molds when they invited you to “Have It your Way.”

"Have It Your Way" -- Burger King

While BK and Virginia Slims took a bold stroke by putting the customer first, Gatorade in the mean time, took the focus off the product and moved it to the performance with their “Be Like Mike” campaign.

"Be Like Mike" -- Gatorade

It’s a catchy tune and Mike is the ultimate role model, but we all know the chances were slim that we would ever be like Mike, no matter how much Gatorade we consumed. In the long run, consumers saw the fallacy in that argument.

As the internet emerged, so did the empowerment of the consumer. Oddly enough, Nike’s early campaigns looked a lot like Gatorade’s. They featured the well-known athletic stars we all aspired to be: Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Wayne Gretzky, Deion Sanders, the list goes on. Somewhere along the line, Nike searched its soul and realized the real users of their products – the weekend warrior – would never be like Mike. It’s only just recently that the fashion industry has discovered this truth and has come to realize that supermodel (photoshopped) beauty is a lousy image for our mothers, daughters and sisters to try to live up to.

Nike hailed the consumer’s coming of age in 1988 with “Just Do It.” For once, the consumer was the star of the tagline. They built on that message in 2013 with “Find Your Greatness.”

"Find Your Greatness" -- Nike

Now the message is not about the greatness of the product. It’s about the greatness of the consumer. After all, Nike is nothing without the people that use it.

It’s been well documented that ad messaging has changed from a monologue to a dialogue. What’s interesting to note is how the conversation has changed. It has evolved from being a boast about the product to being about the consumer, and today it’s about neither the product nor the consumer but about a philosophy for living. Travelocity advises us to “Go and Smell the Roses.” Taco Bell tells us to “Live Mas!” Dos Equis urges us to “Stay Thirsty, My Friends.” IBM says, “Let’s Build a Smarter Planet.”

It seems brands have finally surrendered. They know the consumer owns the conversation and those consumers are tired of hearing brands brag about themselves. Taglines seem to be collectively saying, “live a full life” (and please use our product along the way).

This ad sets the poetry of Charles Bukowski to images and sums it up with the mantra “Live True.” It’s an odd statement for a whiskey, but it’s good advice to us and to your brand.

"Live True" -- Dewars

Today, consumers seek a promise that’s bigger than a mere feature of your brand. They want to know how you fit in with the belief structures that comprise their lives. Today's taglines are not about the product, but are commands to seek an ethos for living. In short, know your truth, show it, and share it.

I'd love to know your thoughts on it.

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