Tuesday 15 March 2011

Whatever happened to the brilliant strapline?

A great article that needs to be shared by Magnus Shaw - blogger and copywriter

‘Let your fingers do the walking’, ‘Put a tiger in your tank’,
‘Don’t leave home without it’.
Just where did those fantastic company straplines go?
When I set out as green but keen junior copywriter, the briefs I most looked forward to were those requiring a strapline. You know, a string of words whose intention is to capture the essence of a brand, product or service and attach itself to the consumer’s perception. A sort of catch-all selling point that was probably once known as a slogan.

There’s something very pure about the creative challenge in strapline building. It forces the copywriter to be concise – you have no more than about six words with which to play, preferably fewer, so every syllable must count. But this short phrase must be informative, persuasive and memorable. In many ways, it’s the true test of a copywriter’s abilities.

Either those skills are rapidly vanishing or strong straps are no longer regarded as having much currency – because the overwhelming majority of new straplines are simply dismal.
Take for instance, the case of a well-known, door-to-door cosmetics company. The scope for a stylishly sharp company moto, perhaps hinging on the notion of glamour at home or convenient beauty is huge. But somehow, somewhere a copywriter pitched the strapline ‘Want It? Get It!’ and managed to sell it to the client. I’d venture that a room of sleepy ten year olds watching non-stop Rastamouse would have conjured something more witty, warm and winning in about an hour without charge.
When it launched, I blasted Sky’s ‘Believe In Better’ for its meaninglessness. It is still running and indeed appears to have inspired a whole new raft of dreadfulness.  Filling the gap created by Comet’s insipid, clumsy and ditched ‘We Deal In Your Ideal’ is Curry’s ‘We Can Help’. Now, I am all for simplicity – far too many brands and campaigns collapse under the weight of their own complexity – but ‘We Can Help’ has the appearance of a strapline that was sold to the first client who happened to pass by, whether that was Dunstable Social Services, The RAC, Dignitas or Curry’s. It’s meaning and message are so generic, so lacking in commitment, as to be utterly vacuous. Equally, if I mention the strapline ‘That Was Easy’, I am sure you would struggle to even guess the type of business being promoted, let alone the company’s name. Go on, have a guess. The answer is at the foot of the page*.
Perhaps we shouldn’t expect any better from high street retailers, maybe they’re losing out to their online cousins so badly, they can only afford the intern writer or – frighteningly – they’re writing their own branding material. But what excuse do Guinness have?
For crying out loud, there was a time when the Guinness campaigns were the high benchmark for creative advertising. From ‘Guinness Is Good For You’ to ‘Good Things Come To Those Who Wait’, here was a unique brand that really knew how to communicate its selling points and character. That’s all over and now we must suffer the nonsense that is ‘You Don’t Pour It, You Bring It To Life’.
Of course you don’t. And that’s why it’s so poor (ho, ho). A great strapline has truth running through it like a stick of rock. If doesn’t, it fails. I recall a meeting with a branding agency who were launching a new range of in-line skates. They were pushing the strap ‘We Invented The Wheel’. I argued it was a weak line because, although it was melodramatic, it simply wasn’t true. I offered the re-written ‘Re-inventing The Wheel’ and it received a far better response in market testing. Not because it was particularly brilliant, but because it was at least vaguely believable.

More recently I worked with a company gearing up for the launch of a new brand style and the replacement of their positioning strapline. I dearly wish I could to tell you who it is, but the most I can say is that the new line was glaringly and grammatically incorrect. Unfortunately, I had neither the remit nor the clout to have it withdrawn and must now watch the work roll-out with this carbuncle attached. Such is the lot of the copywriter who once loved straplines enough to be saddened by one whose construction is simply wrong.

So, if you’re a writer and you’re fortunate enough to be tasked with creating a strapline for a client, try not to see it as a minor part of a bigger brief or an afterthought. Give it a bit of care and considered attention, see if there’s a real gem lurking in the brief and test yourself. Who knows? You may just come up with something to match these beauties:
Every Little Helps’
No FT. No Comment’
‘Reassuringly Expensive.’
‘The appliance of science.’

*It was Staples. (But could just as easily have been Super-Noodles).

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