Twitter has forever changed the way people communicate because being limited to 140 characters forces writers to be succinct. Even if you dislike Twitter, you can thank it for forcing people to shorten their prose. As editor Arthur Polotnik wrote, “You write to communicate…what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”
It doesn’t take much editing when you’re using Twitter to tell people “I just ate a yummy peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” or “The tallest building in the neighborhood is the library. Must be because of all the stories.” (Random tweets I grabbed when I was writing this post). But those words belie Twitter’s real use: instant communication with a simultaneously random yet connected universe of readers.
Those of us who write advertising for a living were tweeting long before Twitter was ever invented – we just didn’t know it. Because when it comes to writing taglines, 140 characters feel like a hopelessly indulgent all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of letters.
Consider some of the best advertising you’ve seen. Even though millions of dollars were spent on photography, special effects, and celebrity voiceovers, what you probably remember most are the powerful – and brief – taglines.
When we create a new brand for our clients, we find that the tagline is usually the hardest assignment we have. After all, the tagline is where we have to compress everything a company stands for and does in as few words as possible – almost always less than 10 and most often just three or four.
What makes the assignment even harder is that our job isn’t just to highlight the company’s business, but to create a compelling emotional connection between our clients’ products or services and their consumers’ needs and wants.
When we were hired by mortgage.com, our job was to demonstrate how their online technology made getting a home mortgage quick and painless. Our first suggestion, aimed directly at jaded baby boomers, was “Now getting a mortgage sucks less.” It was gently explained to us that the company’s investors weren’t entirely comfortable with that approach, so we came back with the heartwarming, “The easiest way home.”
When we worked for the United Way, we needed to convey not only that the United Way did great things for the recipients of its largesse, but that they also provided a vital service to the donor community they served. We did it in just six words: “Giving People Help. Helping People Give.”
For the Medicare HMO AdvantageCare, we expressed our concern for our customers’ health in just two words: “Be Well.”
For the GMCVB, Miami’s tourism bureau, we told people that Miami was the open-minded, sunny place where they could be free, uninhibited, and relaxed by inviting them to, “Express Yourself.”
Taglines are a great way to keep everyone, from customers to employees, focused on what an organization stands for. And they can be just as useful for individuals as they are for companies. Think of President Obama’s “Yes we can;” Muhammad Ali’s “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee;” or even Donald Trump’s “You’re fired!”
Each tells you who the person is, what you can expect from them, and what’s in it for you. All in all, a wonderful tagline provides a lot of value from just six or seven words. If a great tagline were an entertainer, it would be James Brown, “The hardest working man in show business.”