Coming up with a tagline for a business or institution can be a tricky matter. Unlike an ad campaign, a tagline is (more or less, as you’ll see below) enduring. A tagline is used to define the brand, to position the brand and to make the brand stand out from the rest.
A good tagline is more specific than generic. How do you know if your tagline passes the test? Ask yourself: Can the tagline be inserted after just about any company’s name? Could it easily apply to a business in an unrelated field? If so, then your tagline may not have a passing grade.
Not all taglines are designed for the same purpose. Some are more product focused, others brand focused.
Examples of taglines that hit the mark are “We try harder” for Avis, taking a poke at No. 1 Hertz, or Mazda’s “Zoom zoom zoom,” a reference to the sound its cars make. Bounty’s “The quicker picker-upper” refers to the product’s function. The pre-Internet tagline of Yellow Pages, “Let your fingers do the walking,” was a hit (and could still apply to the online arena).
Other taglines reflect on the brand’s reputation. Insurance companies take the lead here, with “You’re in good hands with Allstate,” “Nationwide is on your side” and “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” The last two are actually jingles, but it’s interesting to note that all three include the brand name in the slogan.
Like the brand itself, the American Express tagline “Don’t leave home without it” has become part of our vernacular. And KFC’s “Finger-lickin’ good” says it all.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rules. If you have a brand that’s universally recognizable, such as Nike, you can get away with a more generic tagline. “Just do it” doesn’t say a thing about the sportswear brand or its products, but it works.
In all fairness, I must turn the lens inward. At Annodyne, our tagline is more of a mantra: Change the conversation. It speaks to our commitment to innovative strategy and communications that rise above all the white noise out there.
The current trend, however, seems to be moving away from taglines. Many of the top brands — Apple, Starbucks and Whole Foods, for instance — don’t have taglines.
Most colleges and universities do have taglines. Like their counterparts in the business world, some of the taglines are spot on, others miss the mark. Let’s take a look at several taglines, both old and new:
Higher ed taglines that make the Dean’s List:
“Arizona’s oldest and most unexpected community college” – Eastern Arizona College
The website had the milestone-driven tagline of “Celebrating 125 years!” but I love the unexpected “unexpected”!
Speaking of unexpected, I’d never expect to find forms of the word “dangerous” or “radical” in a theological seminary tagline. This may be an older tagline for the school, but I give it credit:
“dangerously authentic … radically transformed” ̶ Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (MO)
“an educational experience for the mind, soul and spirit” ̶ Bethany Theological Seminary (IN)
Again, while I didn’t see the tagline on its website, it perfectly captures the seminary’s essence.
The tagline of another Bethany college made me do a double-take (although I didn’t see it on the website):
“Education That Lasts Beyond A Lifetime” – Bethany Lutheran College (MN)
“In with a dream … out with a degree.” – Blue Ridge Community and Technical College (WV)
“A different school of thought” – Kaplan University
“A Higher Education” ̶ Houston Baptist University
Gotta love the play on words! Note that Kaplan University® Online, The Kaplan CommitmentSM and its tagline are trademarked.
“A higher degree. A higher purpose. ” ̶ Walden University
This speaks to the institution’s academics and reputation.
Compare the next two taglines and see how a small change in one word makes a big difference:
“A Center for Jewish Learning & Culture” ̶ Spertus Institute (IL)
“A Centerpiece for Learning, Culture and Natural Beauty” ̶ University of Texas, Tyler
Again, compare these taglines and see how three words transform a tagline:
“…A Great Place to Start” ̶ Angelina College (TX)
“A Great Place to Start… Or start over.” ̶ Texarkana College (TX)
“Academically Excellent. Passionately Catholic.” ̶ Franciscan University of Steubenville (OH)
While the word “passionately” may dissuade some prospective students, my guess is that’s exactly what it’s designed to do. Bravo!
“Success by Degrees” ̶ Governors State University (IL)
Although not evident on its site, this tagline is a nice play on words.
“College should be like this” ̶ Indiana University Bloomington
As they (incorrectly) say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. IUB appears to have a bit of an identity crisis. The home page of its iub.edu site reads “What matters. Where it matters.” On the admissions landing page for the Bloomington campus of this site – http://www.indiana.edu/ – I found “College should be like this” as well as “Your ticket to the world.” Don’t muddy the message with multiple taglines.
Here’s an exception to that rule. On the NY Polytechnic School of Engineering site, the footer includes a line in which the last word constantly changes: “Engineering is global” “Engineering is life” “Engineering is mobile” “Engineering is creative” “Engineering is now” “Engineering is NYU.” Nicely done.
“Graduate to the good life.” ̶ Dunwoody College of Technology (MN)
It’s probably an older tagline, but the double meaning works well.
“Law is More Than a Profession. It’s a Calling.” ̶ Regent University School of Law (VA)
This tagline has an emotional appeal.
“Technically, We’re Better” ̶ Dakota (SD) State University
While it focuses on only one academic area, that’s what sets this institution apart from the rest.
“The Lake effect… on the rest of your life” ̶ Lake Michigan College (MI)
Those who live near the Great Lakes will get the double meaning of this tagline
“life’s a trip. get directions” ̶ Salina (KS) Area Technical College
Who says a college can’t have a little fun?
Higher ed taglines with a lower GPA:
“Higher Education Begins Here”
Been there, done that. At least a dozen institutions have used this tagline over the years.
“…Your Best Choice” ̶ Walla Walla (WA) Community College
…but not the best choice for a tagline
“21st Century Learning” ̶ Dodge City (KS) Community College
What about the 22nd century? Beware using dates in taglines unless it’s worded “Since 1889,” for example.
“Make No Little Plans Here” ̶ Oral Roberts University (OK)
The tagline is obscure and does not reflect the institution’s religious focus.
“North of Ordinary” ̶ University of Maine, Presque Isle
“Take your life North. ” ̶ Northland (MN) Community and Technical College
These allude to geographic location, academic excellence and future success.
“A Place to Learn” ̶ Ilisagvik College (AK)
OK, I’ll give them a break. “Ilisagvik” literally means “a place to learn” in the Iñupiaq Eskimo language.
And I think Alma College (MI) missed an opportunity here. My suggested tagline: Make it your Alma mater.
Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.
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