Tag(line)! You’re It!
What comes to mind when you hear the words, “The breakfast of champions”? What if I said, “Don’t leave home without it”? How about, “Just do it”?
If you’re like most people, you’ll quickly reply, Wheaties, American Express and Nike. And therein lies the power of a good tagline. Power that also is available to nonprofits: strong words.
In just a few words — and the fewer the better — taglines can help nonprofits define their mission and purpose, identify the communities they serve, and reinforce their market and brand positioning.
A good tagline becomes an anchor and a hook for your organization. It can create or reinforce your organization’s personality. And it can aid donor recall and memory.
And a good tagline is not only external-facing; it’s also an internal communications tool, enabling people outside the organization to get to know you better while also serving as a a rallying cry for those who work and volunteer for the organization.
When creating a tagline, the place to begin is with your mission statement. If your organization doesn’t have a mission statement, write one. And do it now. Your mission statement is a foundational building block, the cornerstone on which all your communications are built.
If you do have a mission statement, check it for freshness. By that I mean hold it up to the light of your organization’s current programs, initiatives and activities. Many organizations grow and evolve significantly over time, but their mission statements often are not updated to reflect these changes.
If that’s the case for your organization, rewrite your mission statement before you attempt to write a tagline.
Don’t repeat, repeat yourself
If the name of your organization states clearly who you are and/or what you do, don’t create a tagline that simply restates this information. You’ll be wasting valuable branding and messaging real estate.
Here’s a hypothetical illustration. Let’s say your organization is the Main Street Homeless Shelter. You don’t want a tagline that says something like “Helping The Homeless.” Your name already communicates that fact.
A better approach would be a tagline that says something like “Renewing Hope. Rebuilding Lives.” Or perhaps your shelter’s mission is to provide a range of services beyond a meal and a bed, which would be important for potential supporters to know. In that case, a tagline such as, “Housing. Counseling. Community Support” would be a much stronger messaging element.
If, on the other hand, the name of your organization doesn’t allow people to quickly comprehend who you are or what you do, then apart from changing your name, a good tagline can do the heavy lifting.
One of our clients recently posed this challenge. For legal reasons, a name change was not possible for Lutheran Association of Missionaries and Pilots U.S. As you can see, the name doesn’t reveal much about what it is or what it does.
While “missionaries” does give you a hint, and “pilots” is actually a bit confusing, it’s impossible to know by the name alone that this is a Christian outreach ministry to Native Americans. So the tagline needed to perform the task, which is why we developed “Christ’s Kingdom. Every Native American Nation.”
With this tagline we are able to better define what it is and who it serves as a ministry. And we’re now using it as an integral part of the logo on every piece of communication — from corporate letterhead and business cards to fundraising direct mail, from church posters and print and banner ads, to the new Web site we currently are building.
Much like logos and other physical elements of your brand, taglines also gain equity over time. Once you settle on a tagline, you should plan to keep it indefinitely. It should only change if your mission has changed so much that your tagline no longer accurately reflects your organization.
To help make this case using the examples I cited at the beginning of this article, Wheaties has been using its tagline since 1935, American Express has used its since 1975, and Nike began using its tagline in 1988.
To ‘ing’ or not to ‘ing’
I recently was asked to make a presentation at a Direct Marketing Association meeting on the topic of branding and writing copy for multiple communications channels, which included much of the tagline discussion in this article.
During the Q-and-A segment, someone in the audience mentioned a book she had read about branding where the author stated that you should never, ever use words in your taglines that end with “ing.” And she wanted to know my thoughts.
I hadn’t heard this particular “rule” before. And I’ve been around for a while, having spent 20 of the last 26 years working for advertising agencies as a writer for such clients as Polaroid, Red Lobster, General Electric and Ducati Motorcycles, before beginning to work for agencies that serve the nonprofit sector several years ago.
At that point, someone else in the audience, a creative director, said that she also tells her writers to find other words for taglines when they present her with those ending with “ing.”
I personally think it depends on the word. I wrote a tagline for a client a while ago that read, “Help. Hope. Healing.” I just don’t think “Heal” works as well in this case. In the examples I gave earlier for the fictitious homeless shelter, one of the taglines I proposed has two words ending with “ing” — “renewing” and “restoring.” I believe these words also lose impact if you remove the “ing.” The words “renew” and “restore” in this case seem flat and less active.
So if you’re wondering whether or not you should follow or break the rule regarding the use of words ending with “ing” in your tagline, let me propose this exercise. After you’ve written your tagline, try removing the “ing.” If doing so makes your tagline stronger, then leave it off. If not, or if it makes your tagline seem flatter and less active, then leave the “ing” right where it is. Rules are meant to be broken, especially the silly ones.
There’s a great deal of communications and brand-building power to be gained by nonprofits that develop and use strong, effective taglines. A good tagline will reinforce your mission and help distinguish your organization from others. It will bring consistency and focus to all your communications and branding efforts. And, over time, a strong tagline will help foster awareness and build trust in your organization. So what are you waiting for? Just do it!
Richard DeVeau is the executive creative director at Meyer Partners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.