Lately, here at Greystone we’ve been talking about updating our printed marketing materials. As I was tossing around ideas for a possible folder cover, I found myself using the dreaded “three word tagline.” My decision came about simply enough. I was thinking of a simple, straightforward design with the possibility of including a few photos. Anyone that is familiar with my design work knows I’m a fan of grouping in threes – photos, text areas, buttons, etc. So, as usual, I ended up with three symmetrical images on a nice, clean, light grey background. This was fine, but then I immediately grabbed three keywords from some of our old printed materials and proceeded to place one under each photo. There I was staring at three photos with three “keywords” underneath them. I have to say that I liked the look, but something still bothered me.
I finally realized that the previous day, I had read a brochure for the upcoming HOW Design Conference and one presentation in particular entitled, “Three. Word. Taglines. (And Other Horrible Branding Practices),” had apparently stuck with me. That particular session’s presenter was Tate Linden, who also blogs on www.stokefire.com. His observations may be a bit dated, but still relevant, nevertheless. In fact, his ideas and opinions were very helpful regarding the use and over-use of Three Word Taglines, or as he termed them, TWTs.
Of taglines in general, he says that “It seems that companies use them because they’re supposed to have something under their name and above their address on their business cards – but they’re not quite sure what it’s supposed to do.” This is the rut I fell into – thinking that I needed to have “something” under the photos, but not quite sure why.
Specifically, he notes that “There’s one thing that the TWTs do pretty well – they communicate to the people that work for the company. They see it on their cards, letterhead, and website. It’s a constant reminder of what their own product does (or what it stands for).” He goes on to say that “The only problem is that most of the companies using these TWTs seem to think that people outside the company actually care enough to remember which three words are the ones that matter.” In a related blog posting, he uses theTWT example of “Creative. Strategy. Execution.” and bluntly asserts that no one ever pays attention to taglines like this, and they end up sounding, as he puts it, pompous.
However, he states that there are satisfactory ways to use TWT and points out several interesting commonalities between strong taglines. These include representing brand spirit, using a slogan that is unique to the company, employing something unique in the slogan and using a tagline to address a specific audience. Tate uses Nike’s “Just Do It” as an example of an acceptable TWT. In my opinion, the words “Just do it” are a connected, flowing thought, unlike the previous example of “Creative. Strategy. Execution.” These words seem incomplete and read as if someone is hammering them into your head. Admittedly, Nike did an excellent job creating a personalized feeling and an image with its tagline. That is what all marketers strive to accomplish when creating a tagline and more broadly, marketing a business.
In the end, TWTs are not the enemy, but you should proceed with caution before using them. I did end up using three words in our brochure, not to break the rules, as I am often accused of, but because it worked for what we were trying to accomplish. So, I would say be careful using three word taglines because you may find your company being perceived as a “four letter word.”