Changing Minds by Changing Words

  Finding the right words – crafting an exact persuasive image – is like using your pen as a surgeon’s scalpel. Of course, you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to craft a strong slogan, but those delicate shifts in word choice can certainly affect how people’s brains process the message.

I’ve purposely avoided political topics in this blog, which may explain my silence over the past week or so. (“If you can’t say anything nice…”) But here are a few interesting shifts in propaganda on hot topics worth noting.

GLOBAL WARMING: Is it getting cold again? The latest Farmer’s Almanac claims that we may have a long, cold winter this season. They cite lots of natural indicators, like early fog and more nuts on the trees than usual.  Globally, there are many scientific sources (from actual meteorologists) who fear that global warming may simply be popularized bad science. My three lousy science classes in college do not really qualify me to form an opinion on this matter – I’m just focused on the words.

So, when it’s February in northeast Ohio, where’s Al Gore when you need him?

Well, it’s tough to host a Global Warming rally in the snow. So the advocates carefully shifted the conversation to “Climate Change.” Smart move, as the climate is always changing. That’s what climates do. How can one argue against that?

The well-crafted shift from “Global Warming” to “Climate Change” helps keep their momentum.

WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE: Here’s a hot one… the abortion issue. How a bloody means of birth control has been linked to women’s status in our society and their economic well-being is beyond me. But the movement may be taking a more direct approach to their propaganda.

“A Woman’s Right to Choose” as a slogan may be losing effectiveness. To counter that, in comes “A Woman’s Right to Privacy.” From Choice to Privacy. A brilliant shellgame of words that completely changes the argument. After all, who dare take a stand that a woman shouldn’t have “privacy,” when what they really want to say is that they shouldn’t kill their unborn child. It changes the argument completely.

The scary thing is about such propaganda on both topics is that the public may hardly even notice the change in words at all, only that their opinions on the topic may be changing. The power of a strong word choice can be mesmerizing. 

If shifts in words can create shifts in public opinion when it comes to hot topics like these, imagine what a powerful slogan or tagline can do for you when it comes to your business.

You don’t necessarily have to change the argument to win. But the right words can help change minds and grow your base like never before.


Slogan Sandwich: Messages Have Layers

 Yesterday, as I drove past a deli in my neighborhood, I saw a banner advertising a brand of lunchmeat.

The sign read: “Take Back Lunch” with the company logo below.

Maybe my mind is wired differently than most, but I immediately thought that if you have to “take back” your lunch, then you must’ve lost your lunch for some reason.


Associating “losing your lunch” with a line of deli meats may not have been the marketing team’s direct intention. Nonetheless, it follows the train of thought of some consumers.

I’m sure this company wanted to encourage people to pack their lunch, to make time for themselves while enjoying a great sandwich using their meats and cheeses. But so many other slogans could accomplish this goal without a hint of… well, vomiting.

On the bright side, it did get my attention… and it certainly helped tattoo the brand on my brain. It’s probably just not the initial impression they were looking for.

Moral of the story: Don’t be so married to a slogan that you block out other interpretations of your message. Invite opinions, test it out, and be open to the feedback. It helps build a stronger message… and that’s what it’s all about.

Do Ideas Come Quicker with Some Liquor?

 In today’s Ad Age, there’s an article about how the wet bar is making a comeback in the offices of some big-name agencies. <AD AGE ARTICLE> What’s old is new again.

Back in the day when I was the editor in chief of an upstart business-to-business magazine, I had a fantastic publisher who had the cadence of Murphy Brown. When it was time to really wrap our brains around a new marketing approach, the meetings were set for 5:30 PM, her office, “bring empty mug and ice.”

Soon after 5, the halls would begin to clear. And at 5:31, the meeting would start with her announcing that the book is doing great, and “the Skyy is blue!”

This was code for the bright blue bottle of vodka about to come forth from her lower desk drawer.

She poured. We’d sip. And great ideas began to flow.

Perhaps “thinking outside the box” can get some help from “drinking what’s inside the bottle.”

I’m not saying that you should go get all liqueured up before your next session of slinging slogans. But sometimes a little “social lubricant” can help. Sometimes getting juiced helps those creative juices flow.

Now, I don’t want to have a bunch of comments from people who are MADD or upset about my condoning the use of alcohol in the workplace. We know already. Consider it a tool for creativity.

When you want better results from your next brainstorming session, perhaps a little cocktail may be just the ticket. (Just be sure not to get drunk or you won’t be able to read your notes!) And be smart about it.

So when you’re stuck on the branding or wording of your current project, maybe it’s worth a shot.

Classic Words that Stick

I love the classics. developed a fantastic list of the best-ever taglines since 1948. What a joy to read, and to examine how each short line connects with its audience.


But further down on the page is the really good stuff. It’s a list of the best taglines prior to 1948. Some are so strong that they’re still in use today. Check out the year they were first used to truly appreciate the staying power of a carefully crafted message. You can get the complete list here: BEST TAGLINE LIST.  

Celebrated Taglines Prior to 1948

Only you can prevent forest fires. (U.S. Forest Service)
The beer that made Milwaukee famous. (Schlitz Beer)
Look sharp, feel sharp. (Gillette)
Better living through chemistry. (DuPont)
The breakfast of champions. (Wheaties)
The pause that refreshes. (Coca-Cola)
When you care enough to send the very best (Hallmark)
Good to the last drop. (Maxwell House)
Ask the man who owns one. (Packard)
Always a bridesmaid, but never a bride. (Listerine)
I’d walk a mile for a Camel. (Camel Cigarettes)
Say it with flowers. (FTD)
When it rains, it pours. (Morton Salt)
The champagne of bottled beer. (Miller High Life)
America’s most famous dessert (Jell-O)
His master’s voice. (Victor Talking Machine Company)
57 varieties. (H.J. Heinz Co.)
All the news that’s fit to print. (New York Times)
99.44% pure (Ivory Soap)


Challenge: “Green” Luxury Vehicle Shirt Slogans

Earlier today, someone on the forum needed some tagline help: “I am looking at developing a range of t-shirts for a client of mine that must incorporate a ‘green’ message. I am looking for 5-6 messages and design ideas to print on to the front of t-shirts made from organic cotton.
– luxury automotive manufacturer
– young, fun and classy
– taglines can’t be tacky or obvious
– taglines could possibly relate to the persons choice in choosing a ‘green’ or more environmentally friendly vehicle/or lifestyle”

While green may be the new black, here are some of the ideas I came up with for him. It was a fun thing to wrap my brain around, so I wanted to share. And if you see them on a tee-shirt soon, you’ll know where they came from!

“Compromise Nothing”
“Spoiled… not oiled”
“Purrs like a kitten…”
“Responsibly Fabulous”
(and my favorite) “Don’t be crude.”


Death of the fluffy tagline

I witnessed some “interesting” advice on taglines the other day. Last Saturday, I attended a leadership training for a volunteer organization. One of the handouts included an article about crafting your personal tagline, written by a woman who probably could use some tagline help herself. 

According to the article, she says:
My tagline for my counseling and coaching practice is this: “The permissionary – a visionary realist to help you discover and manifest your dreams.”

Maybe it’s me, but when I read that, I only see her as a phony-bologna constultant who’s full of beans. That’s probably not the look she was going for.

Can a visionary be a realist? (although I like the play on words by itself) Is permissionary a real word, and do I need to look it up? (I did… and it’s obscure.)

C’mon here! Let’s get real.

Perhaps a better approach is to take your “full of beans” tagline and dissect it to get at the heart of what you want people to know about your business – in language that makes sense to them. Save the fluff for your mission statement.

This sample tagline uses lofty vanilla concepts, and it’s a bit too long to be memorable. It’s time to boil it down to what’s essential… simplify it… and then say it.

Off the top of my head, I’d rather see something like:
“Dream… Plan… Do.”
“Your Dreams… with a Deadline.” 
“Get There, Faster.”
“Visionary Realists”
“Giving Focus to Your Life’s Vision.”
“Your Destiny by Design”

Okay, that’s enough for now. I could do this all day. (In fact… I DO do this all day at Slogan Studio.) 

So what do you think? What tagline would you suggest to our wordy consultant friend? Which one do you like best and why? And as I come up with more, I’ll post them in the comments.

The truth about taglines

A slogan sells. A tagline tells.

Taglines share your story. In a few well-crafted words, your tagline should explain what you do, how you do it, and/or why your audience should want what you offer. And if it’s really good, it stirs an emotion deep within that persuades your audience – in a good way.

The tagline works in tandem with your logo to “brand” or tattoo your business into the minds of your market. I guess they don’t call it “branding” for nothing! Think cattle. The cool thing is that your tagline can change as your marketing changes. In fact, some marketing resources, like Anita Campbell’s, recommend changing your tagline as an easy way to strengthen your marketing. In fact, you can even have different taglines for different audiences. As your business focus evolves, so should your message.

When crafting a fresh tagline, my best advice is to be clear about: 1) who you are, 2) what you want people to remember about whatever it is you do, and 3) why they should use you. Get a cold drink and a yellow pad. Sit for a minute and answer these three questions. Make a list. Jot it down. The core of your message may be right there, on the page.

Now, you may not be able to find the right words to effectively communicate the concepts you just came up with. But knowing what you want to say – the gist of it – is half the battle. You can then pass your ideas to a professional wordsmith, like those at Slogan Studio. In no time, those ideas will be crafted into a tagline or slogan that truly resonates with your client base – one that helps grow your business.  

Taking an honest, authentic approach in your taglines is always best. It’s quickly becoming the standard approach in today’s marketing messages. People are becoming cynical. “Puffing” just doesn’t work. People see through it and move on to someone else.

Be true to your brand. Be clear in your tagline.