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.


Resource for Non-Profit Taglines

 It’s nice when I can do a blog post by simply saying “Ditto” to other people’s great information.

Here’s a free down-loadable report from Nancy Schwartz for non-profits developing marketing taglines for themselves.

Of course, for fresh ideas and less stress, I say you should certainly try But I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a little biased….

Great work, Nancy!

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.

If it ain’t broke…

I’ve never been a fan of change for change sake.

There’s a trend for national brands to revert to the taglines of their past – to the classics that have already been etched in the minds of consumers for generations. My favorite is Burger King’s “Have It Your Way.”

Changing back to the classics can be a good thing:

  • It makes them appear “eternal” which ads confidence in the brand.
  • It attracts the boomers who fondly remember them, and the younger generations who see them as “retro-fresh.”
  • With the uncertainty of 2008 – the election, the economy, housing, gas prices, etc. – a reminder of “better times” in the past can be reassuring. People want to buy a piece of past peace.
  • Sometimes the taglines are simply hard to beat!

In a recent blog post that discusses this trend, “Brand Names and Taglines: Think Before You Change”,  Diane Prang at Namewire offers some great tips for all businesses considering a tagline change.

  1. Make it relevant—for today, tomorrow and well into the future. Think BMW, “the ultimate driving machine.”
  2. Take creating a tagline seriously—your tagline is an opportunity to emotionally bond with the consumer.
  3. Test the water—ask existing employees and customers before fully implementing it.
  4. Keep it short—7 words is the most you get if you expect a consumer to log it in their short term memory, but 3 or 4 words is much better.
  5. Make it unique—try putting your competitors name in with your tagline, if it works, it’s no good.
  6. Finally, don’t think that your tagline says it all—support it with quality products and a sound marketing strategy.

There are dozens of good reasons to change your tagline, but do so with thoughtful consideration. 

So, when is it a good time to change your tagline? Short answer is: when that change would better your sales. Times of change are most common: New logo… new product… new market focus… new customer base… new service… new goals….  Or simply when your marketing message just doesn’t work anymore.

Change is good.  But if it ain’t broke…


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.