The Design Division

Straplines : What Works Best – Long or short?

In this week’s blog we take a look at the world of straplines. Which works best – long ones or short ones? Do you need to be punchy, or can you afford to be a little bit more verbose? We take a look at the options and think about what works best.

These days, a sort of perfect storm is affecting many businesses’ attempts at marketing communications.

On the one hand, there’s more media flying around than ever before. From smartphones to mobile computing, we’ve initiated a revolution in the way we live – and shop. There are just so many channels, and so many ways to do things now. And it’s not as if the traditional media channels like TV and radio have gone away. Far from it. There are more of them now, too, and some are even available 24.7.

What does it all mean? Many things, in truth. But near the top of any list is that if your messages are to get through the ever-growing background noise, they must be clearer, sharper and punchier than ever. Punchy as in Mike Tyson punchy. Vague and incomprehensible sentiments will not do at all. Keep them for your mission statement or corporate brochure (not that I’m recommending such an approach here either, but at least it will largely be out of harm’s way!).

Now, before advancing any further, let me make one thing crystal clear right now. Sharp and punchy does not necessarily mean short and sweet. In fact, it’s even easier to be vague if you’ve only a few words to play with.

Three words may be fine for ordering coffee, but not so great for communicating with your markets when all you’ve got space for is a strapline (which used to be known as a slogan). ‘Just do it’ may work for Nike, but largely because everybody’s heard of them anyway and recognises that tick.

Winston Churchill could have implored the British people to ‘Fight the Germans’. But he went a good deal further – ‘We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them in the fields …. We shall never surrender!’ I know which one would get me reaching for my tin hat.

The ad industry has been fixated in recent times on the minimalist approach, but I can’t help thinking that is often means undercooking it too. If you just leave it at something like ‘We Can’ or ‘Intelligent thinking’ or ‘Simply the best’ it’s so bland and anodyne you might as well say nothing. And messaging works on emotion. It’s what makes it memorable, and inspiring. As Sir Winston knew better than most.

Of course, you don’t want extra superfluous words, but you do need enough to explain what you’re about, your main benefit. And that usually means slightly longer. Think of an all-time classic like M&Ms – ‘Melts in your mouth, not in your hands’. Or Dyson – ‘The first vacuum cleaner that doesn’t lose suction.’ Both meaningful benefits, but both thoughts that need spelling out a little.

For more thought-provoking discussion on marketing and design matters, contact the Design Division.