Insights from 30,000+ Naming and Branding Projects

Don’t Do it Like Nike Did It: Tagline Tips from the Experts

This article was first published on EXeideas on 11/21/2018

We all know Nike’s iconic tagline, Just Do It, though perhaps some of us can’t hear it without thinking of Shia LaBeouf’s “Just Do It” video. Many people love Nike’s tagline. It’s short, it’s inspiring, and it’s to the point. It tells the story of the brand, and it sets the stage for the customer’s experience. However, it also is not the kind of tagline most businesses can pull off.

Nike was a 24 year old company with initial success when they adopted “Just Do It” as a tagline. They had tons of money to hire one of the top ad agencies in the world, Wieden + Kennedy, and wanted a gritty, edgier taglines and brand than other athletic companies had in the ‘80s. They intentionally took a route that would surprise people and assumed a tagline that diverged from the traditional path and purpose of taglines. “Just Do It” was specifically designed to connect emotionally and transform Nike from a sportswear brand into a lifestyle brand with a much larger market.

While Nike’s success with “Just Do It” has been undeniable, most companies, especially new ones that have not been established, should stick to simple taglines. As naming and tagline experts, here’s what we think an effective taglines should accomplish.

What We Think The Best Taglines Should Be

90% of companies should have a simple tagline that quickly captures what is important and unique about their business.

A helpful way to look at a tagline is as a three to five word sales pitch. Hone your ideas and be as brief as possible, and get across what sets you apart and why people should come to you.

For example, we helped an online fitness apparel brand with their tagline through a tagline contest. They selected “Find Your Fit” as a tagline, which cleverly works on a few levels. It implies that their workout gear motivates people to get fit, but it also speaks to finding the proper “fit” of clothing. This tagline is brief and to the point while also capturing what the company is all about.

Frame your tagline by thinking of it in this scenario: Imagine that you are handing someone your business card. When they read the tagline beneath your business name, they should begin to understand exactly what it is that you do (and hopefully what makes you different).

An unhelpful tagline for your company would be vague. If you had a carpet cleaning business and your tagline was “Let’s go,” people might be confused. As powerful as a statement like “Let’s go” is, it provides no clarity as to what you business does, and the person receiving your business card may forget why they have it. On the other hand, “Making Old New Again,” is a great tagline because it captures what the company does and the direct benefit the carpet cleaning service provides.

Here are some strong taglines that have won in crowdsourced tagline projects:

    • Fine Artisanal Mezcal Bottled by Hand
      • This tagline highlights the quality of the liquor while also stating what sets the brand apart–that it is bottled by hand
    • Your Wellness Concierge
      • This simple tagline directly describes the benefit of this health and wellness service
  • Sensible Advice, Successful Results
    • This tagline is for a consulting agency. It speaks to the results clients get from working with this agency, providing a definitive reason for them to use the agency’s services.  

The above taglines are all straightforward and clear. They are 3-5 word sales pitches, and the are effective in communicating what sets their brands apart. While this is a tried and true method of coming up with a tagline–and it is our favorite–this is not the only way it can function.

Here Is What Else A Tagline Could Be

While it is great to have a tagline that functions as a sales pitch, at the end of the day, you just want something to put on a business card that will start a sales dialogue. Below, you will find find five ways a tagline can set an expectation from your business and start a sales dialogue. Similar to the way business name styles can influence the way your business is perceived, so can your tagline.

Simple and Descriptive

A simple, descriptive tagline is a straightforward way to start a sales conversation, and this is the kind of tagline we discuss above. Our own tagline for Squadhelp is  “The World’s #1 Naming Platform.” This kind of tagline sets us apart, but it is also unassuming and down-to-earth. A simple, descriptive tagline directly tells people why they should consider working with you.

Resonate with Shared Values

A tagline can also establish an emotional connection to start a dialogue. “Keeping Little Hands Out of Big Trouble” is a tagline for a company that sells baby-proofing products like outlet plugs, cabinet latches, and toilet locks. They impress upon the importance of keeping children safe, a value they share with their customers. Highlighting a shared value establishes an emotional connection between the company and the customer, and it can be an impactful way to connect.

Intriguing and Cutting Edge

An intriguing, cutting-edge tagline like  Nike’s “Just Do It” does. An emotionally resonative tagline can be a powerful business move. Nike’s tagline has given them great success because it resonates with audiences and inspires them. “Just Do It” is a powerful statement. It establishes the attitude of the company as well as the attitude of the customer. Still, this kind of tagline works best for companies that have already been established as successful.

Playful and Fun

Implementing a lighthearted tagline can be a good way to attract customers if you want to come across as fun and playful. “Making Business Less Taxing” is a fun tagline for an accounting firm. It functions to make something that people usually perceive as dry and tedious as something that will not be as boring and confusing as they usually find it. In this way, a playful tagline is perfect because it sets a new expectation for a customer.

Come Across as High End

High end taglines highlight the value of the company’s products or services. “Substance. Style. Spirit.” is a tagline for a company that sells luxury gifts for men. It is a clean, simple tagline that also sticks in your head because of its alliterative qualities. The loftiness of this tagline elevates the brand by focusing on the high end values of fashion and quality. A high end tagline can help set your business among more preeminent brands.

Back to You

All of these tagline options are viable possibilities, but we still believe that 3-5 words that speak to your value, benefits, and differentiators is the best tagline to go with. Of course, in some situations you would do things differently, as we have outlined above, but in most cases, these taglines still highlight the values, benefits, and key differentiators in just a few words.

As you try to come up with a tagline, start brainstorming by jotting down any words you associate with your business. This is a similar process to use as if you are naming a business. What are your values? What sets your business apart? What response do you want to elicit from your customers? You should consider every aspect of your business, then try to build a list of phrases. As you continue to narrow your focus, you may just find the perfect tagline.  

About the author

Meghan O'Toole
Insights from 30,000+ Naming and Branding Projects

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