Why are most straplines just crap lines?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by fellow copywriter Jamie Hudson.

OK, so I’m generalising and being just a tad subjective. And I only used the word ‘crap’ because it made a nice headline. So let me be more specific. A great many straplines you see these days are irrelevant, forgettable and most unforgiveable, boring.

It wouldn’t be so bad if these straplines belonged to small, local companies and had been dreamed up by the business owner, whose full-time job is making widgets, not writing powerful, effective, memorable straplines.

Or if they’d been thought up by the account exec or an inexperienced junior copywriter in the ad agency. They’re only working on a small account so it doesn’t warrant the creative heavyweights spending any time on it.

No, these straplines belong to some of the biggest household names in Britain. Companies you know and love. Companies with strong brands which you’d have thought they’d be working hard to protect, cherish and nurture.

What all of these straplines have in common is the feeling they give me. A horrible, mushy nothingness. An emotional emptiness. No connection with the business. And a sense that if the company doesn’t even know what it stands for, how can I?

Step forward just a few of the companies on my Strapline Roll Call of Dishonour.

This one’s a real corker. Sky TV is in millions of homes across the country. They bring, ‘the most up-to-date editorial, pictures and video-breaking news, sport, showbiz, movies, TV, travel and more.’

Just think of the panoply of words that are at the copywriter’s disposal, the images and emotions that can be stirred up in the reader’s mind, the bond that people have with the box in the corner and nowadays, their computers. Write something that taps into this feeling and you’ve reinforced Sky’s position in the market and helped create an even stronger brand.

So what do we get?

Believe in better

What’s this? A strapline for the C of E? A promise of nirvana in the afterlife? And at the very least it’s saying, you can believe in better from Sky, but this doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.

How about this one:

We can help

Which just goes to show that one of the key requirements of any strapline is relevance. At least try to suggest what kind of company you are and what kind of products or services you sell. This strapline could literally be applied to any company, but would actually work really well for the Samaritans.

Here’s another one which was only launched in April 2010:

Drive the change

OK, so it does have ‘drive’ in it. And they may be launching new models which have changed from the old ones. But the use of the word change doesn’t work in this context. The old Asda strapline, ‘You’ll love the change’ worked because Asda had changed and it tied this into a value proposition. The Renault line does none of this and is just woolly and unfocused.

What’s more, there’s no suggestion of the French heritage of the cars. Remember, Renault’s most successful TV campaign, ‘Nicole and Papa’ was so charmingly Gallic you could almost smell the Gauloises. And tying into your national heritage and country of origin has worked so well for Audi – ‘Vorsprung durch technik’ – that now VW do it too – ‘Das auto’ – 25 years after Audi first had the idea.

All in all, a great strapline. For an HRT product.

Here are a couple of straplines which completely baffle me:

Toby Carvery
Just as it should be

So Toby Carvery is just as it should be. I’m getting that feeling again. What should it be that Toby Carvery is just as? (You see what I mean?) I haven’t been to a Toby for about 30 years, but if you gave me a good reason to go again, I’d go. This isn’t it. I don’t know what Toby should be as and now you’re making me think about it.

I just want something that suggests a good choice of well-cooked food, nice wines, a relaxing atmosphere, good times, great company. All at a good price. A place that’s special, but not posh or expensive – a kind of upmarket Harvester.

And what about:

We can be bothered

Well, I’m glad to hear it. I think they want to be in the territory of the famous Avis strapline, ‘We try harder’ which is a good strategy. But please, don’t use the word, ‘bothered’. Straight away you’re thinking about Catherine Tate’s irritating teenager.

Here are two more which actually aren’t bad:

Saving you money every day

Nice and simple, and it talks about saving money which is what Asda is all about. But even this can be improved. I’m guessing that the ‘you’ in the line is a collective you referring to everyone in Britain. In that sense, Asda does save us Britons money every day.

But I’m an individual and every single person who reads this line does so individually. And guess what – I don’t go to Asda every day. I might go once or twice a month if I can’t avoid it. It would be much better to say, ‘Asda. Saving you money every shop.’ There’s alliteration, it scans nicely and people now refer to doing the weekly ‘shop’.

Enterprise rent-a-car
We’ll pick you up

Great. The USP as a strapline, and why not. And even if it isn’t a USP and every car rental company does it, nobody else is saying it. Therefore, it becomes a brand property of Enterprise.

Why so bad?

There are a variety of reasons. From the client’s point of view, nobody in the marketing team wants to green light a strapline which might backfire and harm their career prospects.

A strapline which actually says something about the company and its brand values might attract unwanted attention, open up the company to criticism or be controversial. It might even heaven forbid, stand out and be noticed. In short, nobody wants to be the person who takes that risk.

(It reminds me of the phrase from the 80s, ‘Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.’ It was true. But where are IBM now?)

This mindset was echoed in a recent presentation by Rory Sutherland, President of the IPA. He said, “Creative people have a fear of the obvious, and yet they have to present their work to people who have a love of the obvious.”

In short, clients want obvious straplines because that’s what they feel happy, safe and secure with. They certainly don’t want to run the risk of standing out.

On the advertising agency side, similar thinking applies. The agency doesn’t want to lose the account and if the client is saying they want a safe, corporate strapline then that’s what they’re jolly well going to get.

Of course, many large, established companies have a set of brand values, standing and reputation to uphold and can’t be seen to be supported by a tagline that’s too radical, creative or just plain different. I understand that. But the skill of the copywriter comes in developing something new and fresh while keeping within these constraints.

And so we are left with these safe, sterile, meaningless jumbles of words. But remember, as the old advertising saying goes, ‘Safe isn’t safe.’

Visit Jamie Hudson’s blog for more on straplines and how to write a great one.

Jaimie Hudson, CopywriterWith over 30 years in the business, Jamie is one of the most experienced – and fastest – freelance copywriters in the Midlands.

He’s worked on numerous above- and below-the-line campaigns at various agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi, GGT Direct, WWAV Rapp Collins, Publicis Dialog, FCB Direct, O&M Direct, EURO RSCG Riley and BIG Communications.

This post was first published on Jamie’s blog. Check it out. And visit his website. You can also follow him on Twitter @jamiehudson

  • Johnny
    Posted at 11:31h, 03 June Reply

    Great post, thanks. Could it be because some straplines are written by designers, not copywriters? In my experience straplines are the only time designers get interested in copy (and it shows!).

  • Emma
    Posted at 10:23h, 14 September Reply

    Completely agree about the Simplyhealth slogan…never understood that one. Sounds so flippant!

  • radio, news, career
    Posted at 19:14h, 05 December Reply

    radio, news, career…

    […]Why are most straplines just crap lines? « Copywriting Blog from Turner Ink[…]…

  • Jamie Thomson
    Posted at 02:55h, 13 April Reply

    Nice post with thoughtful examples.

    One of the worst straplines for me is from an advert for mouthwash. Remember Corsodyl’s ‘for people who spit blood when they brush their teeth’ slogan? Talk about a mouthful! Ironically though, I’ve never forgotten it.

    And how about Coca Cola’s ‘enjoy’ strapline. That copywriter had an easy time of it!

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