Slogans are pithy, identifiable statements that cement brand identity, often by making a promise. They’re designed to build trust, stand out against competitors and show personality.
Looking back at the word’s origins emphasises just how important a slogan is. Etymologically, ‘slogan’ has Gaelic roots, fused from ‘slaugh’ (army) and ‘gairm’ (shout) to form ‘battle cry’. There’s a lot that businesses can learn from a slogan’s history (minus the violence, of course) if we view the army/enemy dynamic as company/competitor.
Slogans are the fabric of a company’s culture. They bring the team together with personalised phrasing which should be snappy and identifiable on websites, in AGMs and when winning clients.
Yet just as much as slogans ought to rouse and inspire, they should also assert and intimidate. Competitors see a slogan and think ‘why are we different to them?’ because a battle cry has been announced and a counter position needs to be fought.
Big slogans and bigger names
So if a slogan is your brand’s chance to shout, how do you get others to listen?
We’re familiar with the biggest names in the business because they use slogans strategically and repetitively to reinforce their brand. Nike uses an arresting imperative that makes motivation straightforward: “Just do it”.
Pringles reveals the addictive appeal of their product: “Once you pop, you can’t stop”.
L’Oréal empowers and speaks to the individual consumer: “Because you’re worth it”. The slogan is highly recognisable, despite offering few clues about what the brand is actually selling.
However because we know that large brands are fuelled by large budgets (and that bigger isn’t always better!) we review three of our favourite slogans from unexpected places:
1. Ronseal – “Does exactly what it says on the tin”
DIY manufacturer Ronseal soared to fame with its initially low-budget “Does exactly what it says on the tin” campaign.
Its slogan was clear, to the point and soon became so influential that it started to command language. It was used by then-prime minister David Cameron when referring to the coalition government as “a Ronseal deal – it does what it says on the tin”, proving that the slogan had evolved from advertising line to idiom.
But it wasn’t only its use by influential figures that made it great. Creators Dave Shelton and Liz Whiston said the line filled a gap in the English vernacular which needed a “do what you promise” phrase.
Ronseal shows that a promise works wonders.
What’s more, the specificity, honesty and certainty of the promise is crucial to its success. It won’t just do what it says on the tin, it will do exactly what it says on the tin. It won’t just do a good job, it will do a great one.
A slogan should not only promise, but be unwaveringly confident in the delivery of its promise. As seen in most slogans, it’s not about what product or service is actually being promised (see the unspecified ‘it’ of the big brands – “Just do it” and “I’m lovin’ it”) but the conviction behind the words.
2. Sharpie – “Write Out Loud”
Permanent marker titans Sharpie demonstrates an intriguing call to action with its “Write out loud” slogan.
Sharpie’s is a very vivid battle cry and personifies its pens as the loudest, most standout in a crowded stationary market. By doing so, it renders its competitors as meek and quiet and reinforces the utility of the product – that Sharpies should be used to shout on paper.
Linguistically, “Write out loud” highlights how every word really does count. Monosyllables and the power of three are common recipes for slogans but they shouldn’t be chosen at random.
Each word should have a considered reason for being used and make sense within the context of your brand, even when taken in isolation.
‘Write’ obviously signals the product’s function with a powerful command. ‘Out’ adds some creativity and has connotations of being ‘outside the box’. ‘Loud’ cements the intended domination of the marketplace and emphasises a bold and confident appearance.
Accompanying TV ads brought the slogan to life by using scenarios promoting a ‘say what you mean’ attitude:
By associating speaking your mind with writing out loud, Sharpie gives an emotional impulse to the product. It shows that it values what you write, just as much as what you write it with.
If your brand can use language thoughtfully and encourage an emotional connection, it will show that you extend care for your audience beyond a product or service – and ultimately show a more human side to your marketing.
3. Oatly – “Wow, no cow”
The Swedish oat milk company, Oatly, prides itself on playful simplicity and transparency. Nowhere is this more apparent than in its slogan: “Wow, no cow”.
Proving that short can definitely be sweet, Oatly cuts straight to the point of its product without even mentioning what it does. To crystallise the phrase, it promoted the slogan via an (immensely annoying, but strangely mesmerising) 2017 TV ad where Oatly CEO Toni Petersson sat in a field performing the phrase on repeat with his keyboard. ‘Wow’ doesn’t even cut it.
What’s particularly interesting about Oatly’s slogan is that it is defined by what it isn’t.
After seeing the line, we know it’s not from a cow, so where does it come from then? And why will it make us wow? Here, the power of curiosity becomes clear. A slogan should always generate inquisitiveness from your audience because it proves that a) you’ve truly captured their attention (something that shouldn’t be underestimated in this swipe-happy age) and b) engaged them enough that they’ll ask the two most vital questions: who are you and what do you do?
Apart from the fact there’s always room for a tongue-in-cheek rhyme, Oatly shows us that by using a slogan which bravely asserts itself as what it isn’t, it keeps audiences asking those crucial questions, leaving – even more crucially – space for creative ways of answering.
A word of warning
Like any strong branding, slogans should be reviewed and tested regularly to see if they’re still relevant to your brand, products and audience.
Even if they once worked extremely well, if we view them again as a battle cry, brands should always be aware which side they’re on, which war they’re fighting and what battle cry will keep making maximum impact.
This doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking, but we’d say there are three key questions you should consistently ask: Do we still mean this? Is the same audience listening? Is our promise still sincere?
Slogans should be seen as the loud cries of your branding campaign. They should be considered and confident, pertinent and promise-led. Above all, they should do exactly what they say on the tin.
[Main image: Oatly]