March 21, 2019

Do straplines matter?


I read an article recently that discussed the importance of straplines and how some of the world’s most valuable brands no longer have them.

The author highlighted that Google, Microsoft and Facebook are just some of the few Forbes top listed brands that have decided to forgo the strapline and that even brands whose straplines have helped propel them to greatness no longer see its relevance. Famous straplines like Nike’s, ‘Just Do It’ and Apple’s ‘Think Different’ have seemingly faded into disuse.

It got me thinking about the relevance and importance of ‘straplines’ in our modern world of communication. 

First of all I have always thought the term ‘strapline’ devalues their importance and makes them sound like a gimmick rather the important articulation of brand strategy that they are. 

While I don’t want to get bogged down with terminology, the function of a ‘strapline’ has and always will fulfil a very important role; it’s a quick and effective way to articulate a brand’s statement, ethos, proposition and differentiation. 

If created with enough thought, consideration and strategic vision, in just a few words, it serves as a brand’s promise to consumers, creates differentiation from the competition and even inspires internal teams to a cohesive vision while also allowing customers to understand what you stand for and how they can utilise your business.

However, in our ever-changing world of marketing, there is a school of thought that the strapline is a marketing tool of a bygone era.

Limited real estate in digital channels

One reason could be that the mobile device has become the key real estate for today’s marketers. On digital channels, adverts and copy have been forced to become smaller and shorter. With character limits and image constraints, straplines seem to just consume space, which could diffuse the campaign message. 

Furthermore, it could be considered that it crowds and clutters an already fragmented, chaotic advertising or branding space, plus the challenge of holding the brief attention span of today’s consumers. Perhaps in today’s hyper-social world, straplines have been replaced by the hashtag as a quick, trendy way to sum up the campaigns message.

While I agree with certain elements of this argument I think on a campaign level brands can use messaging to be specific to that activity. However by utilising the purpose that a brand message gives, brands can ensure that all campaign activity is relevant to their overall positioning and strategic direction rather than delivered in isolation and results in dilution of the brand.

Show, don’t tell

We live in a world where culture has created a substantial shift in power from company to consumer. The way companies communicate is being dictated to, and ordered by, the consumer. In the words of Nike’s vice president of digital sport, Stefan Olander, “Nike’s relationship with its customers has transformed to the point where they are demanding Nike not to state, ‘Just do it’, but rather ‘Help me just do it’.” Consumers expect companies to walk the talk, rather than fling around a catchy strapline – ‘Show us, don’t tell us.’ Consumers are driving brands to dig deep and ensure that a genuine and valued brand promise is being delivered.

Again, I accept this argument on one level but don’t agree that brand messages limit how businesses engage with consumers. An effective message will in itself provide a flexible mechanism for increasing engagement by allowing customers to quickly understand how they can utilise your business. This is where consideration of that message has its most importance.

Use it where it matters

It appears that when it comes to straplines no specific protocol can be called upon for reference or good practice.

Straplines have evolved from a steadfast brand statement and consumer guarantee that were used on every piece of advertising and design lock-up, to something more genuine and subtle. When it is needed, it should be used. It is an asset that should be utilised sparingly and effectively, perhaps as a hashtag, or a rounding-off message; a simple reminder of the brand purpose or a cover photo on social media, but not something that is pushed onto consumers at every given opportunity.

What’s more, straplines alone are not enough to command the marketing stage anymore and so its nature has to change. Brand diversification and a strapline used cleverly will help a brand remain top-of-mind to deliver on an emotional and unique brand promise.