Does every business need a tagline? What is a category line? How about a product line? When do I use them? And when can I do without?

Creating a brand tagline can be a knotty problem for organisations and business owners. In Asia Pacific, there’s the added challenge of articulating a tagline that works well in local languages. In a recent exercise for one of our clients, we studied well known, well loved brands to analyse how brand, category and product lines were employed. Not unexpectedly, a strong and demonstrable brand ethos has a far more meaningful role to play than a pithy slogan.

1.Low involvement or high, brand taglines are a staple for most

We studied a range of brands from low to high involvement product categories — Tide, Persil, Puffs, Kleenex, Reebok and Nike to Samsung, Apple and Toyota. Low Involvement products are usually characterised by low prices, low risk, low differentiation, low loyalty, repeat purchases, and impulse buys. Toothpaste and chewing gum are low involvement product categories, in contrast to high involvement product categories like cars and insurance. We discovered that brand taglines are used by most brands, irrespective of low/high involvement level. However, in the absence of a consistent brand tagline, it’s a good idea to make lower category lines distinct from the brand identity. That is, don’t lock up a lower category line with the brand logo to avoid diluting the equity of the mother brand.

Category lines create recognition within a category, but not always for the mother brand

Tide and Kleenex have pretty thorough messaging hierarchies — from a brand line to category lines to product lines. At the brand level: “It’s feels good to feel” for Kleenex and “[If it’s clean], It’s got to be Tide”. Kleenex also has a line for each of its categories: “Clean hands on demand, no sink required” for wet wipes, “The signature soft and strong facial tissues you know and love” for face tissues, “A healthy alternative to bathroom towels…” for its hand towels range and so on. In fast-moving consumer goods markets, where most products look alike, category lines can help clarify the value proposition and play a role in differentiating a product category from the competition.

Product lines are most often used by high involvement products

In our study, high involvement product categories were the ones that most frequently utilised product lines. Samsung doesn’t currently appear to have a brand tagline (previously “Imagine” or “Do more”), but has strong lines for each of its products. Apple and Toyota demonstrate a similar appetite for product lines. There’s “Lightness strikes again” for MacBook Air, “Pretty. Freaking powerful” for the iMac, “Let the show begin” for Apple TV+ and “You’ve never see a watch like this” for the Series 5 Apple Watch.

Toyota employs a product line for each of its products within its car and minivan category, Yaris: “Ready. Set. Weekend”, Yaris Hatchback: “Take the all-new Yaris Hatchback for a spin”, Corolla: “Greater than ever”, Corolla Hybrid: “The first-ever Corolla Hybrid”. Corolla Hatchback: “Get into it”, Camry: “Surpass expectations”, Camry hybrid: “Good for All. Even better for you.”

MUJI: Breaking all the rules

Muji is an interesting anomaly. A brand that delivers it’s “no brand” ethos consistently, without usual hierarchies of verbal messaging. It does this chiefly through its choice of materials, colours, visual composition, patterns and typography. In the absence of articulated brand, category and product lines, Muji is an excellent illustration of why creating a brand is more than a tagline. Cultivating a strong brand ethos and paying close attention to context, values and purpose have a far more enduring impact on customer perceptions and loyalty than words alone. No tagline, no brand and still demonstrably successful.

What We Learned About Taglines

  • In the absence of a consistent brand tagline, any lower category line should be made distinct from the brand identity (i.e., not locked up with or using the logo).
  • Category lines will create “instant” memorability in their category, but will not necessarily do so for the mother brand.
  • As rules loosen around use of the tagline, so does the impact of it, putting more reliance on the existing mother brand’s equity.
  • Even strong brands have messy hierarchies of messaging, but can make up for it in the short-term because of existing brand equity.
  • Brand taglines are used by most brands, irrespective of low/high involvement level.
  • Category lines are used if the number of categories is high and the categories are a differentiating factor.
  • Product lines are mostly used for high involvement products.
  • Creating a brand is more than a line, we should keep in context the purpose it needs to serve (i.e., Muji’s lack of a visible line, but strong brand ethos).

Good Questions to Ask When Deciding on a Tagline

  1. What do we want our tagline(s) to achieve? For the brand? For the category? Which is our priority in the coming year? Coming 3 years?
  2. How much do we want to invest in building one brand vs multiple brand categories?
  3. Do we have the resources to build multiple category brands? Where are we willing to discipline ourselves to create a sharp brand?
  4. How well can our overseas offices and distributors manage multiple category brands and distribute/communicate on them consistently?

Keen to get more out of your brand? Or struggling with a messy brand hierarchy?

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