Action-Packed Taglines: How They Motivate Customers To Buy


It was 6:30am on the 22nd November 2003, somewhere in Manchester, England.

My friends and I were sitting down to bacon sandwiches in a smoke-filled sports bar.

It was the day that England were playing Australia in the Rugby World Cup final. As the Aussies were hosting, the time zone difference meant a painfully early morning.

It was worth the early start though, because in the last seconds of the game, Jonny Wilkinson dropped-kicked that wonder goal that won the cup for England. 

Last month I read a book called ‘The Pressure Principle’
It was written by one of the England Rugby team’s cup-winning coaches, Dr Dave Alred. He’s worth a look up if you’ve not heard of him. In his book ‘The Pressure Principle’, Dave explains how the team of coaches came up with a one-line mantra for the England players to repeat to themselves during high-pressure moments of the tournament. 

The killer line was “Crossbar-Touchlines-Crossbar”
Yep, that’s it – months of training was distilled into this simple, golden tagline which instructed the players to perform in a specific way.

This tagline of “Crossbar-Touchlines-Crossbar” helped players block out the threat of the opposition. Instead, it got them to concentrate on specific areas of the pitch (i.e. crossbars and touchlines) so they could focus on their game. It is one beautiful jewel of a tagline that got the England players performing at their very best. 

That’s the real power of great taglines
They motivate customers to behave in a specific way even when faced with other distractions. Great taglines create a precise sequence of events that play out in customers’ minds.

“Got Milk?”
Do you remember the tagline “Got Milk”? These two little words trigger a familiar story in your mind. That is, you open the fridge, but there's no milk left. Argh! So you rush to the shops to buy some. A mini-action sequence that plays out in your mind, all neatly contained in one line. 

So I want to unpack for you what an 'action-packed tagline’ actually is.
I want to show you how you can go from a ‘meh’ tagline to one that injects a sequence of actions (or series of scenes) into your customers’ brains. A sequence that motivates them to buy from you (and not your competitors).

We’ll look at three different types of tagline. We’ll look at:

  1. A ‘problem-packed’ tagline that contains a sequence of negative events
  2. A ‘benefit-packed’ tagline that contains a sequence of positive events
  3. An ‘ultra-specific sequence’ tagline that helps customers to do something specific

 Taglines can be tough to understand, but if we start to unpack them then our chances of understanding them increase, and so therefore does our ability to create them.

Let's get going and look at the first one. 


1. Taglines with a Problem-Packed Sequence

Our brains are wired to worry about losing 
Tell a person that they’ll lose $10 if they don’t do something. Then tell the same person that they’ll gain $15 if they do something that they don't particularly want to do. Which event is more likely to create action? Behavioural psychology shows that it’s the one where they might lose $10 that spurs them into action. 

Our brains are built to avoid problems. This behaviour has been hardwired into our brains for millennia. The consequences of losing something could have meant a struggle to survive thousands of years ago. Although a potential gain means more pleasure, it is less life-threatening, so it's the prospect of loss that trumps because it's more tied to to survival.

One of my favourite ad campaigns in recent years has been the one for Snickers chocolate bars.

The ad is about how ‘we are not ourselves when we're hungry’. The tagline is “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” (they’re funny, entertaining ads, so look them up if you haven't seen them). 

“You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” highlights a problem that we are very familiar with. We've all been there – hunger makes us feel lousy and not very ‘with it’.

Not only is it familiar, but it also sets off a clear order of events (or sequence) in our minds. I mean, we can all imagine not having eaten and then getting angry for no reason, can’t we? In short, this tagline of “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” triggers a familiar negative scene (or sequence) in our minds.

Let’s think of other problem based taglines
There’s “Got Milk?” (mentioned earlier). And there's also “You Never Get A Second Chance To Make A First Impression” from Head & Shoulders.

In this latest example, you can imagine another familiar problem-sequence. You know, like turning up to an important event, having dandruff in your hair or on your clothes that other people will notice. Something dandruff sufferers want to avoid. 

But taglines with ‘problem-packed’ sequences aren’t the only style of tagline.  There are taglines that have positive sequences in them instead.

 Let’s take a look.


2. Taglines with a Benefit-Packed Sequence

It doesn’t matter whether you have been to Las Vegas or not. Everyone knows the line: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”.  This originates from the real tagline for Las Vegas tourism (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA): “What Happens Here, Stays Here”. Countless films have used it and it is woven into many a conversation about Vegas.  

And the reason it works is that the tagline contains a positive ‘benefit-packed’ sequence of events

What do I mean by benefit-packed sequence? Well, it means that the line “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” creates scenes in our minds that are beneficial and pleasurable to us. As R&R Partners who ran the campaign put it: “The emotional bond between Las Vegas and its customers was freedom. Freedom to do things, see things, eat things, wear things, feel things. In short, the freedom to be someone we couldn't be at home.” 

You can just imagine various scenes of debauchery going on in Las Vegas: cocktail-drinking, slot machine wins, strip-shows, opulent hotel suites, the fountains of The Bellagio. I could go on.  

And films like The Hangover and Oceans 11 have helped embed scenes like these in our brains too over the years. “What Happens Here, Stays Here” sums up the Vegas experience very neatly.

Think of other famous taglines with benefit-sequences in them

What about “America Runs On Dunkin”? You can imagine getting up in the morning and going to a Dunkin’ Donuts to grab yourself a coffee and a donut before starting work.

“Eat Fresh” by Subway is a tagline of two simple words
These words convey a clear, positive sequence: picking up a fresh sandwich, biting into the crisp, fresh salad in it. And feeling good about eating it.

“Get Chosen” by The Brain Wheel
The Big Wheel's (old) tagline, “Get Chosen” aimed to be straightforward for business owners to understand. It’s there to summarise the sequence of a customer choosing you over the competition. You could imagine the scene of a customer picking up an item in your store, going to the counter, swiping their card. Or online, picture a customer clicking on an item on your site, putting it in their shopping basket, and going to the checkout.

Feels good doesn’t it? That’s what The Brain Wheel's philosophy was: to help you “Get Chosen” over your competition (ok, that’s enough of my upselling). 

So, benefit-packed taglines are there to make you feel good
They motivate customers to buy because they help them imagine the experience they will have when they buy a product or service. 

Problem and benefit-packed sequences are effective. But there’s another type of tagline that really motivates people to act.


3. Tagline with an Ultra-Specific Sequence

In 1972, the British Government released a car safety ad. It aimed to get anybody who sat in the front seat to use their seat belt. The tagline “Clunk Click Every Trip” became wired into British drivers’ minds. And it was so successful that it was used until 1993.

The numbers of drivers clicking and clunking their seatbelt increased to 39% in 1982 and 94% in 2005. And today you’d be hard-pressed to find many drivers who don’t wear a seatbelt.

The beauty of ‘Clunk Click Every Trip’ is that it is a clear action-sequence that’s ultra-specific and easy to do.  

Listen to the words again. 'Clunk Click Every Trip’
You can see yourself performing the specific action. You get in the car, reach for your seatbelt and listen out for those specific sounds of ‘Clunk Click’. Clever huh? 

Being Ultra Specific works well for any business
Think of Domino's tagline "You Got 30 minutes". That promise of a pizza delivery in 30 minutes carries a specific action sequence. In that short timeframe, you can picture yourself putting down the phone after ordering, getting a film ready, serving drinks, and seeing the look of happiness on your friends’ faces when you say “food will only be 30 minutes”. Then before you know it, a delivery person arrives with a fresh Domino’s.

And remember KFC’s tagline 'Finger Lickin’ Good’?
If Domino's is about the anticipation of food, KFC is all about the eating. “Finger Lickin Good" conjures a specific picture of licking your fingers and feeling happy as you eat their chicken.  

What these two examples show is that an ultra-specific tagline gives your customer 20/20 vision. It creates a clear picture of what happens when they buy your product or service. It leaves them in no doubt. The holy grail, no? 

Is there more to a tagline than this?
Of course. There are many elements that make up a great tagline, like the need to root your tagline in your customers' biggest needs (but this is a whole other post).

You can also search online for more information on taglines too. But if you do, remember that most articles just give generic advice like: 'make it curious’, ‘make it memorable’, ‘make it rhyme’, which may not be specific enough about how to create one that works. 

Remember effective taglines take time to create
Taglines take a while to get right. And a lot of businesses write poor taglines. But if you give yourself time to create them, and think about them as containing a series of scenes, then you’ll be making a good start. 

Poor tagline examples
Have you noticed how weak many taglines are for car ads?
– “Always Another Way” by Toyota.
– “Motion and Emotion” from Peugeot
– Renault Captur's “Capture Life”.

 They’re so vague and meaningless. You can’t sink your teeth into them. There’s no clear picture. It’s like trying to read with ketchup on your sunglasses.

So if we want to motivate customers to buy from us rather than the competition, remember Dr Dave Alred and the England rugby team.
Think of that tagline “Crossbar-Touchlines-Crossbar”. Think of powerful action-packed taglines like “Clunk Click Every Trip”, “Got Milk?” or “Finger Lickin’ Good”.

By painting a picture of events in customers’ heads, these sorts of taglines bring the customer closer to the product experience, and therefore closer to buying it.  

Making a decent tagline isn’t easy, but it’s worth the time.
Did you know? Before his trip to the moon, Neil Armstrong spent months coming up with what became one of the most famous taglines in history: “That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.” It wasn't conceived on the spur of the moment as he walked out on the moon (sorry to have popped that bubble).  

Yes, it’s quite amazing what one tagline can do.

Thanks for reading. For now, toodle pip. 


Simon | The Chief Brain



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