what’s in a name?

I’m here to talk about names and taglines.

Short writing is probably THE hardest, most time consuming writing there is. How are you gonna compress a complex idea into just three words? By writing a LOT of other words and doing a LOT of cutting until you arrive at the right ones. 

So today I’m going to share a few of my go-to strategies for coming up with names and taglines, and what to do once you find the perfect one.. 

Elements of a good tagline:

Brevity

Short and sweet is what makes it stick. Three to five words is the sweet spot for a name or tagline, with a max of 10 (think: “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance”). 

Some good examples: 

“A diamond is forever” – DeBeers (1948)

“Betcha can’t eat just one” – Lays (1981)

“It’s not TV, it’s HBO” – HBO (1997)

Clarity

Breaking down the examples above – 

A diamond is forever – draws parallels between a beautiful diamond and the depth of your love, paving the way for the popularity of diamond engagement rings.

Betcha can’t eat just one – from the way it’s phrased, we know it’s about food and snacks. And once you’ve tried the salty, crunchy goodness of a Lays potato chip, you understand this sentiment exactly. Plus, it’s a nice bit of sneaky subliminal messaging. The moment someone tells you that you can’t do something, what do you try to do?

It’s not TV, it’s HBO – in just five words, a clear juxtaposition between ordinary cable TV and the (obviously) premium programming provided by HBO. 

Specificity

Generic is the death of your tagline. Don’t forget to talk about what business you’re in and what makes you special.

Saddleback Leather boldly claims about its leather bags: “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”

Talk about quality… instead of fighting over the bank accounts, they’ll fight over this kickass leather bag!

Whereas “Making technology work for you” could be ANY company. Did you know off the top of your head that it was Best Buy? Neither did most folks, hence why it didn’t stick.

Memorability

There’s a reason why we learn a lot of our early childhood lessons via song. For my American readers – I bet if you think back, you can remember Schoolhouse Rock. A little Conjunction Junction, anyone?

To make it memorable, increase the musicality/lyricism. And there are a number of ways you can do that: 

  • rhymes (Bounty: “The quicker picker upper”)
  • plays on words (Dollar Shave Club: “Shave time. Shave money.”)
  • alliteration (Capital One: “What’s in your wallet?”)
  • repetition (Las Vegas: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”)
  • rhythm (M&Ms: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand”)

And that is a great lead-in for the next part…

Where do you start?

Remember when I mentioned that short writing involves a LOT more words than it might seem?

I’m a fan of making lists, and combining different words from different lists to see what kinds of ideas spark. 

You can pick a few words that describe your business and then consult a rhyming dictionary.

You can use a thesaurus to find alliterative words or alternate words that have a tiny bit more nuance to their meaning. 

You can use an idiom dictionary to try and find potential play on words. 

 

The last thing to think about is protecting your name or tagline.

First, when you settle on something you love, do a basic trademark search with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Their database will bring up a list of anyone in any industry with a similar trademark to yours. And you’ll get to see whether they let their trademark lapse (meaning it’s up for grabs) or if they’re in a non-competitive industry.

Generally speaking (and consult an Intellectual Property attorney to double-check), it’s safe to use a name or tagline if someone else is using it… ONLY if they’re in a non-competitive industry. 

If you using a name or tagline could cause customer confusion, or lead them to believe they’re buying a competitor’s product when they’re buying yours, you’re heading into the danger zone. 

Once you’ve found one you like, contact an attorney and file for trademark so you can work on building your brand (and protect it from competitors). 

1 Comment

  1. Patricia Michele Casello-Maddox on May 23, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    Great advice, Angie. I have been writing a log of headlines and subheads and looking for ways to engage SEO as well as making it stick.

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