Here are some thoughts from a few magazines on my nightstand right now: This is who we are. This is how we earn it. Solutions for the adaptive enterprise. The right way to invest. We move the world. Life inspiring ideas. Inspiration comes standard. Break through. Make life rewarding. Live famously. Like a rock. Creating essentials. The passionate pursuit of perfection. Born to perform. Beyond petroleum. Pleasure to burn. Your natural source of youth. Get the feeling. Get the good stuff. Win.
Maybe some of these will sound familiar to you. Corporate America certainly hopes so. Millions of dollars are spent contriving these platitudes, exhortations, and non sequiturs, and billions more are spent communicating them to us. Why do ad agencies and their clients love taglines so much?
Taglines used to be called slogans, and in the days of hard sell advertising mavens like Claude Hopkins and Rosser Reeves, they summed up the product and the promise in one viciously efficient little package: Winston tastes good like a cigarette should. Somewhere along the way, though, slogans turned into taglines, vague bits of poetry that sought to transcend the mundane commercial world and commune with the divine. Hence: Get the feeling. (That one's for Toyota.)
Ad agencies put a great stock in taglines, hoping that with a simple phrase they can create the indestructible core of an evergreen advertising campaign. There is a holy grail, of course -- Just do it - the three words that have anchored Nike's presence in the marketplace for what now seems like eternity. It's a hard act to follow, though. Nike's agency, Wieden and Kennedy, won the Microsoft account in the mid-nineties with a tagline they hoped would surpass Nike's: Where do you want to go today? It came and it went.
Of course, taglines have always had their doubters. "Agencies waste countless hours concocting slogans of incredible fatuity," wrote David Ogilvy. "Notice that all of these bromides are interchangeable - any company could use any of them."
And working with taglines is challenging for a graphic designer. When they're freshly minted, clients tend to invest them with the power of a magician's spell, and insist that they appear everywhere. "Locking up" the logo and tagline is tricky, though, and not just visually: logotypes are meant to have long shelf lives, and taglines...well? There are plenty of warehouses full of three years' worth of business cards bearing taglines for campaigns that were abandoned after three months.
This is a bit of a prelude to a remarkable new corporate identity that was unveiled last month for the YWCA. It is not remarkable because of the way the identity relates to the tagline. It is remarkable because, as far as I can tell, the tagline is itself the identity.
Throughout its 150-year history, the YWCA has been dedicated to two things: eliminating racism and empowering women. I have to admit I did not know this; I just found out on their website. I thought the YWCA was simply the female version of the YMCA. Obviously, I'm not alone in my ignorance, so the YWCA must have decided that their old identity, a stylized Y by Saul Bass, just wasn't getting the job done.
Having designed many identities for non-profit groups, I can imagine what a challenge this must have represented. What kind of typeface communicates the elimination of racism? What kind of pictorial image or abstract shape projects the empowerment of women? One common argument, of course, is the Paul Rand one, the claim that the logo has no inherent significance, and that it gains meaning only through association with the activities of the group it stands for: think of the peace sign or the swastika. But this requires a long-term investment, and for the YWCA, desperate times must have called for desperate measures.
So Landor, the creators of the new YWCA identity, did something so obvious it's amazing it hasn't been done before. They simply set the words "eliminating racism" and "empowering women" and put them on two lines in a bold sans serif typeface. Then underneath, and smaller, is the actual organization's name: YWCA. Voila. You can love it or hate it, but the one thing you can't deny is that it certainly communicates the organization's raison d'etre, at least to people who can read.
Corporate identity is a trendy business. In the last twenty years we've gone from logos with horizontal stripes (a la IBM) to swooshes (Nike) to geometric shapes (Target). Brace yourself: the tyranny of the tagline may be just beginning.