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It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned corporate marketer or a small business owner dipping their toes into the murky waters of advertising – marketing jargon can get confusing.
Between the various initialisms, acronyms and abbreviations, it’s hard to keep up with the latest terminology, especially if definitional goalposts keep shifting.
That’s why I’ve decided to break down the difference between mottos, taglines and slogans. They’re used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings, and play different roles in your marketing.
What’s the difference between a motto, a tagline and a slogan?
A motto is a short phrase encapsulating a brand’s values.
A tagline is normally three to five words that represent your brand without explicitly mentioning your product or service.
A slogan is a memorable phrase that spearheads specific marketing campaigns.
What is a Motto?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a motto is “a maxim or saying adopted by a person, family, institution, etc., expressing a rule of conduct or philosophy of life”.
That’s a pretty good definition. Mottos were originally a “word or phrase on an emblem explaining or emphasising its symbolic significance”, which is useful because it tells us that a motto has always been a permanent, important fixture (as opposed to taglines and slogans).
In a branding context, mottos serve as a front-facing encapsulation of a given company’s values. Ours is: Cogent. Conscientious. Committed.
It’s short, simple and straight to the point. Our motto isn’t tied to our services, our industry or even the benefits we want to deliver – it’s an internal compass as much as an external one, designed to guide how we operate from a moral standpoint.
What is a Tagline?
The OED tells us that ‘tagline’ is synonymous with ‘punchline’ – the final line of a joke, offering clarification for comedic purposes. Originally, an actor’s final line was referred to as a tagline, but that meaning is largely obsolete.
When it comes to branding, a tagline is used in a similar manner. It serves as a way to pithily reinforce what your brand stands for. In our upcoming Branding Essentials guide, I define it as: “…short, snappy and representative of your brand and what you aim to achieve without explicitly mentioning your product or service.”
- KFC’s “Finger Lickin’ Good”
- McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It”
- Nike’s “Just Do It”
- L’Oréal’s “Because You’re Worth It”
- Chevron Editing’s “Excellence For You”
Taglines are front-facing – in fact, they’re the one phrase that you want to shove in front of your stakeholders again and again.
Why? Because they’re essential for building a brand. You want to get your tagline to become so recognisable that when people hear those three or four words, they instantly think of you.
Don’t worry, you can change your tagline – in fact, some of the examples I gave above are just really long-running slogans that have been adopted as taglines because of their popularity. But you shouldn’t (unless there’s a good reason). A tagline becomes representative of a brand through repetition, not just because it’s clever.
What is a Slogan?
‘Slogan’ is derived from a medieval Gaelic term for ‘battle-cry’, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a catchy, memorable phrase that spearheads specific marketing campaigns, and is designed to appeal directly to your product/service’s target market.
A famous example: Apple’s “Think Different”. It was used to sell Apple’s product to early adopters, people who wanted to be different, to make a change.
In fact, the ‘Think Different’ campaigns script specifically calls out those people, which is exactly what a slogan should do. A tagline captures the spirit of a brand’s benefits; a slogan embodies a specific campaign goal.
Wondering how to write slogans that actually work? Check out our article ‘How to Write a Good Slogan’.
If you’re a small business owner, your first priority should be a tagline. Unless your business expands, you probably won’t be running ad campaigns large enough to merit separate slogans, and mottos aren’t necessary for the majority of businesses.
If you do think of a tagline, check out your competition and Google your chosen phrase to make sure no-one else has laid claim to it first.
Alternatively, it can be worth hiring a copywriter to do it for you. Paying someone to put together a couple of words might seem like an unnecessary expense, but, ultimately, a tagline will form the crux of your marketing. It’s going to be inextricably linked with your brand, so it can’t just be good – it needs to be perfect.