What’s the Difference Between a Motto, a Tagline and a Slogan?

Branding Copywriting

I explain the differences between mottos, taglines and slogans using real-world examples.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned corporate marketer or a small business owner trying your hand at advertising – marketing jargon can get confusing.

That’s why this article is going 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.

Prefer to listen? Use the audio below.

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”.

Originally, mottos were 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.  For example, Chevron Editing’s motto 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.

Tactical Marketing Tips, Weekly

Sign up to The Arete Letter for one tactical marketing recommendation delivered to your inbox every week.

Read past issues here

What Is a Tagline?

The Oxford English Dictionary 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 (also known as a ‘strapline’) is used in a similar manner.  It serves as a way to pithily reinforce what your brand stands for – it’s short, snappy and representative of your brand and what you aim to achieve, without explicitly mentioning your product or service.

Some examples:

  • 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.

Need help writing a tagline for your business? Explore our copywriting services.

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Wondering how to write slogans that actually work?

By Duncan Croker

Duncan is a copywriter with a background in editing and storytelling. He loves collaborating with brands big and small, and thrives on the challenges of hard marketing.

7 comments on “What’s the Difference Between a Motto, a Tagline and a Slogan?”

Awesome! Loved this and the audio! I was really hoping no one else was writing articles with audios but not only are you doing just that but from the same bloody country! Haha my Tagline is ‘All good’ as it’s a social enterprise, MAD Methodology, which funnels all money into charity. This clarification was a great help! (The website is not ready yet, so if you read this, give it a fortnight before you look!!)

Glad you enjoyed the article! Adding audio to your blogs is a great idea – for people with visual impairments, listening to a recording is infinitely more pleasant than using a screen reader.

All the best with MAD Methodology! The website looks like it’s coming along well.

Hi Dima, company mottos are actually relatively hard to find, mostly because they’re rendered unnecessary by taglines (many companies have a ‘Values’ page instead, which serves a comparable purpose). You can find examples in organisations like universities; Harvard’s motto, for example, is ‘Veritas’ (truth), but they also have distinct taglines and slogans which are used separately in their advertising. The difference between a tagline and a motto really boils down to its purpose – mottos are a declaration of a group’s moral standing or purpose, and are designed for both internal and front-facing use, whereas a tagline is a front-facing advertising tool that typically captures a benefit or aim of the company. Hope that helps.

The entire article and replies to comments were exceptional. You so educated me! I just started a real estate business; brainstorming and developing my business name, motto, etc. and didn’t understand, until now, which is applicable and how to use? The itself has been a quest! Lol

Comments are closed.