The strapline

February 2013

I guess we all have a specific aspect or element of our jobs that we are especially interested in and like, and for me that would have to be straplines. So that short string of words that normally sits below a brand’s logo and is the embodiment, or at least should be the embodiment, of the brand and how it differentiates itself from competitors.

My interest in straplines actually goes back to my first ever fulltime job in 1974 (yes I really am that old…), when I got an apprenticeship with the now defunct department store group Alders, in a role which would now be called ‘in-store marketing’ but in those days was just called ‘display’. Anyway, I quite vividly remember my reaction to the new strapline which was emblazoned on a fresh delivery of carrier bags and read: ‘Simply better’ (underneath the Alders logo).

My reaction, even at that tender age and with no marketing experience outside of dressing windows and creating promotion gondola ends, was one of surprise and even slight amusement – and here’s why. My apprenticeship included one day each week at college in London where, of course, I was mixing with other young people doing much the same job as me but for other retailers – most of which were also department stores. But these department stores included the likes of Selfridges and John Lewis, and although I was no retail expert at 16, I was smart enough to work out that my employer was something of a poor relation when compared to them. So ‘simply better’? Hardly…

Nearly forty years on I still think back to those days and whenever I read an especially good strapline, an especially poor one, or indeed – as I have been this week – creating a strapline myself for a client. But let me give you some examples of good and bad straplines from recent years and all from two brands you’ll know very well:

The Co-op: did have ‘Good with food’ and now have ‘Here for you for life’. Both of these are poor straplines but for different reasons: ‘Good with food’ was simply untrue for a convenience grocery store which frequently had poor quality shrivelled-up veg on its shelves (and still often does) or very few veg at all (and I should know – our local convenience supermarket IS a Co-op. So lesson number one: Don’t make a claim and set your stall out in it if you can’t deliver, and especially when your main competitors do deliver. In addition and specifically on this one, ‘good with food’ is surely a given for any grocery chain – so not a differentiator but something we can all quite reasonably expect and regardless of brand. The new Co-op strapline ‘Here for you for life’ is clunky (so doesn’t exactly role off the tongue) but more than that is actually pretentious. Here for you for life? Don’t kid yourself Co-op: you’re simply a convenience grocer, bank, travel agent and funeral business (the latter also makes the line a tad ironic…) – not my best and most trusted friend in all the things I need to purchase over a complete lifetime.

So what should the Co-op be communicating in their strapline? I think it’s obvious: something about their ethical policies and for the simple reason that this is the one brand value which the Co-op has which is a true differentiator. (Note to the Co-op brand manager: Happy to work up some ideas for probably a lot less money than you paid for the current line…)

My example for a good strapline is one you’ll definitely know: Tesco’s ‘Every little helps’. This is why it’s good:

  • It embodies the brand ethos by suggesting that there’s value in lots of things that Tesco does and does well – e.g. low prices, home delivery, keeping queues down at tills – rather than just hanging their hat on one thing
  • It’s sufficiently woolly to ensure that it can’t really be used against them when something doesn’t go quite the way they intended (with the possible exception, that is, of the recent horse meat scandal)
  • It can be used in a multitude of ways and is still relevant – just think how it always seems to make sense as the closing words on a Tesco TV commercial
  • It’s memorable

I mentioned that I’d been working on a strapline this week, but I wouldn’t want you to think that it’s for a brand quite the same size as either the Co-op or Tesco. However, I can assure you that it’s a lot more Tesco than it is Co-op in terms of delivering a relevant and meaningful message, and if you live in the Scottish Highlands – which you probably don’t, but anyway – then you’ll be seeing and hearing it for years to come as this financial services brand (now there’s a clue) grows and prospers. Of course the brand won’t grow and prosper just because of my great strapline, but it will grow and prosper because the strapline is an output of a well thought through and coordinated business, brand and marketing strategy.

Contact us now to find out more about how we could help and support your business.

T: 01463 871988

or complete this form and we will be in contact very soon