When Good Words Get Freaky

The most effective business writing is rooted in clarity. It stands out by blending in to the background, allowing the reader to focus on the ideas being conveyed instead of the grammar, wording and syntax. It’s effortless to consume and easy to understand. With one exception—the tagline. Because sometimes . . . good words get freaky.

Taglines are, by definition, a mass of contradictions within the business writing arena. They are supposed to be memorable, emotional and powerful. In fact, the best taglines often run afoul of the rules of basic business writing.

Ignoring the Rules for Fun and Profit!

There are thousands of taglines in the world, many of which vary greatly in their goals, their execution and their effectiveness. Here are some of the basic rules for business writing, and the legendary taglines that ignore them to achieve great creative impact.

RULE: Effective business writing strives to blend in.
TAGLINE CONTRADICTION: A good tagline strives to stand out.

• HARLEY DAVIDSON— American by birth. Rebel by choice.
• NICORETTE—Makes quitting suck less.
• GREY POUPON—Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?

RULE: Effective business writing follows the basic rules of grammar, wording and syntax.
TAGLINE CONTRADICTION: A good tagline need not adhere to common rules of writing (or even spelling).
• LAS VEGAS—What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas.
• CAMPBELL’S SOUP—M’m! M’m! Good!
• BOUNTY—The Quicker Picker Upper

RULE: Effective business writing is rooted in clarity
TAGLINE CONTRADICTION: A good tagline can use ambiguity to make a point.
• GILLETTE—The Best a Man Can Get
• APPLE—Think Different
• NIKE—Just Do It
• ALKA SELTZER—I can’t believe I ate the whole thing

RULE: Effective business writing is succinct.
TAGLINE CONTRADICTION: Longer taglines can stand out
• MASTERCARD—There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s MasterCard.
• SMITH BARNEY—We make money the old-fashioned way. We earn it.
• M&Ms—The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hands.
• FED EX—When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.

The takeaway is this: don’t be afraid to infuse a little creativity in your tagline. Unlike most of the tenets of sound business writing, your tagline can be big, bold, quirky, maybe even a little crazy. In other words, think different.