Why slogans don’t sell

Here’s a little secret Madison Avenue doesn’t want anyone to know …

Slogans are losers. They don’t sell.

At least, most of them don’t sell. I ran across an article from USA Today I saved back in 2003 on this topic and it cited a consumer survey on whether people recognized the slogans of some of the biggest marketers in the U.S. The results were depressing.

Out of 22 supposedly “famous” tag lines, “only six were recognized by more than 10% of those surveyed — this for companies spending more than $100 million a year on ads.”

When you dig deeper into the results, it gets worse.

Slogans from three prominent advertisers scored 0% recognition, including Circuit City (We’re with you), Kmart (The stuff of life) and Staples (That was easy).

Billions of dollars spent on advertising, much of it devoted to dreaming up clever slogans, and apparently most of it never registers.

Not all slogans fail. Wal-Mart scored 64% recognition with it’s “Always low prices. Always” tagline. But then, Wal-Mart is in a whole different league than most businesses.

So why do most slogans flop? Some say consumers are too smart to fall for fluff and bull. I agree, considering the emptiness and irrelevance of most taglines. I mean, what the heck does “The stuff of life” mean, anyway?

The bottom line is that writing slogans is the same as writing any copy. A slogan has to say something relevant and meaningful. My guess is that Wal-Mart’s “Always low prices” slogan works because it’s true and descriptive. Most slogans are just nice sounding words from companies who don’t have any distinguishing features, such as low prices or better products.

There may be another reason. Slogans have to be short, but not all ideas can be expressed in three to five words. So maybe some companies just aren’t slogan-worthy.

What do you think?

Subscribe to FREE Newsletter / Subscribe to blog by RSS or E-mail


13 Responses to “Why slogans don’t sell”

  1. Posts about Writing as of July 14, 2009 | Eristoddle.com on July 14th, 2009 10:54 am

    [...] – This Has Always Been Obvious TMZ has reported that they have learned that none of… Why slogans don’t sell – directcreative.com 07/14/2009 Here’s a little secret Madison Avenue doesn’t want anyone to [...]

  2. dena lerner on July 15th, 2009 2:45 am

    I totally agree slogans are for the most part unmemorable because companies are unmemorable. The market place is so cluttered with similar products and companies whose only distinguisher is their marketing.

    But what I would like to see is a study done on jingles. I can still remember commercial jingles from my childhood and now they are wildly unpopular in marketing. Why?

  3. Dean Rieck on July 15th, 2009 9:52 am


    I don’t know if jingles are wildly unpopular. How about the Subway spot with the “5 dollar footlong” jingle? I can’t get that out of my head. But here again, you have something that is relevant and directly related to the product.

  4. Kimmo Linkama on July 15th, 2009 3:43 pm

    Slogans, in my experience, are often deemed so important — after all, they should crystallise the company mission — that the C suite is eager to participate.

    You can imagine the result when the entire management team and/or board of directors dig their teeth into a poor ad agency’s slogan proposals. Not to mention the legal department…

    Committees cannot create, they can only criticise.

  5. Sylke on July 15th, 2009 4:13 pm

    The ad slogan for Las Vegas “What happens here, stays here” was priceless. And it worked. During the height of that campaign, the destination saw a significant increase in the number of visitors aged 21-39.

    Those five words rebranded Vegas into a cool, hip destination where 20- and 30-somethings (as well as celebrities) wanted to go and party.

    And since it has since been copied, mocked and satirized, I think it may have to go in the annals of one of the best slogans in advertising.

  6. Dean Rieck on July 15th, 2009 4:55 pm


    You’re right about the LV slogan. But I’m certain it was based on careful research into why people go to Vegas, which is often to let loose and be a little naughty. It’s an adult playground. When slogans connect with people, they’re golden.

  7. Shawn Christenson on July 15th, 2009 6:01 pm

    The thing about a slogan is it’s that extra thing to remember – and of the parts to recall about a company, the slogan ends up being least important. I agree about the Wal-Mart slogan – it just gets to the point. It helps me make a buying decision.

    However, does a slogan HAVE to be memorable? is that the POINT of a Slogan? I never really felt it was the point. I felt it was that little bit extra oomph. ‘That Was Easy’ doesn’t have to be memorable – but when it’s said it gets the point across – Staples makes it easy. Maybe you don’t remember the Slogan, but maybe what people do remember is what the Slogan is meant to instill.

  8. Dean Rieck on July 15th, 2009 6:37 pm


    Good point. But I’m not sure how else they’d do the survey. They needed something simple and measurable.

  9. Shawn Christenson on July 15th, 2009 11:48 pm

    Hi Dean,

    yes I agree – you need something measurable. But to state they don’t sell based on those facts, isn’t fair to a slogans feelings. :)

    I got some great food for thought from this post, and appreciate it greatly :)

  10. Consumer Mailing Lists on July 18th, 2009 11:46 pm

    Those are some startling statistics, I would think slogans are more important that that. I would agree that slogans should be descriptive and have some meaning towards the particular product, however, if customers don’t remember the slogan how should a small business get their name into the consumers mind?

  11. jeff on July 22nd, 2009 6:58 am

    Enjoy the post and the comments. I agree with the sentiment that it’s tough to isolate one part of a company campaign (i.e., a slogan) and then draw conclusions about effectiveness. A bit like isolating whether a company has a twitter presence and then using that to explain financial performance…there’s just too many other factors at play. Of course, ad agencies have spent years claiming responsibility for good results, so perhaps it’s a bit of karma at work to heap everything on the lowly slogan :)

  12. Wiliam Waites on August 15th, 2009 1:07 pm

    Slogans are not usually intended to sell. They are intended to summarize an advertisers persona. As such, they frequently are over ambitious. These “the stuff of life” slogans bear little or no direct relation to the sales message in the ad. Often, they are an afterthought. “Oh, that’s right. We have to put the slogan next to the logo.”

    OTOH, when an ad and a slogan are integrated the slogan can work very well to close a sale, if not make one on its own. I think that is one reason WalMart’s works. They are advertising low prices and, by golly, that’s what their slogan says.

    Incidentally, what is the role of a slogan in online commerce? In direct response advertising, I would rather close with a call to action than a slogan.

    True for online communication too?

  13. Dean Rieck on August 15th, 2009 6:49 pm

    A lot of Web sites have a slogan or tag line beneath their logo. That’s one example.

FREE Newsletter
Get my monthly newsletter and a FREE 16-page Report: 99 Easy Ways to Boost Your Direct Mail Response!
Enter your main e-mail:
Past issues and more info.
Your privacy is guaranteed.