Generally speaking, taglines aren’t necessary. Luke Sullivan says, unless you can write a “Just Do It,” just don’t.

But here are two reasons portfolio students should practice taglines:

1. You’re going to have clients who ask for them.
2. Taglines are just one more way to showcase how you think.

When I’m asked to write a tagline, I sometimes begin by asking myself, “What is this? And what does it do?”

The ultimate driving machine.
The uncola.
The king of beers.
The antidote for civilization.
Nothing runs like a Deere.
It gives you wings.
That was easy.
Think outside the bun.
It’s everywhere you want to be.

Just a few examples of good tags that answer the simple questions, “What is this? And what does it do?”

The New Yorker, iPhones, and Experimentation

Here’s a video of a cover for The New Yorker created on an iPhone.


Consider how much detail the artist puts into what is eventually obscured. He makes a nice little crosswalk, a cue, and a couple taxis. Then covers them up with a hot dog stand and silhouettes in the foreground. That doesn’t mean he was wasting his time.
I’ve seen a lot of portfolio students resist experimentation with tag lines, headlines, certain visuals and even media because they didn’t think they’d be necessary. They have an idea of what the ad should be, so they stop working as soon as all their requirements are met.
The truth is you won’t know if your ad needs a tag line until you’ve spent some serious time coming up with a sheet of the best lines you can write. And as much as you love that visual you came up with, you’ll never know if it’s the best until you try to come up with at least three that are even better.
Put in the time and effort to paint that crosswalk and those taxis. Who cares if they’re covered up? It doesn’t mean you wasted your time. It only makes the finished piece better.

Tools to Help Small Business

You will find a lot of frustration in the ad business. There will be many many people saying “You can’t do that because…” There will be many opportunities to throw up your hands and settle for something less than stellar. I want to share a time when I did just that and wished I hadn’t.

Years ago, I did a stint on the U.S. Postal Service. They were a tough client, with lots of layers and lots of rules. Probably no real surprise there–they’re the government. Anyway, we were trying to get some print ads out the door for a line of products meant to help small businesses. After rounds of rejected taglines, I just gave them a very straightforward one: “Tools for small business.” Approved.

Then legal chimed in. “Tools for small business” was being used (I think by IBM). I hate legal feedback like that. How could someone trademark such a simple line? Fine, I thought. “Tools TO HELP small business.” How’s that? Done. Approved.

A couple weeks later, I’m walking down the street in Chicago and I see a mail truck with “Tools to help small business” painted on the side. Turns out, all of the mail trucks in Chicago had my line on them. In fact, every postal service truck in every major city in the country had my line on it.

Was it a terrible line? I can think of worse. But it was a lazy line. And had I known it would end up being the most visible thing I’d ever write, I sure would have spent a little more time on it. Just something to remember when you’re tired of writing lines. You never know where they might end up.


“When clients say they want a tagline, I write down half a dozen from large companies. When I ask the clients which companies they apply to, they can never remember. Pick up any magazine on your desk and read out the taglines. They’re a complete waste of time.”

Neil French