How to Make Your Catch-phrase More Catchy (and more effective): Part 1

by Geoff on January 11, 2010

Ah, the lowly catch-phrase. So misunderstood. So under-appreciated. So often accused of being “merely cute and clever” when in fact it has the power to encapsulate your marketing message in a brief phrase that can be broadcast far and wide and easily remembered.

The catch-phrase is the unsung hero of marketing.

There’s a reason why most advertising campaigns you see feature a catch-phrase or tag line: when these simple phrases are done right, they work! They help engrave a key selling thought in customers’ minds. Long after the audience as forgotten everything else about the advertising, they may remember the catch-phrase.

For example, from my childhood, I still remember “Brylcream, a little dab will do you” though I can’t remember the rest of the advertising. And that commercial ran over 40 years ago! Also, I still remember “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” from 30 to 40 years ago—and we still buy Charmin.

So how do you create a catch-phrase that will do more than just sound cute? How can make sure your catch-phrase will not only be very catchy, but will also help you win the battle for customers’ minds and pockets?

In this and the next two posts, we’ll look at 7 Ways to Make Your Catch-phrase more Catchy. Here are the first two.

1. Start with a Benefit

It should go without saying that whenever anyone reads or hears your catch-phrase, she should be able to instantly tell what’s in it for her. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go without saying. Failing to communicate an important benefit is still a common branding mistake.

So when you come up with your catch-phrase, stand back and ask yourself, “What’s the benefit? What’s in it for the consumer? Will they get the benefit? And is it a benefit they really care about?”

Can you see the customer benefit in the following lines?

Kate Loves Kids: World Class Babysitting

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.

Don’t get mad. Get Glad!

We’re number 2, we try harder.

It’s pretty clear what’s in it for the customer, isn’t it? However, some catch-phrases have more of an implied benefit. For example:

Got milk?

This line reminds me to pick up milk, so the benefit is that when I get home, I’ll have milk to go with my cookies. It’s a benefit that triggers me to do something rather than just remember something.

For Heritage Plumbing and Heating, I created the line:

“Honey, just call Heritage”

This also is a catch-phrase designed to trigger action rather than just memory. But what does this imply? It implies that if you just call Heritage, they’ll take care of the problem. You’ll have nothing to worry about. And part of the objective of that phrase is to etch the name Heritage in people’s minds, so that when they have a plumbing problem, they’ll be more apt to call Heritage.

What about this one for Kashi natural foods:

Seven whole grains on a mission.

The implied benefit is that this stuff is really going to be good for you. You get the sense of a company that is dedicated to making natural, healthy foods.

So start by thinking about a key customer benefit—either rational or emotional—that you want your catch-phrase to communicate or at least imply. It’s not enough for it to be clever; it should communicate a real benefit—either directly or implied. And it should either trigger something you want the customer to remember, or something you want them to do.

2. Be Concrete and Specific.

In the Star Wars movies, Darth Vader represents the dark side of the force. In the Brand Wars, imagine a character named Darth Vaguer who represents the dark side of branding. The “vaguer” your language is, the less memorable and less effective your catch-phrase will be. Vague language is the death star to catch-phrases.

Consider the following examples from actual companies:

High performance. Delivered.

Insurance for living. Solutions for life.

Strength and Vision.

We Put Customers First

These phrases are so vague and general that they could apply to almost any business! They could mean almost anything, so they really mean nothing. There’s nothing specific or concrete to hook the consumer’s mind.

Contrast those vague, general lines with these very specific, concrete phrases:

Got milk?

Can you hear me now? Good!

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.

With these lines, we know exactly and specifically what the issue is. You can’t confuse “Got milk?” with any other product. With Verizon’s line, you know exactly what the issue is: being able to get a clear connection for your cell phone.

And with the line from Fedex, we know exactly what the benefit is. Fedex was the first company to stake their reputation on overnight deliveries, so they wanted a line that would express their commitment and remove doubts. And this line did just that, in a catchy, credible way. The use of the words “absolutely, positively” helps to make believers of us and make this phrase stick in our minds.

Ask yourself: What specifically do we want customers to think or feel or believe about our brand? Or what specifically do we want them to do? Then use very concrete, specific language to express that.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Nike’s line, “Just do it!” sounds rather vague and general, and yet it works. I’ll talk more about why in an upcoming post.

More next week!