Friday 14 May 2010

How to write a great strapline

In my last blog post I gave quite a few current straplines a bit of a pasting. I imagine some people might have been thinking, ‘Fair enough, smarty-pants, but how do you write a good one?’

It’s a good question and for most copywriters the arrival on your desk of a new strapline brief can fill you with excitement and trepidation in equal measures. Why? Because it’s your opportunity to show your skills and possibly create a strapline that really captures the essence of a brand.

Conversely, you know you’re in for some bloody hard work which will really test your mettle as a wordsmith. It’s like chipping away at solid rock hoping to find a diamond. Trouble is, you don’t know where it is or even if you’re prospecting in the right place.

You’ll probably come up with plenty of alternatives which are pretty good. But you still have that feeling that somewhere out there is that unique combination of words that nails down that company and everything it represents. You’ve just got to keep looking.

(For men, it’s that same uncertain, troubling feeling you get when your wife/partner/girlfriend is extremely cross with you, but you’re not exactly sure why…)

It’s the brand in five words or less

Before you even put fingertip to keypad you want to be absolutely, totally, 100% certain that you know the brand inside and out.

* What kind of company is this?
* What do they stand for?
* How do they see themselves?
* What’s their tone of voice?
* What are the benefits of using this company?
* What does it offer to customers?

From here, your strapline must be completely in tune with these values and capture the very essence of that company. You know that feeling you get when you think about a company? Your strapline must give you that feeling and create that mood.

Start digging

Now comes the fun bit. At this point, you need a good brief. This should set out the single proposition you are trying to express. Don’t allow the client or account management team or whoever it is you’re working for to say it’s an open brief and you can do anything.

Nor let them get away with a brief that says we want to talk about quality, value and service, and we’re right on your doorstep. Pin them down to one benefit or one singular expression of the company’s values.

As the old saying goes,
Give me the freedom of tight briefs.’

Let’s take an example. Tesco have a great strapline for their home delivery service:

Tesco home delivery
You shop. We drop.

You get the idea and the benefits in an instant. Then again, Asda have one that’s just as good:

Asda home delivery
From our store to your door

Just as clear. Just as punchy. Now suppose that Morrisons decide to introduce home delivery and you have the brief to come up with a strapline.

Start by taking a big A2 pad and filling it with words, phrases, idioms, colloquialisms and slang around the single thought you’re trying to express. Or in this case, the two halves of this benefit story.

(Of course, you can open a new Word doc and do the same thing. But type your lines in about 18 point. I actually prefer to see the lines on screen and it’s easier to move words, parts of lines and whole lines around, which suits me being essentially lazy.)

Get some online help

And you don’t have to sit their racking your brain trying to think of words. Use a Roget’s Thesaurus to find synonyms for the words you’re thinking around. There’s a good one online at

Throw in a few idioms. You won’t be using the idiom lock, stock and barrel but it might inspire something else. Or you can tweak or twist it to create a new thought. There’s a good site at Don’t forget rhymes too. Instead of sitting their trying to think of rhymes, you’ll save a lot of time by going to

* So, the first part of this proposition throws up: home page, basket, mouse,
click, trolley, shopping, shopping list, online, net, bags, meals, window
shopping, keep shop, shop around, talk shop, buy, groceries and so on.

* The second part gives us: door, armchair, home, delivery, doorstep, deliver,
knock, knock, easy, convenient, save time, wheels, van, relax, bags, simple,
shopping and so on.

You have to really concentrate and think of every tiny component of the ordering process and what will happen when the delivery arrives at your door. Then you want to come up with a line that expresses each half of this product story, but links them together cleverly, succinctly and memorably. Or a line that just states the whole proposition.

Don’t forget to employ the weapons in your arsenal as a copywriter – alliteration, rhythm, repetition, metaphor and rhyming.

Based on some of these words, phrases and idioms I’ve jotted down, I can then start to pull together some straplines and see how they’re working.

Click, click, knock, knock.
Morrisons home delivery

Meals on wheels
Morrisons home delivery

Bags more convenient
Morrisons home delivery

We deliver
Morrisons home delivery

Get your Friday nights back
Morrisons home delivery

From mouse mat to door mat
Morrisons home delivery

All the groceries. None of the grief.
Morrisons home delivery

From our home page to your home
Morrisons home delivery

Delicious. Delectable. Delivered.
Morrisons home delivery

From here, you can begin to sift out those lines which have potential or need more work, from those that are too quirky or don’t sit with Morrisons tone of voice. With straplines it really is a numbers game and the more you come up with and can refine, the better the final selection will be.

Of course, this all takes time. Which amuses me when a client briefs you on copy for an ad or campaign and says, ‘Oh, and can you just spend a couple of hours thinking of a few straplines.’

I guess it’s the same for designers when they’re asked to knock out a few logo designs – that’s only a couple of hours work, isn’t it?

Your strapline checklist

So to summarise, you need to keep checking throughout the process that your straplines are:

* Relevant

* Honest

* Memorable

* Short

* Creative

And, most important of all, that they are totally in line with the client’s brand values and tone of voice.

Tune in next time for an entirely random selection of my favourite straplines.

For more invaluable help and advice on writing, marketing and advertising, go to

1 comment:

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