Hashtags killed the tag lines – is that a good thing?

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Do brands and enterprises need tag lines? As with most questions pertaining to marketing & advertising, the precise answer would be ‘it depends’. 

The death of the tag line has been written about in trade portals for years now. The thinking behind this approach could be the need for ‘flexible branding’ – in which they present different identities to express their range or a targeted brand strategy, in which they target specific brand messages to different audiences, as outlined in an article by Denise Lee Yohn in 2013. 

Over the last few years, both consumer brands and B2B enterprises seldom create and use a tag line. Apple stopped using ‘Think Different’ as a tag line years ago. Successful brands such as Google, Amazon or Uber don’t have a tag line – at least not a ‘visible’ tag line that they invest in campaigns. A Google search says that ‘See what’s next’ is Netflix’s tag line and Instagram’s tagline is “Capture and Share the World’s Moments”.  But I don’t think a tag line would be the most top of mind brand asset of these new age brands – it could be the audio mnemonic, the logo or the app icon. Also several businesses would be comfortable articulating their belief for their internal audience and not rely on a tag line to convey their brand essence. 

The value of a good tag line

Do all brands and companies need a tag line? No. But do good tag lines add value? The answer is definitely, yes – the qualification being ‘good tag line’, of course. What makes a good tag line, you ask? In my view it should have two qualities (a) a memorable and true summation of the brand (b) one that is ‘ownable’ by that brand alone. The first aspect could be a function of crafting a pithy essence of the brand.  

Just Do It.

I’m lovin’ it!

Have a break.

Vorsprung durch technik


The power of dreams.


A diamond is forever.

Utterly Butterly Delicious.

You’re not you when you’re hungry.

The above examples create a correct brand recall if not vivid imagery in our minds by connecting the dots. It is a function of consistent investment behind the tag line and evocative renditions of it through advertising. Of course, ubiquitousness plays a role too. The ownable aspect can also come from the product form itself (e.g. KitKat and ‘having a break’) or by baking the brand name into the tag line. 

No FT. No comment.

It’s Miller time!

Citi Never Sleeps

Of course, market conditions and consumer needs change and it cannot be assumed that a tag line can never be changed. For example, ‘Don’t leave home without it’ worked well for American Express when payments were made at brick & mortar outlets. In the digital world where payments are made differently, it seems incongruous. Similarly, ‘Where do you want to go today?’ may not be relevant for Microsoft of today.  But as Charles Vallance of VCCP says, ‘every brand should have a verbal distillation that’s clear, memorable and succinct’ and good tag lines help in achieving that. 

Brand vs campaign tag lines 

Consumer brands – especially those which thrive on annual campaigns, e.g. Pepsi or Coke have invested in great campaign tag lines over the years. ‘Generation Next ‘, ‘Dare for More’, ‘Refresh Everything’, ‘Live for now’ and ‘That’s What I Like have all been slogans used by Pepsi. I guess the thinking is that the communication must be contemporary and appeal to the mindset of the core target consumer of the day – whose beliefs and aspirations are shaped by current events. 

Campaign tag lines also allow for tackling different business objectives at different points in time. In a market like India, Amazon and other e-commerce giants will have different objectives during the year: announce a sale, allay fears of security for first-time users of e-commerce, announce a new product feature or benefit and so on. All of these would require multiple ’thematic’ ads and hence different summations. 

Hashtags: #TheLazyOption? 

Since the rise of Twitter and its promotion of trends, hashtags have become popular. No TVC seems to be complete without a hashtag in the last frame. Hashtags are also a function of the bane of toady’s marketing communications: the perceived need for ‘always on’ advertising. Brands seem to believe that they ‘have’ to communicate on Mother’s Day, Women’s Day and every other occasion in-between. The COVID-19 pandemic also generated a whole lot of campaigns – from urging people to stay home, wear masks, follow hygiene practices or putting out a catch-all ‘we are with you’ message. With multiple thematic and tactical messages, a hashtag then becomes the easiest way to sum it all up.  

A compilation of recent ads from India shows these tag lines: 

Mountain Dew: #JeetengePhirSe (‘we will win again’)

Cadbury’s: #KahanGayiCadbury (‘where did the Cadbury go?’)

Parachute Advansed: #ThankYouNurses

OPPO Reno4 Pro:  #GoBeyondBoundaries

Nescafe: Karne Se Hi Hona Hai (‘We make it possible by taking action’)

Disney+ Hotstar VIP for IPL:  #KoiYaarNahiFar (‘no friend is too far’)

Such hashtags are obviously not meant to trend on Twitter or Instagram (most of the searches will yield a handful of posts on a hashtag) but are meant to serve as  summation for that tactical campaign. 

In my view hashtags serve the purpose (and make the brand look ‘with it’ too) in the short term. But we live in a world where clutter and distraction are at their peak. Every brand has an equally viable competitor with as much access to digital media fighting for the same consumer’s attention who, incidentally has entertainment options galore. Also not every brand can be an Apple, Google, Amazon or Uber – with great brand equity, residual imagery, brand reputation, deep pockets and coolness quotient. Investing in a brand property that can immediately trigger the right, distinct, ownable cues through word associations can be a competitive edge. However it is not easy – especially in a multi-lingual country like India where a good tag line in English or Hindi may not be adequate to appeal a national audience. The essence & flavour may not also be captured well in all the languages. Most importantly, it take effort and time -which maybe difficult investments to make in what seems to be ‘need it in the next half hour’ type of marketing environment. 

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