As more brands learn to use storytelling in corporate communications, new and inspiring examples continue to emerge. The endless creativity required to steer away from bragging and promise-making communication styles has yielded masterpieces like Marriott’s Two Bellmen, AbbVie’s biopharmaceutical StoryLab, General Electric’s sci-fi thriller podcast series, and BMW Films’ The Escape.
But good storytelling doesn’t have to be an elaborate production. Some entities have proven a good story can be told in just a few words. Here are seven brand taglines that manage to cover the vital elements of story form.
Humans are conflicted. On one hand, we’re noble, sacrificing our comforts for each other, enduring hardship for the promise of something better, and responsibly striving for what’s true and right. On the other hand, we also want to party. Adulting can be painful, and the rewards are rarely immediate. A trip to Vegas would be the ultimate break from all of life’s pressures—a palpable, common goal of the protagonist, or object of desire.
Too bad a wild weekend in Vegas would expose me, the protagonist, as the degenerate I am.
Or would it?
Image attribution: Matty Adame
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” refutes negative self-talk and fears that would otherwise deter me and my friends from booking a room for the weekend. And what is it that happens in Vegas (and stays in Vegas)? Stories, of course. So many great stories.
A common brand storytelling myth is that a corporate entity cannot be the hero of its own story. Clarification comes by redefining the term “hero.” In the mid-1990s, Volkswagen became the kind of protagonist audiences love to support by stating their own object of desire: a different type of consumer.
“Drivers wanted” challenged the masses to think differently about their next vehicle purchase by suggesting passive, risk-averse consumers need not apply. The statement would have been gutsy if not for the visual presentation of hypothetical drivers embracing the benefits of an adventurous lifestyle.
“Your brand is allowed to be the story’s protagonist,” says Hollywood storytelling expert Robert McKee. “Just don’t make it easy on them.” Tell your audience your brand is looking for something, creatively opposing forces of antagonism to reach that goal. The intrinsic response elicited by this type of desire-on-display is curiosity. Naturally, audiences wonder how this quest will turn out for the hero.
This Maybelline tagline succinctly vocalizes the universal female story. Often, a woman’s object of desire is to improve her appearance. However, there are many forces of antagonism in this quest. Stop here and consider the tagline. What resistance do you sense in a woman’s story?
If you answered “another she”—comparison with another woman considered naturally beautiful—give yourself a point. This tagline taps into a woman’s tendency to compare her external beauty with another’s. But because the tagline starts with “maybe,” the protagonist is tempted to question the other woman’s natural beauty. The implication is that maybe she’s not born with it. The rest of the tagline—“Maybe it’s Maybelline”—suggests an easy path to achieving the goal.
Another ubiquitous experience is the pleasure–pain of knowing you’ve had enough snacky food, but being reluctant (or completely unable) to stop munching. The Lay’s potato chips slogan “Bet you can’t eat just one” invites audiences to relive the story.
This brand tagline is especially risky, because if analyzed, a consumer could ask why he would even want to eat a measly one chip. On top of that, the taunting challenge that presents the snack as an addictive treat could be a turnoff. Everyone knows an excess of fatty, processed foods is unhealthy. In terms of story, the brand has aligned itself with the villain—temptation. It pokes fun at the internal struggle; in doing so, the message liberates audiences from the seriousness of a bigger “ultimate” choice. After all, it’s just food. And let’s just out with it: The brand assumes the audience’s true object of desire is fun and instant gratification.
One of the best storified B2B brand taglines is General Electric’s “Imagination at work.” When targeting global enterprise technology and services clients, GE’s slogan acknowledges the creativity-versus-results conundrum. Every enterprise client battles the desire for that one transformative, industry-disrupting idea. Meanwhile, though, there’s work to be done. Paying your people to sit around and daydream may earn your company a top spot on the “best places to work” lists, but rarely proves its own short-term ROI. These realities can act as antagonistic forces to established brands in any sector.
Image attribution: Verne Ho
“Imagination at Work” communicates a gift from one story character to another—a tool, if you will—the Excalibur of combined creativity and results. “Here you go,” says GE. “Here’s the power of forward-thinking innovation plus the completion of the business objectives you’ve already set out to achieve.”
In other words, GE’s tagline does not presume to know what your corporate object of desire is. It does, however, promise to give you the best of both helpers to neutralize the frustrations along the way.
No one ever felt ridiculous asking a friend or business colleague on the other end of the line whether or not they could be heard clearly. That is, until a brand replayed the scene back to consumers. Suddenly, the question “Can you hear me now?” is silly.
Image attribution: Søren Astrup Jørgensen
In the context of classic story structure, Verizon (the tagline’s originator) suggests the protagonist has fixated on the wrong goal. Instead of hoping for a better connection this once, viewers are prompted to want more. The logical progression leads audiences to deduce a better goal would be greater coverage in general. At that point, all the brand has to do is step in and deliver the audience’s new object of desire.
Many people say they love their hometown. Why, then, does this particular declaration tell a whole story? “I Love New York” is a statement so simple that a curious observer could wonder why it’s so potent. New Yorkers, however, know exactly why it resonates.
Image attribution: Britt Reints
Everyone who’s ever been there has a “New York” story, and no New York adventure is free from problems. There are the commonly accepted inconveniences like the smell, the smell, and the smell. But then there are unanticipated troubles that also plague New York residents and visitors: violence, political tensions, and corporate corruption, to name a few.
It’s in spite of these difficulties—indeed, sometimes it’s because of them—that New Yorkers are fiercely proud of their enjoyment of the place. In short, everyone who loves New York loves it for a different reason. And it’s in those differences that people find a refreshing solidarity.
Organizations can and should go all-in with brand storytelling. That means story can permeate even the most basic, simple statement. Scrutinize your slogan today. Does it embody the trouble or ridiculousness common to the universal human experience? Does it provoke a question? Or does it attempt to answer all doubts?
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Featured image attribution: Tim Gouw