Finding the most effective slogan

Published: 
February 2016

Which of the most popular slogans are most persuasive to customers – and what do they really say about your product?

By learning about the effectiveness of slogans and the reasons behind it, marketers can move to the next step and consider the wider issue of market positioning.

From ‘The ideal brain tonic’ (Coca-Cola, 1897) and ‘The world’s largest liner’ (Titanic, 1912) to ‘A diamond is forever’ (De Beers, 1948), advertisers have long dreamt up catchy one-liners to promote their products or services.

However the nature of slogans has been changing. Whereas traditionally they related to the specific features or benefits of the product, many modern marketers now favour phrases such as ‘the most popular’ or ‘the best quality’ – generic descriptions that can be applied to almost any item.

The trend was documented in 1985 by the academic Merle Crawford who spotted a ‘new type of product positioning’ while studying hundreds of magazine advertisements. He identified 11 different categories of slogans of which nine were generic.

According to Associate Professor Frank Alpert, a marketing expert at UQ Business School, product positioning is of central importance in marketing – yet so far, there has not been a lot of research into which are the most effective slogans. The aim of his latest research project was to find out.

Associate Professor Alpert chose a phrase to represent each of four important generic slogan types – ‘The #1 best seller’, ‘The very best’, ‘The original’ and ‘Made for you’, then asked a representative sample of 575 consumers to rate their effectiveness and rank them in order.

“One way to think about slogans is to consider the importance to the consumer of what is conveyed and the credibility,” he explains. “On this basis, we had expected that ‘The #1 best seller’ would be the most effective as it is based on objective information and therefore more credible than ‘The very best’, though both have implications about product quality which is valuable for consumers. Authenticity is less important so we expected ‘The original’ to come in third place, with ‘Made for you’ being least effective, as it is low on both importance and credibility.”

While these predictions proved correct overall, there were also some surprises in store. Here are their findings on each of the slogans, ranked in order of effectiveness from 1 to 4.

 

1. The #1 best seller

Not surprisingly, this was the overall winner. It was considered the most interesting, most useful and came joint first in terms of being an indicator of quality. People were also less likely to dislike it, although the research implied that consumers don’t always regard popularity as synonymous with quality.

“This slogan is potentially enormous in its meaning,” says Associate Professor Alpert. “It signals that it must be a good brand because otherwise it would not be the one bought by most people. Consumers generally feel comfortable buying the market leader brand. It seems reliable, as presumably an alarm would be rung by competitors or the media if the claim was false.  Thus ‘best selling’ is seen as objective evidence of general quality.”

 

2. The very best

This slogan, famously adapted by Gillette in ‘The best a man can get’, aims to show quality but lacks proof and could suggest ‘puffery’. However it was surprising to find that people gave it more credibility than might be expected. In fact as an indicator of quality, it was seen as just as effective as ‘The #1 best seller’, though judged on other criteria, it fared less well, coming in a similar position to ‘The original’.

Associate Professor Alpert says: “Even though skeptics might think it a cue empty of true quality evidence, perhaps consumers’ experience is that marketers generally do not claim to be the best for no reason. Therefore a slogan asserting the product to be the best is generally an indicator of quality.”

 

3. The original

‘The original’ came in joint second place alongside ‘The very best’ in terms of general effectiveness but tied for bottom place with ‘Made for you’ as an indicator of quality. Those who felt it was the most effective generally believed that long experience provided a reason for confidence in the product, though others felt being ‘The original’ did not matter, did not imply quality or suggested it was outdated.

“The phrase indicates a pioneer brand,” says Associate Professor Alpert. “It implies that it is authentic and innovative and had to be good to last this long, although its origins may be long ago, as with Levi’s jeans or Coca-Cola.   A previous study of pioneer brands found they had both positive and negative connotations, though were positive overall.” He suggests ‘The original’ could be a complementary generic slogan to the first two, as in ‘The original and the best’.

 

4. Made for you

Although customization is becoming more commonplace, ‘Made for you’ was the least effective slogan in every respect. Consumers felt it was clearly untrue because ‘they don’t know me’ which in turn made the company seem dishonest and undermined confidence in the product.

Associate Professor Alpert believes this is a predicament for marketers, because customer-focus positioning of this type is generally based on consumer research, though individual consumers would be unaware of that.  In an individualistic culture, consumers are also very aware of individual differences.  In other words, it is not be made for you specifically, but it is customised for people like you.

Associate Professor Alpert stresses that brand descriptions by themselves don’t always determine consumers’ response to a product: “There are plenty of other factors which can override the impact of slogans – such as product features and cost – and the effects we have found in our research will not always occur in every situation.

“However it is helpful to know about generic slogans when planning marketing strategy. By learning about the effectiveness of slogans and the reasons behind it, marketers can move to the next step and consider the wider issue of market positioning, and what is most suitable for their own product or brand.”