Building a Memorable Slogan (Jim Karrh On Marketing)

by Jim Karrh  on Monday, May. 14, 2018 12:00 am   3 min read

Who “has the meats”?

If you immediately thought Arby’s, then you are an example of why Arby’s has one of the most memorable advertising slogans in the U.S. (the 13th most memorable, if a recent survey is a valid indicator).

There is much, much more to marketing — even to just the communications component of marketing — than a catchy slogan that sticks in consumers’ brains. Nevertheless, that could be a pretty strong foundation in our increasingly noisy world. Let’s examine that recent survey for ideas you could use to help your organization be memorable as well.

First, a look back at recent history. In a column headlined “Is Your Slogan This Bad?” nearly — has it really been? — 15 years ago, we examined a list of memorable and not-so-memorable advertising slogans as reported by USA Today. At that time, Walmart and Lowe’s had the most recognized slogans among the nation’s biggest spenders on advertising. (Kmart, Staples and Circuit City were generating essentially zero recognition with their slogans at the time, which in hindsight might tell us something.)

USA Today is at it again this year. The newspaper reported an online survey by Survata of more than 3,000 respondents (who, we should note, might not be representative of the U.S. consumer population). In the survey, people were shown slogans — with a brand or company name removed — and asked to match each slogan to its correct sponsor.

This year, brand leaders at KFC are finding the results to be “Finger lickin’ good”; KFC was tops with an 88 percent recognition rate. Kay Jewelers was close behind with its “Every kiss begins with Kay.” Geico (“15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more”), Nike (“Just Do It”) and Rice Krispies (“Snap, Crackle, Pop”) rounded out the top five. Slogans from Allstate, Skittles, M&Ms, Maybelline and McDonald’s completed the top 10.

The full survey tested the slogans of 75 popular companies or brands across industries, although it focused on consumer goods. Of those 75 slogans, 24 had correct recognition rates of 50 percent or more. We can tip our hats to those companies that, in an increasingly difficult messaging environment, still manage to keep a ready connection in consumers’ minds. On the other hand, there are more companies that are also spending wads of cash yet have less success staying top-of-mind.

Having observed the marketing communications world in detail for some time (and having written a few slogans myself, which remain in use and effective today), I find some clear patterns. The best slogans tend to share these characteristics:

♦ They ring true. No matter how clever brand leaders might be with their language, an effective slogan these days must have an authentic ring to it. Arby’s does indeed have a lot of meats.

♦ They relate to a benefit. Sure, sometimes the benefit might be less than profound — for example, the sound that your cereal makes when you add milk — but notice that none of the most resonant slogans relate to how long the business has been around or how much the product costs. It’s always a good idea to begin and end with goodies for the buyer.

♦ They don’t try to do too much. A slogan can’t summarize an entire marketing strategy or value proposition. The best ones do manage to pack a single memorable idea into a tiny package of words. “Just Do It” is a great example.

♦ They are integrated across contact points. Your slogan should travel well and often. Consumers should be reminded not only across different media — e.g., advertising, social, PR — but also outside of media — e.g., in stores and at events. For the greatest effect, consider as well the messages coming from your employees, volunteers, members and friends. Too often I see that messages aren’t shared internally because front-line colleagues don’t know, understand or believe them; they dismiss the message as “something that Marketing [or the agency] came up with.”

There is a final point, one more about the brand owners than the slogans themselves. Patience pays. In both this year’s survey and the one 15 years ago, the top slogans had all been around for a while. If your slogan needs a refresh, then by all means “just do it” — and be prepared for a long-term commitment.

Jim Karrh of Little Rock is a consultant, coach and professional speaker as well as a consulting principal with DSG. See, email him at and follow him on Twitter @JimKarrh.



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