Taglines, branding & tourism

In summary A tagline done well encapsulates the brand's essence, experience or benefit. Done poorly, it's just another empty bumper sticker.

Tourism advertising can be some of the most inspired work out there at any given time. It can also be some of the most generic.

Don’t get me wrong–I love taglines. I’ve written more than my share through the years, for brands like McDonald’s, Heinz, Samsonite, Nintendo, Fidelity Bank and Builders Mutual. A few even survive to this day. But a tagline is not synonymous with a brand. Done well, a tagline encapsulates the brand’s essence, experience or benefit. Done poorly, it’s just another empty bumper sticker. One of my favorite tourism lines has always been: New Orleans–Come as You Are. Leave Different.

I just saw a commercial for Italy last night, the first one I can recall. The tagline? “Much more.” Maybe it sounds better in Italian. The commercials themselves are full of bad Quantum Leap-style “time travel” special effects. When it comes to tourism, there aren’t many more desirable brands than the country of Italy, and that’s the best they can do? I was expecting much more.

Meanwhile, other towns and countries are taking respective stabs at creating allure through new taglines. Calgary, Alberta has already spent $100K in consultants’ fees (not sure if that’s American or Canadian) merely exploring the idea of rebranding itself. The pricetag may eventually reach $1 million or more, like it did nine years ago when they settled on “Heart of the New West.”

When someone says “Providence, Rhode Island,” what’s the first set of words that comes to mind? If it’s “Creative Capital,” then the Nashville firm the city hired earned its $100K. Its previous slogan was “Renaissance City,” coined by the then-mayor, now serving 4 1/2 years for racketeering. Which do you prefer? Does it really matter?

Other recent tagline activity:

  • New Market, Virginia: The Crossroads of History, Heritage and Community (slogan contest winner, whose water bill was paid for one month)
  • Peoria, Arizona: Naturally Connected. ($80K, now scrapped)
  • Hibbing, Minnesota: We’re More than Ore. (cost unknown)
  • Wisconsin: Live Like You Mean It. ($50K, and currently the target of a trademark lawsuit)

Wisconsin state tourism secretary Kelli Trumble states, “When the going gets tough, the tough get marketing.” It postively warms the heart.

What I find disturbing is not that these towns are turning to taglines in times of crisis, it’s that they’re not getting their money’s worth. The above examples neither roll off the tongue nor express anything unique or compelling about the places they proclaim to promote.

Come to think of it, my own hometown of Raleigh doesn’t have a tagline (unless “Visit” counts). Not that anyone’s asking, but first I would write up a positioning statement that captures the essence of the Raleigh brand, from a resident’s and a tourist’s perspective (dual audience, dontcha know). Then I would distill it down to a catchy handful of words that conjured up that same image.

Then I would Xerox my water bill and submit my invoice.