A good strapline becomes so intrinsically linked with a brand name, it can be hard to separate the two. The good ones sum up the values and aspirations of the brand in just a few catchy words and become embedded into the public psyche.
John Lewis retired its “Never Knowingly Undersold” strapline last month, a much overdue move according to many retail analysts.
The pledge was originally created to give customers the reassurance that its prices were cheap, and if not, fair. However, it only applied to in-store purchases but in the age of the digital consumer, this message was faltering.
The retailer is replacing its tagline with ‘everyday quality and value’ and has pledged a £500 million investment to bring its customers ‘John Lewis quality at great value prices’.
It may be a reasonable and accurate description of the organisation’s direction but it’s hardly groundbreaking.
A strapline needs to be memorable and to encapsulate the values and personality of the brand or organisation. John Lewis’ dilemma is clear – it could create something more gusty or original but it runs the risk of having to retire another slogan if it gets it wrong. And with every company, whether a widely known brand or not, creating straplines, it’s harder than ever to stand out.
To be fair, until quite recently, “Never Knowingly Undersold” had stood the test of time which is the sign of a successful strapline but today’s ‘quality and value’ sounds more like the brainstorm was cut short rather than a worthy replacement. Whether Jonny Lewis will ever fully extrapolate itself from the shackles of its former strapline remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t resurrect it with a new twist in a year or two.
That got me thinking about other successful and less than successful straplines that have been subtly made-over for a new era or enjoyed a revival at some point.
In the early sixties, car rental company Avis launched the strapline ‘we try harder’. The idea was that as the second-largest car rental company at the time, the organisation’s staff had to work harder to prove that it was as good as the market leader, Hertz.
Of course, there is more to company success than a strapline alone but the tag worked particularly well in ads and specifically targeted its rival: “When you’re not the biggest in rent-a-cars, you have to try harder. We do. We’re only number two.”
The strapline was ditched in 2012 only to be resurrected two years later when the company realised that it underpinned everything it stood for and communicated it in a nutshell.
Another brand that decided to bring back its tagline after a similar gap is Iceland. ‘That’s why mums go to Iceland’ not only resonated well with its target audience but as exec director, Nick Canning commented, “We own it and we’re proud of it.”
To give the strapline a more modern and inclusive twist the word ‘mum’ was replaced by other statements such as ‘barbecuing dads’ ‘fish finger fanatics’ and the brand explained that the word mum was synonymous with the main food provider in the household, who could just as easily be a dad or single person living on their own.
KFC’s ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ strapline was a victim of the recent pandemic. Encouraging the unnecessary licking of fingers at a time when we were all being told to obsessively wipe everything down, wash our hands, and sanitise, had to go.
The logo was retired but with the possibility of bringing it back at a more appropriate date. Unfortunately, that moment has not yet arrived.
The original strapline, ‘because I’m worth it’ was uttered by some of the highest-profile women in the world including a host of supermodels such as Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford.
In a clever twist during the consumerist days of the early noughties, the strapline was changed to ‘because you’re worth it’ to put the emphasis on the consumer rather than the beautiful women in the ads. It encouraged women to spend money on themselves in an era when we were led to believe that buying things would make us infinitely happy.
The strapline subtly changed again after the financial crisis to ‘we’re worth it’ reflecting a more inclusive community feel but being worthy still remains at its core.
Gillette’s strapline of ‘The best a man can get’ was updated to acknowledge social movements such as #metoo which targeted toxic masculinity and negative behaviours amongst men.
In 2019, the brand created a new ad which challenged men to be a better version of themselves and to hold other men accountable. As a result the original strapline was updated to, ‘The best men can be’.
It said ‘we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.
The ad and new strapline were loved and hated in equal measures. Some argued that brands are right to reflect current culture but others criticised the campaign believing it to simply be a nod to woke culture and that the brand would be better addressing gender equality in its own boardroom.
Gillette did not return to its former strapline but the replacement ‘made of what matters’ tagline has not yet made the same impact.
So you read it here first. I give John Lewis a couple of years before they announce a new digital version of ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ for the 21st century. Admittedly, some people don’t necessarily understand what the statement means, but it’s so intrinsically tied in to the brand and its heritage, it doesn’t really feel like John Lewis without it.