The Latest Neuromarketing Insights

Liked or Remembered? How to Craft The Ideal Slogan By Changing The Linguistic Properties of Its Words

Relevant topics Archive, Advertising

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Consumers like and remember a slogan depending on how easy it is for them to perceive and understand the slogan’s words. The linguistic characteristic of individual words that facilitate liking a slogan negatively impact memory, and vice versa.
  • Application:
    Marketers can boost effectiveness of their messaging strategies by adjusting the lexical and semantical properties of the words used in slogans. This will help them create slogans that are either likable or memorable.
  • I invite you to play along and do a short thinking exercise. Try to identify these slogans and taglines. Can you also associate them with their brand? (Take a peak at the end of the article to check your answers): “Got milk?”; “Don’t leave home without it.”; “Where’s the beef?”; “Think different.”; “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”; “Reach out and touch someone.”; “A diamond is forever.”; “Finger-lickin’ good!”; “The uncola.”; “Let your fingers do the walking.”; “Think outside the bun.”;  “We bring good things to life”; “Think small.”

    How did you go? It’s probably not that difficult to recognize them, even though some of these slogans are more than 60 years old. They still stand the test of time as one of the most influential pieces of marketing communication worldwide. Since the late 19th century, with the advent of modern psychology and commercial advertising, slogans have been accepted as the way of branding everything. We’re talking about taglines, usually embodying a company’s positioning, as well as slogans, that can sum up a brand’s strategy through endless repetitions in ads and various types of marketing communication. 


    Take the “A Diamond is Forever” slogan for jewellery retailer De Beers in 1948. Not only it created a billion dollar industry, but it completely changed the public’s attitude who adopted diamonds as the precious gemstone of choice for engagement worldwide.  

    And let’s not go past ‘Just Do It’ (actually inspired by the last words of a convicted murderer before his execution.) It has established Nike’s brand since the 80’s and it has become a part of popular culture.


    You can’t deny the power of a good slogan. It can build a brand’s architecture either by helping consumers remember the brand or by increasing positive attitudes toward it (Keller 1993, 2014). As key elements to a complete brand identity, the company name and its logo are usually short (one to three words) and rarely change. Slogans, however, are a dynamic element of this identity. They can be short or long, they can be changed and refreshed as companies move with the times and their market. Their versatility allow brands to adapt to everchaning environments and connect with their audiences.


    Coca-Cola, for example, updated its slogans and taglines more than fifty times since 1886. From phrases like “Coca‑Cola Revives and Sustains” in 1905, to “Thirst Knows No Season” (1922), to “The Pause that Refreshes” (1929), to “Where There's Coke There's Hospitality” (1948), to “Have a Coke and a Smile” (1979) and to “Life Tastes Good” (2001). 


    What is the secret formula behind successful slogans and taglines as those employed by the likes of Nike or Coca-Cola? In fact, there isn’t one.


    An agreement exists among practitioners and academics that slogans should be concise (Kohli, Thomas, and Suri 2013), creative (Dass et al. 2014), and clearly communicate a benefit (Dass et al. 2014). Some suggest that slogans that are liked and remembered for the long term should “capture the soul of the brand” (Kiley 2004), “be skillfully and creatively worded” (Lamons 1997), and “express strength and virtue” (Kabanoff 1996). This is based on the fact that our brain processes language holistically, making meaning of a sentence as a whole, not just as a sum of its individual words. The downside: it’s highly subjective. It’s difficult to choose the right words that will allow your audience to connect with your message as you intended it.

    The New Way to Create Slogans That Are Liked or Memorable


    So which words should you choose in your slogans or taglines? Do you focus on specific words or on the meaning of these words as a whole?


    A new lab and field research using cognitive psychology and linguistics principles demonstrates how each individual word in your slogan can influence consumers’ attitudes and memory toward your message. Beyond the holistic meaning of a slogan, there are word properties that shape memorability and likability to a certain extent.


    This extent depends on how difficult it is for someone to process your slogan’s words. If it’s easy and familiar like an old song, the tendency is to have a more positive attitude toward it. When the words require a bigger effort to perceive and understand, consumers give it more thought which in fact increases memory retention.


    This is called processing fluency (Schwarz 2004). Fluent (familiar) words are easy to process and like (they’re also more trusted). Disfluent (unfamiliar, unique) words are more difficult to process, but remembered. When applying this cognitive principle to a correlational study with over 800 real brand slogans, in laboratory experiments, in a biometric eye-tracking experiment, and a field study, a new tradeoff was revealed: words have characteristics that improve liking but  restrict memory, and vice versa. In other words, your slogan can use words that your audience will not like but remember it better. (Fig. 1)

    Figure 1. Conceptual Model.

    Five distinct linguistic variables to shape how consumers respond to slogans

    Over 600 participants were involved in the research studies where real-life slogans and taglines were evaluated both as they are and edited for fluency. YouTube bumper ads and Facebook ad campaigns were also tested.


    Five processing fluency-related word characteristics were identified to influence consumers’ attitudes toward slogans. In application, they revealed strategies that can impact marketing message effectiveness:

    1. Length of words (short or long) (“Invent”, Hewlett Packard; “15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance”, Geico). Slogans with more words are liked less but remembered more than slogans with fewer words.
    2. How frequently words are being used (“True”, Budweiser; “It’s the real thing”, Coca-Cola). Slogans with high-frequency words are liked more but remembered less than slogans with low frequency words.
    3. How perceptually distinct from other words they are (“Can,” for example, is only one letter different from “cat,” “car,” “cab,” “con,” “man,” as opposed to “equinox” which uses a more distinct combination of letters). Slogans with perceptually distinct words are liked more but  remembered less than slogans with perceptually similar words. (Fig. 2)
    4. How concrete or abstract the words are ( “Like a Rock”, Chevy versus “Innovation that Excites”, Nissan). Slogans with more concrete words are liked less but remembered more than slogans with less concrete words. (Fig. 3)
    5. Whether it includes the brand name. During the studies, when the brand name was added to the original slogan, the odds of memory for the edited slogans increased  6.42 times. That came at the expense of decreased attitudes. When removing the brand name from the slogan, people liked it more but it impaired their memory of it.


    Figure 2. Study 2 Slogans



    Figure 3. Study 2 Slogans


    Manipulating these five linguistic properties of slogans, you can successfully improve consumers’ attitudes toward your slogan and, therefore your brand. But be aware of this trade-off: a more fluent slogan (easier to process) is more likable yet less memorable, and less memorable will mean less liked.


    If you’re wondering whether words in an advertising slogan influence the success of the ad, the answer is not that clear. Attitude and memory do not directly measure consumer behavior. Online advertising is the only medium that can attempt to do that. It gives you the possibility to measure how a strategy directly influences behavior. In this case, how an actual ad slogan influences users clicking on a social media ad.


    Field experiments were conducted by creating YouTube bumper ads and Facebook reach campaigns with both fluent and disfluent ad versions. People preferred the fluent (easy, familiar) slogans. They also expressed more positive feelings toward the brands with fluent slogans. Which proves how linguistic variables used in slogans impact your overall brand, not just the tagline or slogan.


    Figure 4. Bumber Ads


    The Facebook ad campaign experiment, which was created for a real audio production company, revealed another interesting insight. Two versions of the ad were used: a fluent one (“110 tricks to make awesome mixes from your home studio.”) and a disfluent one (“110 tips to forge astounding mixes from your residential studio.”). The fluent version, with less concrete and more frequently used word, attracted more clicks, a higher CTR (click-through-rate), and a lower CPC (cost per click). 


    For an inbound campaign, that means you can optimise your slogan words to work not only for upper-funnel measures (likes, recognition) but also for lower-funnel behavior (brand awareness).


    Put Word Power Into (Slogan) Practice

    What we now know is this: people like slogans that are shorter, that don’t include the brand name, that use words frequent in everyday language, they are perceptually distinct and abstract. At the same time, people remember longer slogans, that make reference to the brand and use words that are more concrete, not very distinct and that are used less frequently.


    As a brand, which words do you use? What linguistic characteristic should you employ for maximum effectiveness? 


    First, it comes down to what you want to achieve: improved brand attitudes or brand recognition? Do you want to be liked or remembered? Start with one goal, and aim for both later. Why? Because your brand longevity and brand equity also matter.


    Create a memorable slogan if you want to build awareness, helping the customer in the first stage of their decision journey. You’re an unknown brand, probably new on the market, or you have a small market share, or trying to expand to new markets. In these cases, you could benefit from less fluent slogans with your brand name. So use words that are less frequent in everyday language, also less distinctive, and more concrete.


    On the other hand, if you’re an established brand, you have everything to gain from a memorable slogan and more to lose from an unlikable slogan. Create fluent slogans - short, no brand name, frequent, distinct and abstract words. (Fig. 5)


    Companies that have built powerful brand equity over long periods of time are already implementing a similar strategy. (“Have it your way”, Burger King; “Betcha can’t eat just one”, Lay’s Potato Chips, “Invent”, Hewlett Packard; “57 varieties”, Heinz; “Imagination at work”, General Electric;” The world on time”, FedEx.)


    Figure 5. Managerial Guide: What words should a brand use in its slogan?

    Take Home Notes

    You’re a brand that wants to be remembered: craft longer slogans, include the brand name, use less frequent, less distinct, and more concrete words. 


    You’re a brand that wants your slogans to be more liked: craft them shorter, omit the brand name, and use frequent (yet visually distinct) and less concrete words.


    These new findings are an opportunity for marketers and any organizations running communications campaigns to level up their branding strategy.


    At the same time, there are limitations that must be considered and, ideally further researched. One question we must ask ourselves is whether this tradeoff between liking and memory is specific to linguistic characteristics of slogans. Or do we generally remember what we dislike the most? Existing literature suggests being a pioneer brand tends to boost both liking and memory (Alpert and Kamins 1995), as does prior exposure to a brand (Hintzman 1970; Zajonc 1968). 


    It’s essential to identify the slogan that is specifically tailored to your target audience and what you’re exactly trying to communicate. Is it your brand personality, your story, your positioning on the market? The words used in the slogan and their linguistic characteristics might counteract its very meaning. (I’m just remembering ““Nothing Sucks Like An Electrolux” and can’t stop smiling).


    Luxury brand may benefit from abstract terms, while exciting brands could boost their slogan effectiveness from a disfluent strategy. It’s not known yet whether linguistic properties interact to create competing effects. Or whether frequency of exposure to the slogan is influenced by its fluency. There is a risk of annoying and alienating consumers with fluent linguistic properties of slogans. While memory tends to endure the test of time, liking for ads changes often, especially for frequent ads (Kronrod and Huber 2019).


    If you’re going to spend big money trying to craft the best slogan possible, you can now use science, not only art. 


    P.S. As promised at the start:

    “Got milk?” (1993) California Milk Processor Board

    “Don’t leave home without it.” (1975) American Express

    “Where’s the beef?” (1984) Wendy’s

    “Think different.” (1998) Apple Computer

    “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” (1954) M&M Candies

    “Reach out and touch someone.” (1979) AT&T

    “A diamond is forever.” (1948) DeBeers

    “Finger-lickin’ good!” (1952) Kentucky Fried Chicken

    “The uncola.” (1973) 7-Up

    “Let your fingers do the walking.” (1964) Yellow Pages

    “Think outside the bun.” (1998) Taco Bell

     “We bring good things to life” (1981) General Electric

    “Think small.” (1962) Volkswagen

  • Reference:

    Hodges, B., Estes, Z., & Warren, C. (2023). Intel Inside: The Linguistic Properties of Effective Slogans. Journal Of Consumer Research. https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucad034

    NewNeuroLOGO 500x500 wit NEG

    New insights every month