The brand slogan: science or art… or both?

What makes a good slogan? Some recent research has shed light on factors that lead to greater likability and memorability – and its conclusions are quite interesting.

We all love a good slogan, strapline, tagline or whatever you want to call it. As marketers we all aspire to a shorthand expression of the brand – our positioning, our brand essence, our difference. So, what makes a good slogan?

Of course, most marketers would agree that we want them to be catchy, memorable, convey an appropriate personality and be highly distinctive all at the same time. Quite a feat, for just a few words.

Yet, recent research from University of Missouri, Bayes Business School, and the University of Arizona has found an intriguing dichotomy between what makes a slogan likable and what makes it memorable. This raises an interesting question for marketers – should a brand’s slogan aim to be liked or remembered? Can it be both?

The Likable vs. Memorable Paradox

According to the research, likability in slogans is often associated with short length, absence of the brand name, and the use of frequently used and abstract words (those that convey concepts or feelings). Conversely, memorability is associated with longer slogans, the inclusion of the brand name, and the use of unusual and concrete words (words that can be perceived by the senses – non-abstract concepts).

So there’s a paradox here – the theory suggests that strategies to increase likability can decrease memorability, and vice versa; what makes a slogan liked doesn’t necessarily make it remembered, and what makes it remembered doesn’t necessarily make it liked.

Clearly the theory puts marketers in a complex position where they need to strike a balance between these opposing forces – or choose a side.

But in reality do we have to make that choice? Let’s take a look at some iconic brand slogans, and see if we can spot the secret sauce…

Finger Lickin’ Good

OK, so it’s short and there’s no mention of the KFC brand – which according to the research definitely suggests likeable. “Finger” may be a concrete word, but “Finger-Lickin’” is arguably a subjective judgement, as is “Good” so the whole phrase is an abstraction. And that suggests ‘liked’ not ‘memorable’.

On the other hand, you could easily argue that the language is, in fact, concrete. “Finger” is concrete and “Lickin’” could be said to refer to a tangible, sensory experience, while “Good” offers a simple, positive evaluation. So that would put it in the memorable camp. This combination of features likely contributes to the slogan’s longstanding impact and memorability.

Here’s a slogan that’s short and sweet, and doesn’t include the brand name, but the concrete sensory imagery it evokes might make it more memorable than the rule suggests. And after all, “Finger Lickin’ Good” is arguably one of the most memorable and successful slogans in advertising history.

I’m Lovin’ It

Logo and slogan of McDonald's fast food restaurant on the patio umbrella.

Short = liked. No brand name = liked. Lovin’ = abstraction = liked.

Despite its abstract language, which the research suggests would be less memorable, this is a slogan that has proven to be one of the most recognised taglines in advertising history.

The success of “I’m Lovin’ It” demonstrates that while patterns and tendencies can be observed, there are always exceptions in marketing. Factors such as brand strength, advertising strategy, and cultural resonance can all play a part in making a slogan both likable and memorable.

Oh, and of course a catchy mnemonic helps. Sometimes I can’t stop whistling that damn jingle.

Vorsprung Durch Technik

Here we have a phrase, in German, that translates to “Advancement Through Technology”. Given it doesn’t include the brand name, and is relatively short, the research would suggest that it falls more in the ‘likable’ category rather than the ‘memorable’ one.

Except it’s not that straightforward, is it?

Audi’s slogan has indeed proven to be very memorable, with enduring appeal – of course the fact that it’s in the German language, gives it a clear association with German engineering, perceived to be perhaps the highest quality in the world. But more than that, the fact that very few people could tell you what it means puts it firmly in the ‘unusual’ category, making it very distinctive in the market. It just stands out.


A glass building of the headquarters of the Audi factory with blue sky and trees in the foreground in Ingolstadt, Bavaria

Beanz Meanz Heinz

An undeniable classic.

But let’s consider its characteristics in relation to the research findings.

Firstly, the slogan is relatively short – that suggests likeability.

Second, it includes the brand name = memorable.

The words used are simple and commonplace – “Beanz” and “Meanz” are playful variants, rare nor unusual. So another tick for likeable.

So it’s got a bit of both. Introduced in the UK in 1967, it’s become one of the most famous advertising slogans of all time. Both liked and remembered.

It’s not just ‘science’ that’s happening here – the slogan uses a rhyming structure, which enhances its memorability. Rhyming phrases can be easier to remember due to their musicality and rhythm. It’s like a mnemonic.

Either way, ask anyone what beans means, and they’ll know.

Questioning the science

I’m not trying to undermine the research – I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the full report, just an article reporting it in Marketing Week. I’m sure it’s more nuanced than this but I just found the concept interesting, that factors that make a slogan likeable may prevent it from being memorable.

It’s particularly interesting to try and analyse famous slogans in the light of the research. Try it with the following:

  • Just do it
  • Every little helps
  • It does exactly what it says on the tin
  • The future’s bright, the future’s Orange
  • It’s good to talk

Tesco Supermarket sign, logo and slogan on the store in Altrincham, Cheshire, UK. Tesco is a multinational retailer of groceries and general goods, and is based in the UK. They are the second-largest retailer in the world measured by profits. Tesco Extra stores are larger hypermarkets selling a wide range of goods.

Go on, give it a go – see if you can identify why they succeeded.

The difficulty with famous slogans of course is that they’re all memorable. They wouldn’t be famous otherwise would they?

The reality is it’s not as simple as the words being likeable or memorable in isolation – there’s always more context to consider.

What Makes a Good Slogan?

The research may be informative, offering some insight into how slogans work, but creating a slogan is not just a science – it’s also an art. Beyond being memorable or likable (which, to be honest feels like a fundamental necessity), a great slogan should:

  • Reflect the brand: It should embody the core brand values and vision, and support the selling proposition (think KFC)
  • Be original: It needs to be unique to stand out in the crowded market (think Heinz)
  • Be simple and clear: Avoiding complicated words and keeping the language simple ensures accessibility for a wide audience (but there are exceptions – think Audi)
  • Appeal emotionally: Connecting emotionally with the audience often leads to more engagement (think McDonalds)

While the research suggests a pattern to delivering memorable or likable slogans, it’s essential to remember that one size almost never fits all in marketing. A brand must find a balance that aligns with its overall strategy, target audience, and core values.

Crafting a successful slogan is a creative process intertwined with an understanding of consumer psychology, brand essence, and cultural context. The result should be a slogan that is not only appealing but that also stands the test of time.


P.S. I can’t write a blog about slogans without mentioning this story

Apparently in the mid-60’s, PepsiCo ran the slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation”. The campaign was designed to target younger consumers and position Pepsi as a youthful, energetic, and forward-thinking brand. But the slogan also had a notorious translation mishap when it was brought to the Chinese market.

Misinterpretation of the slogan led to it being read as something akin to “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.”

Which certainly grabbed some attention, but perhaps not in the way Pepsi intended!