These Tags Are It

It seems being vigilant 24/7 is a bank’s best asset. At least that’s what Citigroup seems to hope given the revival of its “Citi never sleeps” tagline, part of a new global campaign for Citi (formerly Citibank) launched last month.

The tagline, written in 1977 by the bank’s then-agency, Wells, Rich, Green, was long gone when the decision was made to bring it out of retirement. The reason for its resurrection, according to sources, was straightforward: to remind consumers of more robust economic times and distance the bank from the recent spate of credit crunch-related bad news — most notably, its declining revenue. Bob Moore, CCO of Publicis USA, the bank’s agency, says the tagline’s return was made at the behest of Citi’s CEO, Vikram Pandit.

Whether an attempt to burnish one’s image by harkening back to better days, capitalize on boomer nostalgia, or tacitly admit to diminishing creativity, the dusting off of old taglines has accelerated in recent years. For Citi, the tagline’s newest incarnation — it originally was “The Citi never sleeps” — follows the extremely short-lived, “Let’s get it done,” introduced in early May, which had been developed to work in conjunction with a dynamic red arc representing transition or change. (Only the campaign’s tagline has changed; the new logo and other creative is the same.)

The “Citi never sleeps” tagline “heralded a return to the brand’s core value of customer service,” says Moore. “And instead of being nostalgic was, in fact, a way to move the brand forward.”

Lisa Caputo, CMO for Citi, adds that testing with consumers “confirmed its strong recall and favorability. And one of the great benefits is we already own it; it’s trademarked.”

Other brands that resurrected taglines include The New York Times Media Group, Finesse and Red Lobster.

In 2006, in the wake of declining sales and reporting scandals, Alyse Myers, svp and CMO of The New York Times Media Group, brought back a tagline not used for 20 years: “These times demand the Times.” That same year, Lornamead — which had bought Finesse from Unilever after the hair-care brand lost its luster in the face of double-digit sales dip — prompted DeLamarter Advertising to restore Backer & Spielvogel’s “Sometimes you need a little Finesse. Sometimes you need a lot.”

In 2004, Richards Group revived “For the seafood lover in you” for Red Lobster. While sales had actually been going up — $2.34 billion in 2002 and $2.43 billion in 2003, according to Red Lobster parent company, Darden Restaurants — the agency decided to test the retired tagline’s popularity. It scored high points with consumers and the decision was made to bring it back.

Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, says he consistently returns to classic taglines — even those developed at other shops — when he feels the client would benefit. Last year, for instance, the agency replaced Sprint’s confusing “Power up” tagline from TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, with “Sprint ahead,” created by McCann Erickson in 1998.

“We believe that great taglines are things that people connect with,” says Goodby. “And I think it takes a certain amount of selflessness to think this out and figure what is best for your client. People could say we’re just being lazy and opportunistic — which, of course, we are — but we’re also smart enough to know a great piece of equity when we see it.”

In 2004, Burger King recognized the value in its popular tagline, “Have it your way,” introduced by McCann Erickson in 1974 and retired in 1976. (An iteration of the line, “When you have it your way it just tastes better,” got some air time in 1999.) With sales lagging (in 1999 the fast-food restaurant reported $8.6 billion in sales; by 2004, that number hit $7.7 billion, according to research and consulting firm Technomic), Russ Klein, the company’s CMO, went to Crispin, Porter + Bogusky and quietly asked the Miami agency to put a week of work behind his idea of bringing back the original tagline. At the time, the brand was with Young & Rubicam.

“It was really how we got the business from Y&R,” recalls Rob Reilly, partner and co-ecd at Crispin’s Boulder, Colo., office. “In fact, it was the only reason to take the project on. As we saw it, ‘Have it your way,’ the Whopper and, eventually, the King were Burger King’s equity.”

The tagline, he adds, was the impetus for the agency’s “Subservient Chicken” creative, also launched in 2004, which lets users have chicken “their way” on a Burger King Web site, subservientchicken.com.

“American culture likes bringing something back — look at Hollywood — as long as the work is fresh,” Reilly says.

Going back even farther, Memorex, in 2001, brought back “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” Dick Acker, president and cd at Jefferson/Acker, recalls that when the agency was hired in 1999, Memorex, thanks to the dying audiocassette market, was beaten down financially and had changed hands several times. The new owner, Hanny Holdings, started a rebranding effort that culminated, two years later, in the company’s first major campaign in more than 18 years. At its center was the 1971 “Is it live” Leo Burnett tagline, which had been retired in 1990.

The decision wasn’t an easy one. According to Acker, they had a “16-year-old target” and a tagline that hadn’t been used in almost two decades. In addition, the company was making products such as DVD labeling systems, not audiocassettes. “‘Is it live’ didn’t exactly fit with the product line,” Acker says. “But they were still in the writable and rewritable audio-capture mode so we recommended that we take a look at the tag relative to its audience.” An astounding 60 percent of people who had heard of the brand could fill in the last half of the “Is it live…” line, he says.

“A lot of times agencies change a tagline for the sake of change. And just because they switch doesn’t mean the tagline wasn’t the right thing for the brand,” Acker says. “The more realistic companies are saying, ‘You know what? That was a great line. Why did we abandon it?'”

With this in mind, some companies revise, instead of abandon, a tagline. For example, Goodby recalls that when his shop won Ace Hardware in 2001, it changed the long-running, but then-defunct “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man” to “The helpful place” (a tag still in use). This simultaneously shortened and gender neutralized it.

Similarly, when McCann Erickson won Avis in 1999, the creative team discerned that although a version of the 1962 Doyle Dane Bernbach tagline, “We try harder,” had been in some way maintained (in use was “We try harder — for you”), they wanted to return to something even closer to the original.

“In my opinion [the new tagline] bastardized the original,” says Steve Ohler, ecd, evp at McCann, New York. “The idea that Avis tries harder on your behalf was understood, we thought, but shouldn’t be overt.”

Interestingly, despite the tendency to resuscitate old taglines, there is scant evidence that this has an economic impact on brands, observers say. In fact, the overall utility of taglines in general is dubious.

“Generally speaking, taglines mean more to companies and agencies than they do to consumers,” says Tim Maleeny, director of brand strategy at Publicis & Hal Riney. Maleeny notes that consumers usually can describe in “plain language” what a well-defined brand stands for, but only 1 or 2 percent will remember a tagline.

“There’s a myth about the equity of taglines with clients and, to an extent, with agencies — that they should be a shorthand for the positioning and a campaign,” Maleeny says. “But asking how it resonates inside the agency is really important because it’s something to write to — the period at the end of the sentence.”

Maleeny is among those experts who excoriate the trend of testing taglines. “Asking consumers to look at words out of context, where they are just a bunch of words, that’s disastrous,” he says. “I’m not dismissing [a tagline’s] importance, but consumers remember the brand promise.”

Karl Heiselman, CEO at brand consultancy Wolff Olins, believes taglines have become “a crutch in the ad world. They’re easy for clients to buy, but my research shows they don’t matter much to consumers.”

And not just his research, Heiselman says, citing a 2003 Emergence study showing that only six of the world’s biggest marketers could score above 10 percent on tagline recognition. But “not all taglines are bad,” he concedes. “The ones that work are the ones that are true.”

Are there examples where a tagline itself lifted sales?

“It’s tough to separate the tagline from the campaign,” Heiselman says. “People believe in their experience, not in communication. There’s far too much focus on taglines and not enough on a compelling brand idea that acts as internal mantra and drives internal change.”