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.