Advertising taglines help connect customers to a car (such as “BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine”) or a brand (“Toyota: Oh, What a Feeling”).

But are auto makers these days yanking advertising taglines too fast? Some dealers and ad experts think so, citing this as a problem in marketing vehicles.

Dealers want auto makers to come up with effective taglines or slogans — and then stick with them for a while. They like something that sticks around long enough for them to get their arms around.

Switching taglines abruptly is becoming more common — symbolic perhaps of today's disposable society. If brands don't have a clear image, the practice could hurt sales more than it helps, experts say.

While nothing — including automotive taglines — lasts forever, auto makers nonetheless sometimes don't give enough time for a tagline to accomplish its brand positioning job in the marketplace, says Wesley Brown, a partner at Iceology, a Los Angeles consulting firm.

“If a new tagline is rolled out and sales don't respond accordingly, then the auto maker will switch a tagline — without giving it enough time,” Brown says.

Changing taglines too often can be “a huge mistake,” as it signals the company doesn't know what its brand stands for and, ultimately, why it's different from the competition and a consumer should buy it, Brown contends.

“Those brands that seem to have had multiple taglines over the years, or even in the same year, naturally perform the worst in the current marketplace,” he says.

Changing taglines can be unhealthy for a brand, says Scott Gruwell, director-new car sales at Courtesy Chevrolet in Phoenix.

“We need a lasting tagline for the entire brand,” like “An American Revolution,” he says.

Courtesy is the largest volume single-brand store for General Motors Corp., selling 7,700 new units a year, Gruwell says.

“Proof of an effective tagline is in its longevity, though short-lived ones can be effective too, provided they stick with the core brand message,” says branding specialist Tate Linden, president of Stokefire Consulting in Springfield, VA.

Many brand tags suffer from vague positioning even when claiming their product is different.

“Strong taglines represent the spirit of the brand,” Linden says. “A tagline needs to be specific enough that it cannot refer to, or be said, about other brands.

“Many are too general and don't tie into the brand promise,” he adds. “To say ‘we are the best’ in something can be said about other brands or competitors.”

Longevity is one key to memorableness. Take BMW of North America LLC's “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” which has been around since 1975.

Despite published reports in Advertising Age to the contrary, “Driving Machine” isn't going away, according to marketers.

Longevity is the order of the day at Mazda North American Operations, BMW, Mini USA, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., American Honda Motor Co. Inc., and until recently, General Motors Corp.'s Saturn Div. And they're all doing well in the business.

BMW's “Driving Machine” is one of the most successful automotive taglines going — admired by many dealers and marketing experts. Customers mention it when shopping, BMW dealers say.

“It's very identifiable,” says Wayne Youngblood, general manager at Bavarian BMW and MotorCity Mini in Shelby Township, MI. “So it's not unusual for customers to come in and say something like, ‘I want to buy my ultimate driving machine.’”

Even Ford Motor Co.'s J. Walter Thompson agency tagline guru Mike Bentley, executive vice president-brand strategy, gives “Driving Machine” rave reviews. He says the tagline resonates.

His agency helped create Ford Div.'s tagline, “Built for the Road Ahead.”

JWT also created Ford's current tag “Bold Moves,” unveiled in 2006 to promote the auto maker's ongoing product development and restructuring. That tag is playing well with dealers.

Technically, taglines aren't directly tied to sales. But Jack Jackintelle, an ad director for Group 1 Automotive dealership chain, hopes “Bold Moves” will help revive Ford's sales. Those have suffered double-digit declines in South Florida's competitive market.

He likes the tag so much he bought a URL called boldnews.com, to emulate it. Jackintelle oversees advertising at three Group 1 dealerships: World Ford in Pembroke Pines, FL; World Ford in Kendall, FL; and World Toyota in Atlanta.

“I like the commercials we're seeing from national, too. Ford's Super Bowl ads were eye-grabbers and Ford practically owns ‘American Idol,’ the hottest show on TV,” he says.

Mazda's “Zoom-Zoom” isn't going away either, the auto maker says. The whispered tagline, created in 2000, guides ambitious Mazda's marketing efforts and can be heard or seen in most major media ads.

On the small-car side of BMW, Mini says its overarching “Let's Motor” tagline is securely in place, continuing to score hits with consumers. Mini has excelled at producing irreverent, cheeky marketing, and that's indeed intentional.

“Mini's ‘Let's Motor’ shows Mini at its core is about fun, entertainment and passion for a unique vehicle,” says Youngblood.

“‘Let's Motor’ wraps everyone into the tagline, so it's very inclusive,” Trudy Hardy, Mini's marketing manager, says. “Finding the right phrase is the first step that's most important — and then it's being consistent over time.”

A sign of the tag's success is that customers and dealers use it freely.

Owners often say “Let's Motor,” a sign they buy into the Mini lifestyle, Hardy says. “They repeat the (tag) in casual conversation, e-mails, blogs, at rallies and dealer events. They even put it on their vanity plates.”

Miami agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky created the tag in 2002.

Starting a Revolution at General Motors

General Motors and its divisions need some home runs about now.

Buick, Pontiac and Saturn all have changed their promo taglines four times each since 2001. All are looking for stronger footholds in the marketplace.

Buick, for example, retired “Dream Up” for “Beyond Precision” in 2005, after shelving two others. Pontiac launched its G6 sedan under the new tagline “Designed for Action” in 2004, after canning three others.

Saturn changed slogans three times in four years, yet consumers still understand whom they're dealing with, says brand consultant Linden.

“Everything with Saturn comes down to being different and treating people well in dealerships,” he says. “Their taglines, ‘It's Different in a Saturn,’ ‘People First’ and now ‘Like Always, Like Never Before,’ all help refine the image the company has rather than continually reinventing their image.”

Cadillac dropped its familiar “Break Through” tag last year in favor of “Life. Liberty. And The Pursuit.” Cadillac also replaced agency Leo Burnett with Modernista!, aiming for an edgier pursuit.

The catchy “Rock 'n' Roll” song from Led Zeppelin also departed after pacing “Break Through” for five years.

The Chevrolet division, at least, has more stability. It unfurled “An American Revolution” in late 2003. It has become the sixth-most-recognized brand slogan of all time, according to Millward Brown, a Chicago market research firm that does work for Chevrolet.

“It got people's emotions going,” says Courtesy Chevrolet's Gruwell. It's like an adrenalin rush that kicked into high gear.”

Memo to Chevrolet: “An American Revolution” was used by Dodge Aries around 1985. “Revolution Aries” helped pull Chrysler Corp. out of a slump back then.

Tag-less in Volkswagen Land

VW of America Inc., meanwhile, is going tag-less and seems in no hurry to replace its memorable “Drivers Wanted” slogan.

VW dropped the tag late in 2005 when it fired 11-year agency Arnold Worldwide in Boston and hired Kerri Martin, former Mini USA marketing executive.

Martin, with her agency CP&B in hand, boldly shuffled the VW deck with campaigns such as “Get to Know Your Fast” and “Unpimp Mein Ride.” Martin hastily departed VW in January. Ironically, CP&B is still VW's agency of record.

The result is VW, a master at sloganeering, is struggling without a distinctive slogan to move metal in a difficult U.S. market.

Marketing consultant Wes Brown says the lack of a slogan can hurt VW long-term.

“This will become an issue,” he says. “Short-term, they are product-line focused. But even if you do that, you have to have a tagline. You cannot do an overall brand level campaign without it. When you have a tag, it's easier for dealers, the agency and everyone else to put their arms around.”

George Davis, general manager at Howard Cooper VW in Ann Arbor, MI, misses the “Drivers Wanted” tag. He recalls that it even brought in job seekers who mistakenly read a “Drivers Wanted” sign as meaning the dealership was hiring drivers.

Still, Davis says the next tag should do the job of communicating what the brand has, since VW is stressing product technology.

“If you have to explain it, it failed,” he says. “What works is repetition so it becomes a common, everyday phrase for all of us.”

VW, meanwhile, says it's focusing on ads touting its product direction. There's no time commitment for a new tag.

“It's going to develop more organically,” says Clark Campbell, VW spokesperson. For now, “The crash safety ads are working fantastic for us,” he says, referring to Jetta ads showing crashes and aftermaths. The spots have been both praised for their jolting realism and panned as too graphic.

“We want the products to speak for themselves and build momentum,” says Kurt Schneider, general manager of creative content for VW of America.

For right now, it's not in our media plan to add a tag.”

Toyota is eyeing the No. 1 global auto maker spot without a sizzling or sexy tagline. “Moving Forward” is serviceable, but hardly inspiring, ad gurus say. Ditto to Honda's vague “Power of Dreams.”

Toyota's Lexus division keeps tweaking its “Relentless Pursuit of Perfection,” moving to “The Passionate Pursuit of Perfection” then “The Pursuit of Perfection.”

“Since Lexus was launched nearly 18 years ago, we've always been about one thing: pursuing perfection. That's not going to change,” says Deborah Meyer, Lexus vice president-marketing. “We just need to keep making sure it's fresh and relevant.”

Taglines Hits and Misses

Here are some taglines that garner praise — and some that don't.

Hits. They reinforce the core brand, so they're tops:

BMW — “The Ultimate Driving Machine”

Chevrolet — “Like A Rock”

Mini — “Let's Motor”

Volvo — “For Life”

GMC — “Professional Grade”

Dodge — “Ram Tough”/“Grab Life by the Horns”

Misses. They may be cute, but say little about brand identity or reputation:

Nissan — “Dogs Love Trucks”

Nissan — “Shift 2.0”

VW — “Make Friends with Your Fast” followed immediately by “Safe Happens”

Buick — “Beyond Precision”
Source: Stokefire Consulting Group