What's in an automaker's gambit to frequently switch taglines? Maybe tying the tag too closely to sales.

Stokefire Consulting President Tate Linden says most great tags should be in it for the long haul.

“Look at BMW's ‘Ultimate Driving Machine,’ Volvo's ‘For Life’ and Nike's ‘Just Do It!’ he says. “They last.”

Because a brand plays with its tagline a lot doesn't mean it's in trouble. But it can be an indicator.

“Problems arise when the messages behind the slogans don't come from the same concept,” Linden says. “It is indicative of a brand that hasn't figured out their market and doesn't have a solid idea of who they are.”

Buick has run through at least four taglines in five years, with “It's All Good,” “The Spirit of American Style,” “Dream Up,” and now “Beyond Precision.”

“The slogans imply, in turn, optimism, patriotism, creativity and attention to detail,” Linden says. “Anyone trying to become a fan of Buick would have to change their relationship with the company every year or so to understand. There's no permanence.”

Saturn has changed up often but benefits from strong brand awareness.

“It's the dealer's job to make the brand promise real,” Linden says. “Saturn dealers did a great job with this early on with ‘Different Kind of Car Company.’ This was about the dealer. It was new and novel, but it worked.”

Meanwhile, Nissan's “Shift 2.0_” is confusing to customers, says Linden. The tag, originally conceived in a 2002 campaign, is supposed to signal Nissan's next-generation products and tech wizardry. It may work in Europe, where it began, but it stumbles here.

He says great taglines share common elements, besides longevity. They:

  • Represent the spirit of the brand and connect brand with the customer.
  • Are pithy, memorable and specific enough so competitors can't use them.
  • Have an unexpected or unique message aspect, such as rhyme, word choice or approach.
  • Address a particular audience that influences product buying.

The dealer environment should fulfill the tagline and brand promise, Linden says.

“If you have a tagline that talks about how wonderful the technology used in your vehicles is,” he says, “it would be a letdown to find half the light bulbs in your location are out or that your showroom looks ripped from the 1980s.”