Tagline in Advertising: How far can we play with words?

How many times have you read a tagline and it sounds like a singsong to you?

Just like these amazing ads:



  • “You can with a Nissan”
  • “Why slow-mow when you can Flymow?”
  • “It needn’t be hell with Nicotinell.”
  • “See the USA in your Chevrolet.”
  • “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.”

We’ve seen them everywhere. It’ not a new trick, but it works all the time.

In a study, Monica Melby-Lervag (2012) argues that people are more interested in statements that rhyme. Rhyme awareness can contribute positively to increasing the readability of the texts. It also makes us remember the text in a longer time and easily recall it.

Remember Ogilvy once said: “Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the brand image” (see How to Advertise, p.18). Whatever your ad is, the final goal is to promote your brand and make consumers remember it among thousands of competitors. If not, that ad is definitely a failure!

Therefore, adding some rhythm in your tagline is always a great strategy to make your brand and product more salient and memorable.

But how?

One technique is to use a poetic device called consonance. It is the repetition of the same consonant/vowel two or more times successively. Just like this line “Beanz meanz Heinz”.

Another technique is to make your tagline sound like a sing-songy word play. In this article, Carpenter (2012) summarizes some simple ways for creating a play on words:

  1. double entendre is the use of an ambiguous word or phrase that allows for a second—usually racy—interpretation.
  2. malaprop is the unintentional misstatement or misuse of a word or phrase, or the accidental substitution of an incorrect word for the correct one, with humorous results. Malaprops are effective in part because they allow the audience to feel superior. Malaprops can incorporate clichés and double entendres.
  3. An oxymoron is a joining of two incompatible ideas in one phrase. It can also be called a contradiction in terms.
  4. pun is a word used in such a way that two or more of the word’s possible meanings are active simultaneously. A pun may also be reformation of a word to a like-sounding word that is not an exact homonym.
  5. Reforming is a process that adds a twist or a surprise ending to a cliché (a predictable, hackneyed phrase) or a common word phrase, or expression. Other play on word techniques, such as double entendres and puns, rely heavily on reforming.
  6. The simple truth is the opposite of a double entendre. It plays on the literal meaning of a key word in an idiomatic phrase.
  7. The take-off is a statement of the standard version of a cliché or express, followed by a realistic but highly exaggerated commentary, frequently a double entendre.

Although rhyming and word-play taglines are more appealing, poetic and colloquial, Peter Barry warns that it is a common mistake of advertisers to be infatuated by those catchy taglines and forget that taglines need to support campaign idea (see ‘The Advertising Concept Book’, p.101). It reminds us of what Barry describes as the function of the tagline: it needs to express the campaign idea, and generate new executions of that idea (p.99). He then suggest that rhyming tagline can be a great idea only when it “express a relevance to the product and what it’s trying to say about itself” (p.104).

Playing with words and rhyme in taglines is always the joy of both advertisers and audiences. However, how far can we do that depends on how deep we understand the campaign’s idea and embed it in the tagline.

It’s worth to give it a try!


Barry, P. (2016). The Advertising Concept Book : Think Now, Design Later : A Complete Guide to Creative Ideas, Strategies and Campaigns.

Carpenter, C 2012, ‘Comedy Writing Techniques & How Clichés Are Used in Writing Humor’, Writer’s Digest, accessed 8 May 2017, <http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/comedy-writing-techniques-how-cliches-are-used-in-writing-humor&gt;.

Melby-Lervag, Monica. (2012). The Relative Predictive Contribution and Causal Role of Phoneme Awareness, Rhyme Awareness and Verbal Short-Term Memory in Reading Skills: A Review. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 56(4), 363-380.

Roman, K, Maas, J & Nisenholtz, M 2003, How to advertise, 3rd edn, Kogan Page Limited, UK. 


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