What's the Big Idea?

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Coca-Cola’s song from the 1970’s, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” says that the drink creates bonds of friendship among people. Volkswagen’s retired tagline “Drivers Wanted” equates VW ownership with a desirable job opportunity. But which came first, the message or the idea behind the message? 

Chase has a relatively new tagline, So You Can, that has been showing up in broadcast commercials and other marketing.


A company spokesperson in a trade magazine explains, “Chase is trying to be faster, simpler, smarter, so you can live your everyday life.” In other words, the tagline aims to communicate this larger idea of simplifying lives. Putting aside whether this tagline is an effective one, let’s just imagine the process that might have gone into creating it. Some potential tagline candidates may have been:

  • Make Life Easy
  • Simplify Your Day
  • Get Things Done Quickly

Admittedly, none of these are very clever, but the point is that they all speak to the key concept of helping people go about their everyday lives. If Chase came up with the central idea first, potential tagline candidates probably did not include:

  • We Care About You
  • Safeguard Your Savings
  • High-Tech Banking for the Modern World

Of this second batch (also not so clever), the first one is about customer service, the second about the benefit of saving money and the third about innovation. None of them are about simplifying lives.
When businesses and organizations come up with their messaging, they often experiment with different taglines and statements without first deciding on their principle idea. This method can result in a lot of flailing around. Even if a tagline is particularly catchy and appealing, if it doesn’t express the core idea the organization needs to communicate, then it’s not doing a good job of fulfilling its function.
With taglines or any other marketing message, the logical progression should be to first decide on the principle idea to communicate and then work on an effective way to express it. In other words, first settle on what to say, and then figure out how to say it. And if the wording of a message happens to come first (since creativity does not always follow logical progressions), this wording should still be checked against the larger idea it expresses. Otherwise, no matter how clever, it’s saying the wrong thing.