Strapped for ideas?

Straplines. They tell your customer what you’re about and they capture the essence of your brand. So why do so many businesses seem to bang out the first thing that comes to mind? Here are four that have been getting me all worked up lately – and what I think they can teach us.

1. “Wealth. What’s it to you?”

Now I know this strapline is supposed to sum up the idea that wealth means different things to different people – and that the bank it's advertising will tailor their service to your financial aspirations. But I’m sorry, whenever I see this campaign, I can’t help feeling affronted.

Am I the only person to interpret “What’s it to you?” as “mind your own effing business”?

Every time I come across this strapline I can’t help quietly rewriting it in my head to say: “So we’ve lost all your hard-earned dosh in the US sub-prime loan market. What’s it to you?”

As with many campaigns, the “what’s it to you” strapline is a clichéd phrase that’s been appropriated to make the business sound approachable.

“We may be financial boffins but we talk your language” is the subtext. Unfortunately, the advertising copywriter was too pleased with this piece of verbal genius to ask if it had any other, more negative subtexts.

The lesson: If you’re going to go down the reinventing a cliché route, test the phrase out on a few people first. Preferably someone who’s not from your ad agency.

2. Considerate Contractors Scheme: “Improving the image of construction”

The strapline howler on the 20-foot awning wrapped around the building that’s being renovated opposite my flat is so glaring that it almost distracted me from the fact that the organisation’s name should have an apostrophe in there somewhere.

Improving the image of construction? So, er, not improving construction itself then? The (rather appropriate) metaphor “papering over the cracks” springs to mind.

Now I’m sure the CCS is more about making contractors be more considerate, not just seem more considerate, but I still feel uneasy whenever I walk past the building.

The lesson: What’s happening here is that the poster is speaking to two audiences – potential members and the public. While the message might appeal to construction companies it’s sure as heck going to alienate the very audience they want to spin to. In short, know who you’re trying to target.

3. “London’s most innovative estate agent”

I was on a train when I saw this strapline and was so alarmed by it that I didn’t catch the name of the company it was attached to.

Now there are many things one might want from an estate agent: a big portfolio, negotiating skills, honesty (well, we can hope).

But innovation? A great quality in a scientist but in an estate agent? To me this just says “we’ll find ever more inventive ways to rip you off”.

The lesson: Steer clear of corporate clichés (how many businesses claim to be innovative?) and focus on your customer instead. What are they looking for in you? Risk taking that may or may not pay off – or a safe pair of hands who can get the job done?

4. Amazon: “and you’re done”

I’ve never had a bad experience with Amazon – their service is consistently, amazingly reliable. But like the "What's it to you?" example above, this strapline unintentionally undermines their message.

In America, the phrase “and you’re done” may simply convey the speed and efficiency of the Amazon service. But how many UK customers are going to read that strapline and hear an echo of the phrase “you’ve been done, mate”? Tip: never a good idea to imply you’re ripping off your customers.

The lesson: Think about localisation. If you’re a global brand, test your strapline in all the markets you’re selling in.

Spotted any nasty straplines lately? Post them here – and tell me why you think they don’t work.