Home >opinion >online-views >Opinion | Firms need more honesty, less hype in their taglines

Peps is an Indian company which sells mattresses. In its ads, it says it is making dreams. Another company, Tathastu, says it is building a limitless future. Vistara urges us to fly the new feeling. Big Bazaar, meanwhile, is busy making India beautiful.

All of this is of course wonderful and makes the heart swell with pride.

But if companies like Peps and Vistara are busy with such noble pursuits, who has been doing the dirty drudge work of smelting the steel and flying the planes in India? And, is that why capital investment and job creation is at an all-time low?

Taglines and slogans have always been an integral part of companies’ marketing communication. Nor is this phenomenon restricted to India.

In 2015, German automaker Volkswagen was outed for cheating in its emissions tests on its diesel cars in the US for over seven years. Stricken by remorse, the company changed its 10-year-old its tagline “Das Auto" (the car) to a more humble and straightforward “Volkswagen".

Why, even social media giant Facebook claimed it was only in the business of connecting people. The part about connecting them to assorted marketers, foreign governments and sundry other manipulators was conveniently left out.

That’s a throwback to the time when cleverness was everything in corporate slogans, morality and ethics be damned. “More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette," was proudly displayed on hoardings and packs till well into the 1970s. Intensive activism and regulation took care of that business, but exaggerated and patently false sloganeering continues abated.

The bright sparks of the advertising industry would have us believe that the fools who go looking for a house or a car to buy don’t really need either the house or the car. No, what they are really looking for is to make a lifestyle statement. Which is why, builders across India held out the promise of dreams to home buyers. Unfortunately, what most buyers got after they had put down large amounts was a nightmare.

Don’t the men and women who own and run these companies ever feel they are part of a gigantic disconnect where the hype of their sloganeering bears no resemblance to the reality of their actual business? What’s more, why exactly is making steel or cars or transporting people from one place to another so shameful an activity that it needs the cloak of fanciful catch phrases?

Across the world, many companies are now beginning to question the relevance of these taglines as ads shrink in visibility on tiny phone screens. Companies like Apple use such taglines sparingly. In a mobile-first world, a good slogan is one that incorporates the required key words that will lend the slogan to being searched successfully.

As digital-induced change envelops us like Delhi’s smog, companies are being forced to relook at identities they have projected for decades. Recently, Mastercard dropped its name from its logo after nearly 50 years, as part of its effort to reposition itself as a technology company in the global payments industry, rather than as a card company.

Smart companies, which are listening to their customers, are also realizing that communication is going non-verbal.

In a 2011 Harvard Business Review piece titled Why Consumers Rebel Against Slogans, the authors, Juliano Laran, Amy N. Dalton and Eduardo B. Andrade, concluded that “consumers recognize that slogans deliberately attempt to persuade them, whereas (in their perception) brands do not. The recognition may not be conscious: We found that consumers automatically resisted a slogan’s message."

Ultimately, it boils down to how much, as a company, you value truth and honesty. The era of winning and nurturing customer clubbiness through clever lines is over. The new generation of customers, weaned in the digital era, cares two hoots for loyalty based on marketing messages that emphasize how we are all in it together. In the age of individualism, millennials expect companies to be straight, honest and come clean even about their failings. The vague generalization that many corporate slogans perpetuate doesn’t cut any ice. Indeed, it may be counterproductive since customers, employees and investors are now demanding high degrees of brand transparency.

The best companies are striving to meet those expectations. A few years ago, Domino’s Pizza decided to post comments in real time from its customers on a billboard in New York’s Times Square. The company did not filter the reviews, allowing people to see exactly what was being said about its products. It was an amazing example of transparency. In the same vein, online retailer Zappos gives people complete access to details about its vendors.

In an environment like this, the very idea of slogans and taglines appears to be redundant. After all, we have seen many of these going hopelessly wrong. Before its spectacular crash in 2008, the slogan that defined Lehman Brothers was “Where vision gets built". Debt-ridden Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) in its communications still boasts of “Partnerships, innovation and empowerment for sustainable infrastructure development". The tagline for Gitanjali Gems was a reassuring “Trust Forever". Mehul Choksi really had that covered!

Sundeep Khanna, is an executive editor at Mint and oversees the newsroom’s corporate coverage.

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