Slogan vs motto (vs tagline): The ultimate branding showdown

June 29, 2021 · 8 min read

Slogan, motto. To-may-to, To-mah-to.

Well, not exactly. While "slogan" and "motto" may sometimes be used interchangeably, there are essential, nuanced differences between the two that marketers should understand.

That's why we're breaking down a slogan vs. motto to make clear what each term means and when you would use each of these brand elements in your marketing. We'll also dive into taglines and where those fit in.


Slogan vs. motto

While both slogans and mottos impact your branding and marketing, they are used for different purposes. Understanding the difference between the two, why you need one or the other, and when to use each allows you to add new layers of depth to your branding.

What is a slogan?

A slogan is a short phrase used in advertising or promotion to capture the audience's attention and get them interested in the product. When done right, the best slogans are catchy, memorable, and help generate buzz for a particular campaign.

While this may seem similar to a motto or tagline, the main (and most important) difference here is that a brand slogan is tied to a specific ad campaign for a particular product or service. While a slogan is often a reflection of the brand itself, it doesn't express the company's motivations or principles. Its main goal is to persuade and encourage the audience to take a certain action.

Here are just a few of the most famous advertising slogans for popular marketing campaigns:

"Can you hear me now?"

In 2002, Verizon created a viral marketing campaign that became popular in part for its catchy slogan: "Can you hear me now? Good." This slogan was created to help Verizon sell cell phone plans by drawing attention to its biggest differentiator—its widespread and reliable service.

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The ads became popular because of the quirky and catchy slogan that the main character repeated in every commercial. 

"Got milk?"

This is an excellent example of a clever slogan that's become more memorable than the organization that used it. The "Got Milk?" campaign ran from 2003 until 2014. It featured photos of celebrities and characters from well-known films with the iconic white milk mustache.

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While you may remember "Got Milk?", you may not necessarily know what the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB) is... which means that this slogan did its job. The CMPB did not create this campaign to put itself in the spotlight. Instead, they wanted to get people comfortable with the idea of drinking milk regularly instead of soft drinks—and just two simple words made it happen!

"Snap, crackle, and pop"

Another example of a popular, catchy slogan that has become synonymous with its product, Rice Krispies' "snap, crackle, and pop." Rice Krispies is made by Kellogg's, which has a whole slew of cereal brands (each with its own slogan). 

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"Snap, crackle, and pop" is unique in that it highlights the cereal's most interesting attribute—the sound it makes when poured over with milk. The cereal's mascots, still featured on the cereal boxes and across social media, are also named Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

What is a motto?

A motto is a short expression that describes a guiding principle of an organization. Mottos help companies express what's important to them and how they want to do business. In branding, mottos are used as front-facing elements that capture and communicate a company's values.

While slogans and mottos are both short, catchy phrases, a motto focuses on expressing a belief or idea rather than grabbing the audience's attention to sell something. Mottos are predominantly used in written form rather than word-of-mouth, like slogans and taglines. While they rarely go viral, mottos are an essential brand element that can help you build a stronger connection with your target audience (similar to your brand values). 

Mottos are not tied to a specific offer or even the benefits a company delivers. Much like a mission statement, a motto can serve as both an internal and external compass that guides the company on how to operate from a moral and ethical perspective.

It's more challenging to find great examples of brand mottos since many brands don't have them, and the ones that do often don't use them in ads or promoted content. 

However, one organization that includes its motto at the forefront of its branding is the United States Marine Corp. "Semper Fidelis" or simply "semper fi" means “always faithful” or “always loyal.” This motto highlights what the Marines stand for and how they operate.


Slogan vs. tagline

At this point, you may be wondering: "Where do taglines fit in?" Taglines and company slogans are often mistakenly used interchangeably because they serve very similar purposes. However, there is a difference between the two that impacts how and when you would use each.

A tagline is a short catchphrase that's used to represent a brand as a whole. It communicates what the brand hopes to achieve or what value they provide without explicitly mentioning the product or service. 

Taglines are meant to be memorable and serve as a way for people to identify a brand easily. The goal is to make your tagline so recognizable that people think of your brand when they hear that short sentence or phrase.

The difference here is that slogans are tied to a single marketing campaign, and taglines are connected to the brand as a whole. For a great example of a slogan vs. tagline, we can look to Apple.

Apple's famous tagline is "Think Different." This describes how Apple functions as a company and captures the “heart” behind every Apple product. Apple is always at the forefront of innovation, and its tagline makes that clear.

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A well-known Apple slogan came from the first generation of the iPhone. "This changes everything" was the slogan that Apple used to promote the product. This advertising slogan certainly speaks to Apple's desire for innovation, but it focuses on just one particular product—the first generation iPhone. They’ve clearly updated their branding since then.

Here are a few examples of famous taglines you're sure to recognize.

"I'm lovin' it."

Launched in 2003, McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" is still used today as the company's tagline. It’s become synonymous with the brand name itself because it resonates with the company's target audience. While McDonald's may not be the healthiest food choice, they eat it because they love the taste and convenience.

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"Just do it."

We can't talk about taglines without mentioning Nike's "Just do it." Nike's brand message tells its audience that they don't have to be professional athletes to tackle tough obstacles that are in their way. "Just do it" leans into this idea that all you need to get things done is the determination to do it (and, perhaps, the right equipment along the way).

"Because you're worth it."

L'Oreal Paris uses the tagline, "Because you're worth it" to appeal to its audience of women who are buying cosmetics and beauty supplies. The message is empowering, suggesting there is a little magic in buying cosmetics for no other reason than just because you deserve them. 

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The tagline puts women at the center of the brand, making the product about them and their choice rather than looking pretty.

"Finger-Lickin’ Good"

KFC's tagline, "Finger-Lickin’ Good" is just three words...but as soon as you hear them, you're able to visualize a bucket of KFC fried chicken. (This means it's doing what it's meant to do!)

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Like many of the others on this list, this tagline helps promote the brand's unique selling proposition. KFC aims to create delicious fast food that you can eat with your fingers, and that's what this tagline communicates.


Do you need a slogan, motto, or tagline?

Let's be honest. Even for the most seasoned of marketing professionals, branding jargon can get confusing. Now that you know the difference between slogan vs. motto vs. tagline, you can feel more confident about how your brand can use each in its marketing.

Once you've created a slogan, motto, and/or tagline, you'll need to save it in a central location where everyone on your team has access to it. We recommend adding these branding elements to your brand guidelines. That way, everyone on your team can be on the same page when using slogans, mottos, and/or taglines across your assets.

Don't have a central location to store your brand guidelines? Air has all the tools you need for creating and sharing brand guidelines company-wide, including non-visual files, time-stamped filtering, PDF viewer, asset versions and history, and more!

Learn more about how Air can help your team keep your brand guidelines organized and up-to-date.

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