Home > Uncategorized > You too can be a Fluke

You too can be a Fluke


The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the August 12, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger.


Born in 1921, Bobby Fluke passed away on Saturday, July 26, at the age of 87.

Of course, the likelihood you’ve heard of Bobby Fluke is about as remote as Michael Jackson’s chances of becoming Obama’s running mate, but he plays an important role in this week’s discussion (Fluke, not Jackson).

When Bobby inherited the trucking business started by his father in 1920, he made a few small but significant changes to assure its success. One of these was the imposition of three simple business rules: (1) don’t carry steel or auto parts, (2) don’t accept hauls of more than 300 miles, and (3) remember to thank your customers every day. “Bobby taught me those rules in the 1980s,” said Ron Foxcroft, who bought out the business in 1983. “When you think about it, the people who are struggling in this industry today are the people who move steel, auto parts, and go long distances.”

The other thing Bobby wanted to do was to come up with a catchy tag line for the business.

Shira Linden, a writer for Marketing Newz (and no relation to Linden Lab), defines tag lines like this: “A tagline consists of a few short words that communicate to your target market what your company does and how you’re different from competitors. A good tagline should position your brand in your audience’s mind and sum up its essence or benefit in a way that your audience can relate to. A great tagline uses memorable phrasing and creates a personality.”

But when the name of your company is “Fluke,” what are you going to do?

What Bobby did was pure genius, resulting in a tag line known and loved by most of the population in south central Ontario.

Tag lines are one of the most effective ways to drive recognition of your product or service. “Melt in your mouth, not in your hand.” “Just do it.” “The quicker picker-upper.” “You deserve a break today.” For most people, these phrases are essentially synonymous with the brands they serve: M&Ms, Nike, Bounty, and McDonald’s.

Despite their simplicity, and in many cases their seeming inevitability, good tag lines generally take considerable work. Rhonda, of the Rhonda Report, offers four rules for making a tag line work.

1. Make it short and easy to remember.

2. Make sure it conveys something special about you.

3. Use it to convey something special you want your customers to remember or feel.

4. Use it repeatedly and prominently.

Perhaps one of the most common mistakes is to create a tag line so abstract it could apply to almost anything. These generally consist of a string of words separated by periods: a technique many companies obviously believe imparts gravitas, but in reality merely results in a string of words separated by periods. Because they don’t actually say anything, such “tag lines” are confusing, pointless, and generic. Even worse, the same words keep getting used over and over — much like the indecipherable jargon that appears in mission statements issued by organizations from steel conglomerates to charities.

Just take a look at these beauts. “Create. Organize. Share. Connect.” “Experience. Share. Connect.” “Connect. Share. Live.” “Create. Share. Connect.” Believe it or not, each of these is a tag line for a separate company. What do the companies do? Who knows? Who cares? They could apply to anything from closet organizers to data processors. (One of my favorite exceptions to this rule is Behr Paint’s tag line: “Good. Better. Behr.”)

But even if you come up with a cohesive statement, that doesn’t mean the tag line is necessarily going to work for you. It must also connect in some essential way to your product or service. Although “The quicker picker-upper” could apply as easily to a vacuum cleaner as a paper towel, it definitely has something to do with cleaning. Likewise, “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand” is pretty well restricted to sweets of some sort.

McDonald’s recent (well, relatively recent) change from “You deserve a break today” to “I’m lovin’ it” manages to work, but mostly because McDonald’s is a well-known brand and poured millions of dollars into pushing the new tag line. As a classic, however, “I’m lovin’ it” fails, and used by a smaller, lesser-known company, would likely have faded into obscurity leaving behind little more than a footnote on marketing blunders.

Another common mistake is using the tag line to make over-blown claims. Budweiser’s “King of beers” works because they didn’t use it until they had captured over 50% of the beer market, at which point “King of beers” was nothing more than a simple truth. But with a few similar exceptions, anything that smacks of hyperbole is going to be rejected by the consumer. You don’t claim “best,” “greatest,” “unsurpassed,” or “pre-eminent” unless you have some solid proof to back it up.

With so many ways to go wrong, it seems like a miracle that anyone ever actually succeeds in creating an effective, memorable tag line — and yet it can be done.

Don’t hurry the process. Brainstorm, preferably with as many people as possible. Write down key ideas, then find creative ways of communicating them. And once you have a good tag line, stick to it. The whole point is to make it inseparable from your brand in the consumer’s mind. If you keep switching tag lines every couple of months none will be effective. This doesn’t mean you can’t create separate ones for specific campaigns, but your core-brand tag line should be virtually inviolate.

Bobby Fluke knew these rules instinctively. He wanted people to remember his name and to associate it with punctuality. With no training in marketing, and saddled with the name Fluke, he came up with one of the best tag lines in trucking history.

“If it’s on time, it’s a Fluke.”

Go ahead. I dare you to forget that one.


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