UGA Research Reveals the Three Keys to Slogan Likability

Matt Weeks

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

New work published by a University of Georgia researcher helps explain why consumers gravitate toward “Got milk?” rather than “I’m lovin’ it.”

Slogans convey information about products and brands in pithy, bite-sized bits designed to be memorable and functional. Yet slogans offer companies another opportunity: To demonstrate likability. While marketers have long understood the inner workings of memorable slogans, research on slogan likability is just emerging.

“When you look at it from a brand manager’s perspective, they want three things to happen: They want people to remember the slogan. Recall is important. They want people to like the slogan, because if people like the slogan they’re likely to like the brand. And they also want there to be a nice fit between the brand and the slogan,” said Piyush Kumar, a professor of marketing at the UGA Terry College of Business and co-author of the study. “Between the first and the second, there seems to be a discrepancy between what makes people remember slogans and what makes them like slogans.”

For years, advertisers have relied on rules of thumb when crafting slogans: Keep it short, add a jingle, make it rhyme, etc. But these standards don’t always influence likability.

In fact, the research shows that out of 14 possible characteristics of slogans, only three count when trying to determine likability—creativity of phrasing, clarity of message and inclusion of a benefit. The other factors, such as including a brand name and the consumers’ familiarity with the product and/or the brand, matter very little in terms of likability.

“We learned a couple of new things from this study. When you look at this Top 10 list [see below], the slogans that score highly on the recall front are not really the ones that score highly on the likability front,” Kumar said. “That tells you that you cannot manage both simultaneously. 

“The second thing is you can’t throw money behind a slogan to make it likable,” he added. “You can spend money to make a slogan memorable and improve its recall score. What turned out to be the case in our study is that if you look at exposure in the media by asking how long the slogan has been around and how much money has been thrown at it, neither one makes any difference. If I like something, I like it. Exposing me to it again and again doesn’t make me like it any better.”

The research was the first large-scale study on customers’ responses to slogans of brands that already exist in the marketplace. More than 500 people were asked to recall as many slogans as they could. The top 150 slogans were selected and shown in small sets to a large sample of respondents who were asked to indicate how much they liked each one of them. A new model of slogan likeability was then used to assess which of 14 common slogan characteristics determined why people liked some slogans more than others. 

Two Top 10 lists of results are presented below. 

Most liked 

Melts in your mouth, not in your hand 

The few, the proud, the marines 

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas 

The happiest place on the earth 

Easy breezy beautiful Cover Girl 

Eat fresh 

Red Bull gives you wings

Think outside the bun

Got milk?

Get in the Zone

Most recalled

Just do it!

I’m lovin’ it

Have it your way 

Melts in your mouth, not in your hands 

Got milk?

Eat fresh

Mmmm-mmm good!

You’re in good hands with Allstate

Think outside the bun

The ultimate driving machine 

“From a cognitive point of view, if there is a clear message from the brand, people tend to like it,” Kumar said. “And if it’s being said creatively, people tend to like it as well. So both sides of the picture seem to matter.”

Because slogans are one of the three components of brand identity, alongside brand name and logo, the new findings have significant implications for brand managers and slogan designers. 

“In the grand scheme of things, making a slogan likable is important because it’s not processed like purely a creative statement,” Kumar said. “People are also looking for a clear benefit. If recall becomes a problem, you can always pump more money into it and increase a slogan’s memorability. But you can’t pump more money and make something more likable once it’s already been crafted. So from that extent, you have to be careful to build likability in your slogans.”  

The research, “A study of the antecedents of slogan liking,” appears in the early online version of the Journal of Business Research. In addition to Kumar, the study was co-authored by Mayukh Dass and Sunil Thomas of the Texas Tech University Rawls College of Business; and Chiranjeev Kohli of the California State University Mihaylo College of Business and Economics.