Better to be liked or remembered? Research finds linguistic recipes for likable and memorable slogans

New University of Missouri study informs businesses of the best practices for creating slogans.

August 14, 2023
Contact: Pate McCuien, 573-882-4870, McCuienp@missouri.edu

Nissan's slogan, "Innovation that excites."
Nissan uses abstract words to create a short easy-to-read slogan. The study shows this can help a brand become more likable among their current potential consumers (Source: Shutterstock).
Brady Hodges

Branding is key for organizations. While it’s important for a company’s logo and name to remain consistent, one way any business can significantly impact their brand is by changing their slogan.

New research at the University of Missouri shows that businesses can improve their brand recognition through specific changes to their slogans. The research provides guidelines for business owners and managers about the best practices for slogan creation. The findings show that slogans that are longer, include the brand name, and use uncommon words are likely to be more memorable among potential consumers. The findings also show that slogans that are shorter, omit the brand name, and use simpler language are more likely to make the brand more likable in potential consumers’ eyes.

However, before businesses dive into the guidelines, Brady Hodges, an assistant professor in the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business, says that it’s important for them to take a look at themselves as a brand.

“It’s important for businesses to determine what stage of brand building they are in,” Hodges said. “Our research finds that having a memorable slogan may turn some potential consumers off, but it can help a newer brand make a name for itself.”

For example, when Coca-Cola was a young company, it utilized longer slogans that tended to mention the brand name, like “Coca-Cola revives and sustains” in 1905 and “The great national temperance beverage” in 1906. Now, as it is a much larger company, it omits the brand name and uses more succinct and abstract words, or words that refer to general categories and intangible concepts like their 1999 slogan “Enjoy” and their 2016 slogan “Taste the feeling.”

According to Hodges’ research, potential consumers would have to expend greater effort to read words like “national temperance” and “revives and sustain.” While that may have turned off potential consumers, it would’ve been more likely that they remembered the brand. Now, Coca-Cola doesn’t need to capture people’s attention, or build brand awareness, so shorter slogans with more abstract words that are easy to read get the message across in a way that is more appealing or improves brand attitude.

Hodges’ research on slogans goes back to when he was a marketing manager working for a U.S. ladder company. He was based in China and their slogan didn’t translate well to Mandarin. So, he sought advice from scholars and research from the industry. However, the research he found was surface level and abstract, telling readers that slogans should be creative and skillfully worded or “capture the soul of the brand.”

That’s when Hodges decided he’d like to come up with a more precise framework for slogan creation. Now, with his latest research publication, Hodges has completed five different studies, consisting of slogan testing and surprise memorability tests of real current slogans, fake YouTube bumper advertisements, and eye tracking technology to track people’s attention on individual words as they read slogans.

Through these steps, Hodges has determined best practices for brands based on specific qualities of the slogan, which is novel information to businesses.

“Some businesses might do what is called A/B testing, where they put slogans in front of people and then see which one performs better, but they don’t know why people like or remember certain slogans better than others,” Hodges said. “We’re helping them understand it’s because of this word, or because it had these linguistic properties. Business owners can use these findings to create slogans that they know are maximizing either their likability or memorability and informs them why a slogan works or why it doesn’t.” 

Going forward, Hodges hopes to expand this research to other aspects of branding, like name creation and advertising language.

“Intel Inside: The Linguistic Properties of Effective Slogans” was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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