Taglines: What For?

Help me out here.

I’m new to this marketing business. I wrote a tagline for my last book, Implied Consent, and I’m not entirely sure how good it is. I wanted to do a tagline because it’s a great way to plant the story in the mind of a prospective book buyer. If the Rule of Seven is true (someone needs to see an ad seven times before they’ll buy), then the repetitive exposure to the tagline should help lock in the message. Right?

Besides, those New York marketing guys knew what they were doing in the early days of mass media marketing, and they leaned on taglines.

Who doesn’t remember these TV ads?

“Ask Mikey. He’ll eat anything.”

“Two, two, two mints in one.”

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

“Calgon, take me away.”

“Bet you can’t eat just one!”

“Where’s the beef?”

Here are a few mystery fiction examples I found on Amazon:

“First rule: Make them like you. Second Rule: Make them need you. Third Rule: Make them pay.” – The Murder Rule by Dervla McTeirnan

“Someone is watching her. She just doesn’t know it yet.” – The Nurse by Claire Allan

“No one knew they were together. Now one of them is dead.” – 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

What makes a great tagline? (Solely my observations)

Short and punchy. Of the TV ads, the Mother Nature tagline is the longest at seven words. Shorter is better.

Engaging. It’s subliminal but in the six TV ad examples, the viewer is invited into the story.

  • “Ask Mikey. He’ll eat anything.”One kid is commanding the other to ask Mikey, but the viewer is commanded as well.
  • “Two, two, two mints in one.” The first thing that comes to my mind is: Hey, they said “two” three times!
  • “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” It’s a warning to all of us.
  • “Calgon, take me away.” Me too, sister, me too.
  • “Bet you can’t eat just one!” A direct challenge to the viewer. And I can’t. Believe me, I tried.
  • “Where’s the beef?” The viewer wants to know too!

Rhythmic. The longer taglines have a rhythm, compensating for the lack of brevity. Rhythm helps to stick the tagline in the reader’s mind. “Two, two, two mints in one” is a really old line but here I am pulling it right out of my head.

Evocative. The TV ads are all humorous. People are thankful when you make them smile. The thriller tag lines are ominous. In mine, I’m trying to raise a feeling that injustice must be corrected.

“Secrets bind the shamed to the guilty. Truth will set them free.” –Implied Consent

I came up this tagline from early Netgalley reviews. “Secrets bind the shamed to the guilty” is a line in the third act. It resonated with a couple of reviewers enough to quote it. I felt for tagline purposes, it needed a second sentence, something that engaged the reader’s desire to see justice prevail.

Not sure if I hit my mark. It’s long for a tagline. The use of the word “bind” can stop a reader. I tried “trap”, but it didn’t feel as powerful. Maybe “chained” would be better? And maybe there’s a better emotional hook that justice? I don’t know. I’d be grateful for suggestions.

Talk to Me (please)!

What taglines do you love? What makes a good tagline? How could mine be better?


  1. Great post! As much as I fail at titles, I’ve had success with taglines. In fact, I just gave a tagline to a friend that is going into the publisher’s press release for a major deal. My thinking on the Implied Consent tagline is it’s too poetic. It’s not immediately clear what is being said, and requires some thinking to see the meaning. It’s beautifully put, but not as obvious and punchy as the examples you like (and yes, I still want Calgon to take me away. Daily. As a child immigrant watching those commercials, I begged my mom to buy me the product and will forever associate my Calgon baths with adolescent escapes into the only private space I had.)

    Anyway, as for your tagline, my suggestion is to make it less cerebral:

    For example:
    Shame binds them. Truth will set them free.
    (it doesn’t matter that the flavor of shame is different between the guilty and the shamed. The point of the tagline is to entice)

  2. Keenan,

    I like yours but I also think Emilya’s is more to the point. But what do I know?

  3. Really interesting post. Wish I were better at tag lines. Nevertheless, here’s my shot:
    Shameful secrets bind them together. Will the truth set them free?

  4. I like Emilya’s shortened version using “bind,” which is fine by me, especially as it has multiple meanings, from emotional to physical.
    Try using a semicolon and see if that works to ‘bind’ those two idea better for you.

    I liked Nicola Upson’s tag line for Nine Lessons: “Some Wounds Never Heal…” but I notice the majority of her books say “A Josephine Tey Mystery.”
    So then I checked a bunch on my shelf and the majority of those that are part of a series use that series name, which is what I do: “A Nora Tierney English Mystery;” Peter Robinson: “A DCI Banks Novel; ” Richard Osman: “A Thursday Murder Club Mystery.”
    Definitely a mixed bag!

  5. Taglines are impossible. I like Emilya’s suggestion. Very clear. I guess that’s my main advice about taglines. I don’t want to have to stop and think.

  6. I love this discussion! I marvel at how clever you all are. I do wonder if the title is catchy enough whether a tagline dilutes the enticement. I was very pleased when my publisher gave GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN “she’s dying to know the truth” as a tagline.

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