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Just Do It? Brand Anthems Are Harder Than You Think

By: Tom Lehmann

May 9th, 2024

A brand anthem, often used as a tagline, is your brand’s North Star statement. It’s the most recognizable component of your brand after your name and logo. At its best, as in Nike’s “Just Do It,” it’s equal to them.

A little like a brand name, an anthem lives on a spectrum between descriptive and evocative. Where it lands often depends on what your company does and who its audience is. “Just Do It” is an example of an evocative anthem; it doesn't say anything about sneakers, but evokes a motivational feeling in those who read it. This plays well with Nike’s aspirational approach to advertising, which often highlights an activity, athlete, or cause over the product. Contrast this with BMW’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” This anthem is closer to the descriptive end of the spectrum, which matches well with BMW’s product-forward advertising.

As simple as they are in use, anthems are elusive, tricky things to develop.

An anthem, then, can be seen as a sort of compass that softly guides the direction of your marketing. That’s not to say you should let it box you in to one style of advertising — Nike has plenty of product-focused ads, after all — but the anthem should inform the high-level brand image: what you want people to think about when they think about your brand. For example, when I think of Nike, my brain immediately goes to the Colin Kaepernick “Believe Something” campaign, not a pair of shoes.

But as simple as they are in use, anthems are elusive, tricky things to develop. We treat them as the capstone of your brand voice: only after we’ve solidified the brand narrative, persona, and attributes — which follow an array of related research — do we embark on the search for an anthem. A strong anthem must speak to the core of who your brand is, which isn’t possible if the brand voice is in any way undecided.

Once the brand voice is nailed down, the brainstorm begins. We compile a long list of options, debate those down to a shorter list, then vet the remaining options against the U.S. trademark database and Google. This gives us an even shorter list, from which we pick the strongest candidates, usually between two to four. Then we present them to you, and a new round of back-and-forth collaboration begins.

Let’s examine a few of our favorite anthems we’ve created for clients over the years.

For Capacity, a Portland-based commercial real estate firm, we developed a simple but impactful anthem that links the brand to that paramount aspect of real estate: location.

Watersports brand Slingshot boards to the beat of a different drum. This anthem celebrates the brand’s attitude of never being afraid to do things its own way.

This anthem speaks to Wellhaven’s friendlier approach to care, empowering healthier pets and happier vets.

As the producer of the first consumer solid-state battery, Yoshino goes beyond the competition with safer, lighter, more powerful products.

CRKT makes tools its customers can rely on day in and day out. We crafted an anthem to ensure the brand inspired the same level of confidence as its products.

We chose this anthem to pair with our new name for General Office Products: Acre. Together, they evoke an image of openness and untapped potential, perfect for a workspace design firm.

The western side of Washington may not receive the same attention as the Cascades, but with easy access to mountains and the ocean, it’s a paradise for all who hear the call of the wild.

No matter the terrain, LaCrosse Footwear is designed to stand the test of time and keep carrying you forward.

While there is the rare occasion when the right anthem surfaces early in the search, more often we cycle through a few rounds of the process before landing on an option that excites everyone. Either way, arriving at the final result always feels like a triumph.

Your brand anthem is not something to rush. More than just a tagline, it’s a statement of purpose. It’s one sentence that wraps your values, mission, and audience together. It may be three or four words, but those three of four words speak volumes.

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