Yep; this is going to get me in trouble with the marketing folks. IMHO school tag lines are mostly a waste of time. Tag lines are those pithy one or a few words that we struggle to find that tells the world exactly what we stand for. They come from the for-profit world where Avis Rental Car’s “We Try Harder” just reeks of their proud challenge to #1 Hertz.
The Chronicle for Higher Education recently gathered tag lines from 88 colleges and put them into the form of a poem (HT Kate Saunders at Tilton School). It is hilarious, informative, and depressing…all at once. I am willing to bet that many of those who read this blog will find their own school tag lines fall pretty darn close to this seeming whirlpool.
Here is the problem: tag lines are supposed to set the organization apart, a memorable byte that sticks into the brain memory around which we frame our image. They don’t work that way for schools. Too many schools come up with what they think is a unique descriptor…and look at the results. They all sound the same.
Rather than fighting over the exact words for a tag line, what most schools should do is to ACTUALLY dig into what is powerful and unique and use as many words as it takes. Write a set of specific “north star” elements that are going to guide your school to making decisions about what will create conditions of great learning at your school, for your students. Stanford University’s real tag line should be something like “A bunch of self-proclaimed nerds shooting off into all kinds of creative directions, physically and academically linked to Silicon Valley, the most productive nexus of intellectual and technological capital in the history of the world.” There are other universities in the world that are as “good” as Stanford, but their “tag lines” would be very different.
This would make a great faculty meeting three-minute exercise: everyone write your school’s new tag line, and don’t worry about word count. Say what you really think. I can almost promise that many of them will be better as “tag lines” than the 88 that comprise the poem.
Notable Exception: I notice that West Point’s tag line is not in the poem. “Duty, Honor, Country” does not sound remotely like any other college tag line. If you can come up with one that good, go with it!