How to Write Taglines That Double Sales


Two Customer Types

Prevention vs. Promotion
Taglines for products and brands are everywhere, but often they don’t get the attention they deserve. A variety of research shows that one phrase slogans can have a profound effect on how customers see the product. One key factor in crafting that phrase is matching its content to the customer’s mindset, and in particular to two important consumer motivations: prevention and promotion.

Promotion vs. Prevention

Not long ago we looked at the power of marketing using “loss” as a motivator in How “Loss” Can Be a Winning Strategy. Highlighting risks your customer faces isn’t the only way to market, of course, and an interesting blog post at the Harvard Business Review focuses on the question of promotion vs. prevention. While prevention-minded consumers are concerned about the possible loss of what they have, promotion-oriented consumers are more positively focused on opportunities to improve their life. The former are more pessimistic and risk averse, while the latter are optimistic and more likely to take a chance on something new.

In my earlier post, some of the reader comments wondered how to frame a particular product or service in terms of a “loss.” The HBR post shows how minor the differences in wording can be:

The nuances in description can be subtle. If you are selling cars, you can choose to talk about “better mileage” (promotion) or “lower fuel costs” (prevention). You can emphasize the “bonus” features customers get if they buy the Limited Edition, or what they’d be missing out on if they didn’t buy it. If you are offering a loyalty program at your coffee shop, should you offer 10% off each cup, or tell them that after buying nine cups they get one free? What the customer gets in the end may be the same, but how they get there – through the promotion-focused strategy of seizing opportunities to gain (e.g., better mileage, bonus features, a free cup of coffee) or the prevention-focused strategy of avoiding losses (e.g., high fuel costs, an inferior product, having to pay full price for their morning joe), can be the difference between psychological night and day. [From Use Motivational Fit to Market Products and Ideas by Heidi Grant Halvorson and Jonathan Halvorson.]

Which Approach is Best?

So which approach should you take with your product and its primary tagline? It’s simple if your product is obviously in one category or the other. If you are selling term life insurance, you will be dealing with prevention-motivated buyers; high-return but risky investments, conversely, will be purchased by promotion-motivated customers. Of course, many products fall into a broad middle ground and can be presented in either way. Toothpaste, for example, can provide “whiter teeth and fresh breath” (promotion) or “stop cavities and kill bacteria that cause gingevitis” (prevention). In these cases, the correct way to market depends more on the customer than the product.

If you can determine the motivation of the majority of your customers, that will dictate how you craft your pitch. Prevention-motivated customers mean you should adopt the “loss prevention” approach, with appropriate imagery and language. Naturally, if your customers are mostly opportunistic, you can focus on the “promotion” approach and emphasize potential gain.

Segmenting Your Customers

It’s likely that that you have BOTH kinds of customers in your target base. One safe approach would be to include both loss and gain elements, hoping for broadly based appeal. If you can, though, it would be far more effective to segment your customer base. A financial firm, for example, might find that younger investors are strongly gain oriented since they have relatively little to fear in the way of loss of existing wealth. Older investors with substantial assets who are nearing retirement, in contrast, would tend to be far more protective of what they have. Hence, direct mail or Web ads targeted at younger customers could emphasize gains and long-term growth potential, while ads for older customers would stress safety, particularly in terms of avoiding losses and preventing a reduction in future income. While that seem like common sense, understanding the motivations of each group can lead to optimal choice of wording, as we’ll see below.

Product Segmentation

Companies with many products are able to tailor individual product pitches at their likely audience. Angela Lee and Jennifer Aaker, in their paper Bringing the Frame Into Focus: The Influence of Regulatory Fit on Processing Fluency and Persuasion, provide an excellent example of this approach from an auto accessories website:

In promoting their Steel Horse Revolution Swing Away Bike Carrier, the persuasion claim focuses on “great looks and exceptional engineering. This bike carrier does it all” (, 2001b). However, when promoting their Deluxe Emergency Road and Safety Kit, a different approach is taken: “Don’t be stranded with a disabled vehicle without an emergency road and safety kit” (, 2001a). One distinction between the two persuasion claims is the focus on the desirable end states that would result from benefits gained (i.e., acquiring great looks and exceptional engineering by getting the bike carrier) versus the undesirable end states that would result from benefits lost (i.e., getting stranded by not having the emergency road and safety kit).

Match the Message

In one experiment, Aakers and Lee tested ad slogans that were expressed in four ways. Promotion and prevention taglines were used, and each one was tested in two forms: a “gain-framed” version that expressed the benefit in positive terms, and a “loss-frame” version that emphasizes the possibility of missing out on the benefit.

Promotion-oriented, gain-frame: Get Energized!
Promotion-oriented, loss-frame: Don’t Miss Out on Getting Energized!

Prevention-oriented, gain-frame: Prevent Clogged Arteries!
Prevention-oriented, loss-frame: Don’t Miss Out on Preventing Clogged Arteries!
Loss-frame vs. gain-frame
The most effective messages were those in which the gain/loss framing matched the message: gain for promotion and loss for prevention (see chart). It’s particularly interesting in the “prevention” tagline test that the more awkward, wordy version outperformed the seemingly more direct and punchy one. I’d guess that few copywriters would choose the longer wording (unless they are Neuromarketing readers).

Dramatic Price Effects

Another paper, Transfer of Value From Fit, asked subjects what they would pay for a coffee mug after describing it in either promotion or prevention terms. When the product pitch matched the style of the individual, the price was much higher. In fact, when eager/gain-oriented subjects were willing to pay almost twice as much for the mug when it was described in promotion-oriented terms. Matching a prevention-oriented message with “vigilant/loss” subjects caused a 50% increase in the perceived value of the mug.
Price Effects
To put this research in prevention/loss terms, choosing the wrong message for the recipient could cause the acceptable price for it to be cut nearly in half.

Put it all together

The takeaway from all this is that you should maximize the match of your tagline to the nature of your product and the orientation of your customers. Your message should build on that, with promotion-oriented messages expressed in positive, gain-oriented terms and prevention-oriented messages framed in terms of loss. If your marketing style permits and if you can identify customer segments with different promotion/prevention orientations, craft different messages for each group. Similarly, companies with multiple product offerings can determine which products will perform best with each motivation strategy. Well-matched taglines will make your products more attractive and drive more sales.

More Examples

Do you have a tagline that you rewrote based on this research? Or do you see one from a major advertiser that could work better? Or are you stumped on how to fix your tagline? Leave a comment and share your ideas (and problems) with the rest of our readers! Here’s my contribution, in the form of two ways to pitch my new book, Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing:

  • Promotion: Be The Company Hero: Read Brainfluence, Create Explosive Sales!
  • Prevention: Don’t Waste Money, Read Brainfluence for 100 Ways to Make Your Marketing More Effective!

Over the top? Probably! Feel free to suggest your own Brainfluence tagline!

  1. MadisonP says

    Great article. My natural first thought was how this translates into sales teams’ interactions. I found myself wanting a “formula” for identifying which camp the prospect I’m speaking to is in. Is this a potential customer who is prevention-oriented or promotion-oriented? That would make in-person sales and marketing efforts adaptable-on-the-fly.

    I’m in a business-to-business industry and most of my potential clients would sound very promotion oriented if “quizzed”. But I suspect that might not be the case.

    Either way, it would be nice to identify the predominant orientation so as to secure the best price possible, among other things.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      I think your perception is correct, Madison – people tend to put a positive face on things, and (for example) may tell you their key goal is to increase sales by 30% in 2012, even though their REAL goal is to not get fired in 2012!

      Even getting them to articulate a positive outlook, though, may help the effectiveness of a promotion message. In other words, if I’ve said I want to increase sales by 30%, ignoring an opportunity to do so might create some cognitive dissonance. To understand the real motivation would likely take in-depth conversation and exploration. Fortunately, I think quite a few people will give big hints, even in a short conversation.


  2. Hans Hageman says

    I work with women who are interested in fitness and fat loss. It seems both elements (prevention and promotion) are present for most of my clients. They want to move towards better health, better body composition, fitting into old outfits, etc., and they don’t want to end up like their mother/father/sister, or alone, or last in line for the job. This will be interesting to figure out as far as focus and segmentation!

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Hans, lots of health topics include both elements. I’d have to guess that promotion (being more attractive, being fit, etc.) are more powerful motivators for most women than prevention (not keeling over from a heart attack). Just a guess, though.


  3. Ron Ainsworth says

    Any data on how much the customer orientation depends on personality traits versus the situation they are in? Also wondering what influence culture might have.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Great point, Ron. As with nature and nurture, both personality and situation are important. Some people are more in one camp than the other. We all know people who are future-oriented, optimistic, and fearless risk-takers. Others tend to be risk-averse and motivated by not losing what they have. But, we can all fall into both camps. A promotion-motivated person could still be quite prevention-motivated, if he receives distressing lab results from his doctor or if she gets a margin call from her stock broker.


  4. Hans Hageman says

    Roger, thank you for your response. Reflecting on what you’ve said, I think you’re guess is probably accurate. Time to test!

  5. Nina Spencer says

    Great article, Roger! Thank-you for yet another provocative offering. You’ve got me wondering…my book (and most popular keynote presentation) is entitled, Getting Passion Out of Your Profession: How to keep loving your living, come what may. Would it be more “attractive” (e.g. for attracting more speaking engagements, etc.) if this topic was marketed as: Don’t Lose Out on Getting Passion From Your Profession? or, Getting Passion Out of Your Profession: How to protect yourself from losing enthusiasm for work…or something along those lines? Grateful for your thoughts. Nina Spencer & Associates Keynotes and Workshops

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Nina, I suppose the framing and phrasing depends on the target audience. Likely, you have both kinds of people. Your key topic may define the approach. I would think that people looking for passion in their work would be more aspirational (and promotion-oriented). I can’t imagine that many people passionate about their work would fear losing that excitement. So, I’d focus on positive wording and on the end goal of happiness (or success, higher income, more leisure, etc.).


  6. MilliCorp Ryan says

    Great information here Roger. We are about ready to release a new telephone app for apple mobile devices and have been working on taglines, copywriting and design. I think this will help us move along and plan out our process a little bit better. Thanks!

  7. Roger Dooley says

    Good luck with the app biz, Ryan! You might like the latest post at Dan Ariely’s blog: . It looks at our irrational (?) dislike of paying for apps, and there are some good comments on why this might be.


  8. Good point about the two types of customers. There is another lesson here. If you are trying to promote a new product, you should identify those seeking promotion because they are likely to be your early adopters – a segment crucial to the spread of new technologies.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Good point, Aman. The promotion-oriented customers are likely to be less risk averse and more adventuresome if they think there’s a benefit to the product.


  9. Alejandro Garcia says

    Very nice article! I’m from Chile, and I’ll try to find the way to communicate it to the employees of the sushi restaurants (internal clients). Why? Because I want them to be more proactive with Safety-food. And then we can promote both ways to our customers!

  10. John Keating says

    Hi Roger

    Thank you for the many excellent articles. I have just started my own business, John Keating -The School of Confidence- Confidence through Public Speaking!

    My passion is to help students and adults to enchance their self confidence through public speaking. Any suggestions on my tag line??? Thank you again for all the information to send out.

    John Keating
    Cork Ireland

    1. Roger Dooley says

      John, you could try both a promotional approach (emphasizing business and personal success, fame, higher income, etc.) and prevention (avoiding looking foolish, freezing at the podium, losing the attention of the audience, etc.). If you use a web form to capture inquiries, you could ask a few questions to determine the mindset of the potential client. Is he afraid of speaking in public? Is she an accomplished speaker looking to take herself to the next level?

      Good luck!


      1. John Keating says

        Hi Roger!

        Thank you for your advice and time. I will make sure to put that to good use.

        Kind regards
        John Keating
        Cork Ireland

        1. Roger Dooley says

          Irrelevant fact: my family tree has roots in County Cork, John.


          1. John Keating says

            Hi Roger

            There is every relevants to have roots from this great county of Cork.
            Do you know which part of Cork your roots extend to and from when???
            Kind regards

  11. Md Ilias says

    Hi Roger,

    Thanks for a great article. Im an ad man. This article will surely find a place in my tool kit. Im planning to read “Brainfluence ” very soon. Im currently pitching for a business its about a fair being conducted by real estate association in tamil nadu – the best part of the fair is that all the registered members of the association are participating- the registered members have signed a contract for the best practices and have to agree on a whole list of regulations which are in the consumer interest plus consumers have the option of choosing property from wide variety of options. No other real estate exhibition has these credentials. Which strategy should i adopt?

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Off the top of my head, “credentials” would seem to fit a prevention orientation. A key reason for choosing a person or organization with degrees, certifications, accreditations, etc. is risk minimization. If I needed an operation, I’d want a board-certified surgeon not because I’d have a quicker recovery or a smaller scar, but because the probability of error might be lower.


  12. Md Ilias says

    Thanks Roger. Can you add more to it.

  13. Keiko says

    Hello Roger, Thank you for a very thought-provoking article. I wonder if we also need to consider how well-aligned our webpage headlines are with our business tag-line and overall tone of message?

    My business, Wings for Women, offers coaching, mentoring, and training for women who are divorced and ready to move on and rebuild their lives. My tagline is “Live a Joyful Life After Divorce … Attain New Heights in Your Life, Career, and Relationships!” That sounds like a gain-framed promotional tag line, wouldn’t you say?

    But I’ve been taught to write website headlines that are pain-focused, so the headlines on my home page are: “Single and lonely after divorce or separation? Ready to move on and feel passionate about life again? Are you finally ready to focus on YOU?” I’m wondering if the first headline is too prevention-oriented to align with the rest of my message?

    Would love to get your feedback! Thank you.


  14. Roger Dooley says

    It’s just a guess, but I would expect that aspirational, gain-oriented messages would be more effective than prevention/preservation ones. The “pain” type of headline, though, is also sound marketing if the pain points are accurate.

    As with most marketing strategies, testing is the best way to determine what works best in your situation.


  15. Diana Sugihara says

    Great article! I find this to be true in the automotive dealer space, especially when our b2b advertising model is centered around exclusive, regional ad opps. We get the highest response rate when the message conveys the risk of losing the #1 advertising position to another local dealer simply by not running the premium ad unit with us.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Great example, Diana. I think many advertising slots are sold that way. “Well, you don’t want your competitor to have that spot, do you?”


  16. Anthony says

    I recently had this exact scenario come up when we were deciding how to position the benefits of our led testing products. Compared to competitive products, our instruments can save people time and money. The question was whether we should talk about this in terms of promotion: “Increase Your ROI”, or prevention: “Stop Wasting Resources”.

    I went with the promotion option based on the nature of our industry and something else I had recently read. Most people don’t like to be told that they have been doing something wrong, and will rationalize past behavior. Therefore, if you talk in terms of prevention you may be telling people that they have been doing something wrong, which they don’t want to hear.

    What do you think about that component?

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Anthony, it’s quite true that people generally don’t like to behave in a way that’s inconsistent with past behavior. But, you are still trying to get them to change. So if I were going to test a prevention message, perhaps something like, “are your testers wasting your resources?” might get the message across without implying the customer is dumb for using them.


  17. Mark Simchock says

    “The takeaway from all this is that you should maximize the match of your tagline to the nature of your product and the orientation of your customers.”

    Well stated. Thanks.

    Or put another way, it’s about them, not about you. (Which should go without saying but it often does not.) It all starts with understanding motivation. Get that wrong then message is off, channel will be off and so on. Unfortunately, most start playing with message and what sounds “catchy” to them. Catchy isn’t catchy if it doesn’t hit the motivation nerve of the receiver.

    Whether it’s promotion or prevention it still comes down to empathy.

    Good stuff. Thanks Roger.

  18. Maria Elena says

    It has been mentioned above that “… xxx the correct way to market depends more on the customer than the product.” Indeed, the success of a product depends on how appealing it is to it’s target market. Without customers being considered first when during a product’s planning and implementation stages, one’s product would definitely lead to a failure. No matter how short a tagline is, what is important is the retention it creates in the mind of every customer. Product positioning therefore is ensured thus, making the produced more saleable.

    Overall, you have a very good insight; thank you!

  19. Jeph Maystruck says

    From Martin Lindstrom’s “Brandwashed” he talks about companies using fear of loss as a powerful motivator in ads. Lindstrom specifically noted the home security companies with the classic commercial of the young family at home, someone attempts to break-in and all of a sudden the alarm goes off. In a year where break and enters went down by a substantial percentage, home security system sales went up by 10%. Using fear to market is a very powerful tactic that we don’t fully understand yet.

    Great post my friend.


  20. Boleslav says

    Well, I guess what comes to find first is ‘Things can only get better’ – the slogan that was picked to promote the Labour Party right before Blair’s coming to power. The basic message is ‘you stand nothing to lose’, i.e. there is no loss in it – it’s a conservative slogan for a liberal party, I guess. And they did get the then conservative population of Great Britain to vote them into office.

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  26. Angela says

    Really glad you talked about customer segmentation, as it’s especially important with email subject lines! Something we do at TipTap is use psych data to transform personalization and truly know customers, and we do that by directly measuring traits, values and preferences to identify the motivations driving behavior. You’re definitely correct with the example of reaching younger vs. older investors! It’s things like that we need to focus on and cater to.

  27. Kirill says

    Hi, Roger. What is the best copy style for marketers? I mean neuromarketing itself when neuromarketing methods just only emerged and almost no company used it in USA. What persuasive style worked best: prevention of losing sales or gain-focus for increasing them?

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