Friday, August 28, 2009

"discover your library."

Slogans are easy. But it may take a little more work to develop one that really communicates something to your audience. Example: last weekend, we drove down south and passed through Columbus, Indiana. They have a lovely red bridge and over the side, you can see down to the city below and a sign carved into hedges that reads DISCOVER COLUMBUS.

um. ok. But why?
At first I was struck with some kind of momentary rebellion at the directive, like "Why should I?" or worse, "You're not the boss of me!" Days later I realized it's probably a play on words - like how Columbus "discovered" America? But at the time, I was worried that this was the town's entire pitch and it made me think of library slogans I've seen that don't actually offer the audience any incentive.(I later found that Columbus has an excellent visitor's website and slogan that's not so bad: columbus, indiana: unexpected. unforgettable.)

It seems to me a good slogan for any product is just like a good "brand" - distinct, consistent, easily understood, and at its best, memorable. Take for example the world's best (and most overplayed, making it in some ways the world's worst) city slogan:

What happens here, stays here: Las Vegas.
(Also known as "What happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.")

Read more here about the success of the Vegas slogan and the failures of other city slogans. For example: Baltimore's "Get in on it," and New Jersey's "Come see for yourself." For one thing, these slogans need to stop telling me what to do. But if they insist on ordering me around, they've got some 'splainin to do. Get in on what, exactly? Why? Come see what for myself? New Jersey? Why would I want to?

Here's a quick list of some successful location taglines.
The Sweetest Place on Earth. Hershey, PA
Rare. Well Done. Omaha, NE
Keep Austin Weird. Austin, TX
Where the Trails Start and the Buck Stops. Independence, MO
The City That Never Sleeps. New York City, NY
Lose Your Heart to the Hills. Kerrville, TX
Where Horses Have the Right of Way. McKinleyville, CA
Only in San Francisco. San Francisco, CA
Where Nature Smiles for Seven Miles. Spring Lake, MI
People Say We’re Old-Fashioned. We Hope So. Virginia City, MT
But enough about cities: how about libraries? A lazy Google search retrieved just one list, from which I pulled a few I think are pretty good -
Info to Go.
Passport to anywhere - your library.
Knowledge is free at the library.
Save money - spend time at the library.
Re-cycle your reading - Use your library.
Borrow our books and keep the knowledge.
- and then some not-so-good, like this one, reminiscent of Columbus - "Discover your library." Again, why should I? What's in it for me?

As we brainstorm and select our library slogans, we've got to imagine our audience's reaction. Are we actually saying something? Is our tagline at all compelling? What negative connotations might it carry? What resistance might our audience have to our message? Are we being so vague that our message will inevitably get lost among competing slogans?

Unfortunately, another quick Google search shows that a LOT of libraries use the "discover your library" tagline, including one of the libraries of our state's community college system. At first glance, the slogan seems A-OK, and I'm sure a week ago I, too, wouldn't have questioned its use at my own library. But to compete with all our competitor messages, we will have to take the time to learn a thing or two about marketing and put real energy into creating campaigns that mean something - and speak to our users.

Note: I didn't find much online about library slogans, but the ALA does have a list of school library slogans here.

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