Famous last words: people remember the tag line.

See if you can ace our tag line quiz.

The first three seconds determine whether or not anyone watches a TV commercial. Eye camera studies have shown that a print ad's visual must capture attention in even less time: about a second and a half to two seconds. And recent research indicates that advertisers have even less time to get their message noticed on the internet.

But although target audiences decide whether or not to pay attention in the first few seconds of exposure, their long-term take-away is usually what they hear, see or read last. The tag line.

Certainly some headlines or commercial mnemonics are so stunningly memorable that they achieve long-term recall:

· "They all laughed when I sat down at the piano..."
· "Always a bridesmaid but never a bride..."
· "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a
sesame seed bun."

But despite exceptions like those, the words most likely to be retained over time are the tag lines at the end of spots or under the logos at the bottom of the ad.

One reason tag lines achieve recall is that they are – or should be – repeated in every execution for the brand in every medium used. The only variation that should be allowed is using the brand name as part of the tag line in the audio of a TV or radio spot and simply using the line under the logo in static visual media like print, outdoor or collateral. We're not aware of a definitive answer for web usage, but are inclined to believe print usage is more appropriate.

Tag lines fall into a couple of broad categories:

Corporate bombast. The "We're the greatest" lines that chairmen love and no one else cares much about. Some classics:

· "The company you keep." (New York Life Insurance Company)
· "Progress is our most important product." (General Electric)
· "Ford has a better idea."

We have trouble coming up with more, because most of these brag and boast lines just aren't very memorable. How many times have you seen one trumpeting "America's leading (your product category here)?" Lots, right? And it's unlikely that you remember any of them. Or any of the ones about "We care," or "Our people are the best." or even "The biggest, most wonderful factory ever."

Corporate characteristics that convey a possible benefit. Not just warm, cuddly stuff. Characteristics that can be the foundation to perceived superiority in performance in the product category.

· "You're in good hands with Allstate."
· "We try harder." (Avis)
· "Merrill Lynch is bullish on America."

Positive corporate characteristics make good tag lines because they imply a product or service benefit in a general enough way to be effective for many years. Or many decades. Leo Burnett came up with "You're in good hands..." in 1956. DDB created "We try harder" in 1962. Ogilvy & Mather wrote "Bullish on America" in 1973. All three are still extremely effective.

Brand characteristics. Typically product attributes that imply a user benefit.

· "Diamonds are forever." (DeBeers)
· "Breakfast of Champions." (Wheaties)
· "All the news that's fit to print." (The New York Times)

For a one-product brand, brand characteristics can be very effective tag lines. But if products change, these brand characteristic tags may become outmoded. Diamonds are still enduring symbols of eternal love, and Wheaties are still marketed in association with athletic success, but now that The New York Times provides news on line as well as on newsprint, "fit to print" may become an anachronism.

Explicit brand benefits. The brass tacks of what a purchaser gets for the money spent.

· "Everything you always wanted in a beer. And less." (Miller Lite)
· "When it rains it pours." (Morton Salt)
· "Have it your way." (Burger King)

The risk of an explicit brand benefit tag line is that the benefit can become obsolete. Morton Salt has used "when it rains it pours" since 1911, and probably has massive recall of the tag. But how long has it been since consumers were bothered by salt caking up in high humidity?

On the other hand, Miller and Burger King have had a number of different tags since their classics, but either of those oldies (both date to 1973) would be effective today. In fact, we suspect that both brands would be significantly stronger if they had stayed with those tags instead of jumping from tag to tag and campaign to campaign.

Implicit brand benefits. A brand claim stated somewhat more subtly by indirection.

· "Please don't squeeze the Charmin."
· "We answer to a higher authority." (Hebrew National)
· "Betcha can't eat just one." (Lay's)

Like explicit brand benefits, implicit benefits can be effective for single-product brands. And, also like explicit benefits, they can become outmoded as markets or products change. But as long as some people want soft toilet paper, hygenic deli meats and tempting snacks, these three tag lines will work.

Calls to action. The ever-popular exhortation. Done right, it inspires. Done wrong, it's a self-serving "Buy Blatz!" appeal that turns folks off.

· "Just do it!" (Nike)
· "Don't leave home without it." (American Express)
· "Reach out and touch someone." (AT&T)

Calls to action tend to be less specific than explicit or implicit brand benefit tags. "Just do it" would be appropriate for any athletic- or fitness-related product Nike might offer. "Don't leave home without..." a charge card? Travelers' checks? Electronic funds availability in foreign countries? The tag line works for any of those. And "Reach out..." works for any communications. Which is appropriate since ATT now offers land lines, mobile phones, broadband and wi-fi.

User affirmation. A tag that talks about the purchaser or end user rather than the brand – in a way that implies a quality of the brand.

"I'm worth it." (L'Oréal)
"You deserve a break today." (McDonald's)
"Be all that you can be." (U. S. Army)

These "affirmation" tags are effective because they're all about the purchaser or end user in relation to the brand. The user's self-image is a big part of the total branding equation.
Take the quiz. And maybe win the coffee.

Here are twenty classic tag lines. See if you can guess which companies they belong to:

1. The pause that refreshes.
2. Let your fingers do the walking.
3. Look, Ma, no cavities!
4. The ultimate driving machine.
5. Good to the last drop.
6. A little dab'll do ya.
7. M'm! M'm! Good!
8. Does she or doesn't she?
9. When you care enough to send the very best.
10. Nothing says lovin' like something from the oven.
11. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
12. Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.
13. Tastes so good cats ask for it by name.
14. Fly the friendly skies.
15. Finger lickin' good.
16. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
17. The greatest show on Earth.
18. Capitalist tool.
19. It keeps going and going and going.
20. The beer that made Milwaukee famous.