Posted - 8 June 2017

International School Straplines and Slogans: The Search for Differentiation

by Dr. Stephen Holmes PhD, CIS Affiliated Consultant

The Search for Differentiation

In the increasingly competitive context that is international schooling, the use of straplines and slogans on websites, prospectuses, advertising and more formally (I.e. integrated into brand identity schemes), have become commonplace.

The use of Mottos, often in Latin, and often a formal component of a heraldic device is centuries old, is still deployed by some schools as a means of projecting historical roots and academic gravitas.

This article spans inquiry into three questions:

  1. What is a strapline or slogan?
  2. What makes a good slogan? Do they have any impact?
  3. How many international and private schools use a slogan or strapline? What can we learn from their use?

The article also provides a catalogue of slogans and straplines currently used by a sample of international schools, so you can check for uniqueness!

What is a Slogan or Strapline?

Our catalogue includes both straplines (or taglines as they are known in the USA) and slogans.

So, what is the difference? A slogan is time-bound, often linked to a campaign, or an annual recruitment cycle. It is the message of the moment, often created to align with a contemporary issue of import. Student preparation for university or global employability might be an example hot topic.

A slogan might be specific to a certain campaign or audience – alumni, fundraising, staff recruitment, etc. So, several might be used simultaneously if the campaigns and audiences are discrete.

A strapline or tagline is part of your branding scheme. It should be formally approved, consistently used across the school, often near or part of, the logo/symbol or school name. It is designed to apply to and be relevant to all stakeholder audiences. It is meant to have longevity, insomuch as any branding program is long-term.

It is said that “slogan” comes from a Scottish word meaning "battle cry”. In the marketing and business lexicon we are well used to military analogies being deployed so that is perhaps an unsurprising derivation.

The derivation of strapline is the newspaper industry, a term used to describe what might now call a sub-heading (a bold line to summarise the text to follow, made by a sub-editor).

What Makes a Good Strapline?

So, what makes a good slogan or strapline? There are many features that the experts agree on, but one where there is major disagreement – short or long.

If branding is in part of a process designed to create differentiation or more often, to amplify difference, the first criterion for a good slogan or strapline is that it is ‘unique’ ( I prefer ‘differentiated and high value’ as uniqueness is mostly unrealistic).

What is there agreement on? They should:

  • Be used consistently over time (longevity counts significantly in school identity as does location) – just so long as the slogan ticks most of the other boxes below. Mc Donald’s “I’m lovin it” is now in its 14th year, but followed years of chopping and changing the slogan.
  • Represent the essence of the schools brand and support its desired positioning (what the school most wants to be known or memorable for).
  • Be a complete phrase with meaning (not ambiguous or open to interpretation)
  • Be predictable – seen out of context the reader should know what the product or service is (matches the reality or potential, credible reality of the school)
  • Arouses sentiment and contain/stimulate emotion (some describe this as audience connectivity or a ‘call to action’)
  • Be capable of being easily said as well as read (can you imagine your parents/students/staff/alumni saying it – if not, drop it!)

However, when it comes to the length of a slogan, the jury is more divided. In one corner are the digital marketers focused on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and the generation that cannot be bothered with full sentences. 3 words are king they say, 5 at a push. “Just do it” is one signature strapline. No procrastination allowed.

I like this example:

When Scarlett O' Hara said to Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind," "Rhett, if you go, where shall I go, what shall I do?" he could have said, "I don't care." But he did not. What he said was: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

This and others like it are more memorable and unique. You can image someone saying it. It is dialogue, not ad copy. Often referred to as a “conversational tagline”.

Take care to test how your slogan translates – as the cautionary tales below tell us that even the major brands get this wrong.

  • KFC entered the Chinese market in 1987 proudly stating that ‘We’ll eat your fingers off’ – a slightly more aggressive version of its classic ‘Finger lickin’ good’ slogan.
  • Swedish vacuum-cleaner brand Electrolux was unaware that sucking is not always a good thing when it targeted US consumers with the line ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’.

Pre-testing with staff, parents and students in your school is probably wise. If we are to proclaim the value of traditional branding in schools the very least we as a marketing community can do is project authenticity, through both imagery and slogans.

Many marketing and advertising agencies make lurid claims about the value adding magic of a strapline – typically one that they created for a client. Memorability and association (which is like recall measures for a logo or jingle) are probably two metrics to use to evaluate your strapline relative to others you compete with. But their ultimate value and impact may be elusive to measure.

Example Use of Slogans and Strapline

This was captured at one point in time – in May 2017. We visited international school home pages, and downloaded prospectuses to check their covers.

Below exhibits a random sample of 50 taglines from international schools around the world:

  • Africa – 5
  • Asia – 15
  • Europe – 10
  • Middle East – 10
  • South America – 10

We regard most of the use as slogans not formal straplines.

What did we find?

Continent Country Tagline 1 Tagline 2
Africa Midrand Together we dare to imagine, inspire to succeed, and courageously make a difference  
Africa Ethiopia Caring, Open Minded, Communicators  
Africa Republic of Cameroon Education for the Future  
Africa Tanzania Challenge| Support| Inspire  
Africa Kenya Empowering students to create solutions for tomorrow's challenges  
Asia Shanghai, China Come join our exciting K-12 school in vibrant Shanghai, China Educating and nurturing students to become global citizens of honour and self-discipline
Asia Indonesia Creating a better world through education  
Asia Myanmar Remembering Yesterday ~ Embracing Today~ Inspiring Tomorrow  
Asia Singapore A truly international community Essential skills for life that support the development of young men and women
Asia Taiwan Learn to Love to Learn Discover Yourself
Asia Hangzhou, China One City, Two Schools, Three Campuses… One Shared Vision. Schools with true diversity of nationalities and cultures
Asia South Korea Inspiring Excellence, Building Character - Since 1912 Education at Its Best
Asia South Korea Motivated from within. Empowered to excel.   
Asia South Korea Igniting the spark of genius in every child since 1872  
Asia Thailand A Caring International Community Dedicated to Student Success  
Asia Myanmar Today's learners, Tomorrow's leaders  
Asia India Knowledge Leaders of Today. Making the Global Leaders of Tomorrow. Kindle the Light Within
Asia Japan Developing compassionate, inquisitive learners prepared for global responsibility We love to learn
Asia China Rigorous Learning| Caring Community| Inspired Students  
Asia Taiwan Education Tomorrow's Leaders  
Europe Vienna A Collaborative Culture of Innovation  
Europe Poland Many paths to success; Culture of learning; Passion for ideas  
Europe Germany Inspiring and challenging young minds since 1991 A Community of Learners
Europe Germany Creating a World of Opportunities for Over 50 Years A World of Opportunities
Europe Scotland Every Child. Every Opportunity.  
Europe Georgia Promoting International Understanding through Education  
Europe Sweden 150 years of quality education  
Europe Bulgaria We engage, support and prepare each student for today and tomorrow.  
Europe Netherlands To Educate for International Understanding  
Europe Luxembourg The Confidence to Succeed Be inspired. Inspire
Middle East Amman, Jordan Making Learning Irresistible! We are unique
Middle East Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Awareness – Life Long Learning – Service A Community that Values Awareness, Life-long Learning and Service
Middle East Bahrain Education is the Stepping Stone of Every Child Respectful, Responsible, Global Minded, Lifelong Learners
Middle East Egypt Learn for Life  
Middle East Beirut, Lebanon Empower Tomorrow's Leaders  
Middle East Dubai Every Student. Future Ready  
Middle East Kuwait Education for tomorrow's world  
Middle East Istanbul, Turkey Developing the individual, Developing the learning community, Acting in the local and global community The Future Belongs to Youth
Middle East Bahrain A Great Place for a New Beginning To Inspire young minds to lead the future
Middle East Kuwait AUS… A Better Choice  
South America Venezuela At home in the World  
South America Peru To empower our students to pursue their passion for learning, lead lives of integrity and create socially responsible solutions.   
South America Brazil Serving an international community of learners since 1920  
South America Venezuela Developing Citizens of the world  
South America Ecuador Nurturing a Love Learning  
South America Venezuela Excellence Beyond the Classroom  
South America Colombia Together We Light The Way  
South America Ecuador Learn in Community  
South America Colombia An Educational Community  
South America Bolivia The World at your fingertips  


Analytical Comments:

In general, “community” is cited the most by reviewed international schools, followed by “education”, “learning” and “world” as illustrated in the word cloud below.

6 out of 50 reviewed schools included year of establishment or number of years established to reflect its longstanding history. For example,

  • Inspiring Excellence, Building Character - Since 1912”
  • 150 years of quality education”

Specifically for Asia, 4 out of 15 reviewed schools quoted “today” and/ or “tomorrow” in its tagline to create a sense of transformation after joining the schools. For instance,

  • “Remembering Yesterday ~ Embracing Today~ Inspiring Tomorrow”
  • “Today's learners, Tomorrow's leaders”

The word cloud below shows that “leaders”, “tomorrow”, “community” and “today” are comparably more frequently cited by reviewed international schools located in Asia.

For selected international schools situated in Middle East, the word “learning” or “learn” is included by 4 out of 10 international schools in taglines.

For South America, “community”, “world” and “learning” stood out as shown in the word cloud below.

The Author

Dr Stephen Holmes is Principal and Founder of The 5Rs Partnership based in Singapore.

Stephen is the only full-time practising consultant in the world with a PhD in the specific fields of school strategy, marketing and reputation management. In the late 1990s, Stephen significantly defined the role of a responsive approach from schools and their systems via the 5Rs framework (recruitment, retention, referral, relationships and reputation) in his seminal PhD study on creating a market facing or responsive orientation in schools.

Stephen has since consulted, researched, published and spoken globally with schools at the highest levels with an unmatched client base in breadth and depth spanning three decades. Research (evidence base) has always informed his practice, something that helps to forge trust with his school sector clients globally.

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