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Tag Along: celebrating the art of the movie tagline

By Andrew Boulton

January 28, 2013 | 5 min read

There are a few different directions I’d like to take in this wild adventure we call copywriting.

I’d like to write a novel called ‘The Misappropriation of Clayton Slackraffle’. Although I currently only have a title, so once i smash out a plot, some characters and about 40,000 more words i'll be on the phone to the Penguin men.

There are several other writing ventures I quite fancy. Writing very big and very rude words (with a screwdriver) on the side of John Terry’s terribly expensive car would be one.

But probably the most enticing proposition would be writing movie tag lines.

Ever since ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’ I have been captivated by this niche little pocket of copywriting.

For me, the tagline on a film poster is the most important marketing element. The big bold title, the enormous (and massively Photoshopped) picture of Keanu Reeves’ dead-eyed mug, even the 4 star review from Paul Ross, none of these matter a jot if the tagline at the bottom is bland and uninspiring.

What has prompted these meanderings is one of the finest examples of tagline writing I have ever witnessed. The upcoming Die Hard film fills me mostly with a mixture of faint nausea, rage and crippling depression. But purely based on the tagline I fully intent to go to the cinema to watch a bald sixty year old man sully the memory of the most important film of my young life. It is, quite simply, a marketing triumph.

‘A Good Day to Die Hard’, the fifth instalment of the full series (and the third instalment of the ‘probably shouldn’t have bothered’ canon), sees our creaky hero arrive in Russia for some explosion based shenanigans. John McClane, the protagonist who has died so hard in previous instalments he has in fact not yet died at all, has a rather famous catchphrase: ‘Yippee Ki Yay Mother F*cker’. Rude.

So, bearing in mind the tagline maxim of ‘genius is simplicity and simplicity is genius’ I give you the tagline that had me forgetting how I spent the whole of Die Hard 4.0 giving myself a Chinese burn:

‘Yippee Ki Yay Mother Russia.’

Superb. Just perfect. I know everyone made a fuss of the Olympics, but surely, SURELY those four words have already elevated 2013 to the status of the greatest year since 2012?

And it’s not as if it’s easy to produce a dazzling tagline in light of the frankly legendary efforts that have gone before.

‘Predator 2’, for example, where that cheeky scamp, Predator has turned up in the city to do a bit of general murdering, was accompanied with the fantastic ‘He’s in town with a few days to kill.’

‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ was heralded by the classic ‘One man’s struggle to take it easy’ perfectly, succinctly capturing the essence of the film.

One of my particular favourites is a little known effort for the ‘Naked Gun part 33 1/3’ – ‘From the brother of the director of Ghost’ which is actually true.

Often, the case can be that the tagline is superior to the film itself. Returning once more to our pal Predator (I love Predator), the dreadful ‘Alien vs Predator’ was accompanied by the rather nifty line ‘Whoever wins, we lose.’ As it turned out, it was my eyes, mind, soul and will to carry on living in a world that can be so cruel that lost.

Of course, like all arenas of copywriting there are some unmitigated disasters too. The ‘Titanic’ tagline of ‘Collide with destiny’ was trite and even a little insensitive. Whereas the tagline for Edward Scissorhands – ‘His story will touch you, even though he can’t’ – was just plain creepy.

So, in a shameless bid to land a gig (that’s what we copywriters call work, do not judge us) as a tagline writer I now submit my own effort for ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ (remember, it’s set in Russia. Remember that.)

‘Older. Balder. Colder.’

I await your calls.

@Boultini

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. He is currently working on a screenplay for ‘Ferris Bueller vs Predator’.

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