July 16, 2012

Campaign 2012: So What’s With All the Slogans?


If you’ve been following the campaign photos this year, one thing you’ll notice that’s perhaps not new, but certainly amplified, is the rapid cycling of slogans on backdrops and posters. It’s like “slogan ADD.” With the phrases coming and going so fast, the attention seems to be more on the tryout or the process than the substance of the message.  Both campaigns have tried and dropped slogans and it’s never completely clear whether a slogan is a one-trick pony in response to something the other guy said, a more lasting piece of branding or, simply, a failure.

One of Romney’s notable failures (and one-trick ponies) was the one time use of “A Better Tomorrow Begins Today.” It violated a basic tenet of Campaign Slogan 101: never use a slogan that says something bad when it hangs behind a candidate blocking out some of the letters. With the inevitable blocking of slogan components, you’ll notice the photo in the slideshow in which Romney is surrounded by “Bet, Beg.” That’s in contrast to Obama surrounded by “Winning, Future” when using a (pre-election) education policy slogan  (otherwise, “Winning the Future” was of limited usefulness considering the acronym).

We posted our take on the dog whistle nature of “Obama isn’t Working,” but even if you don’t endorse the Bag’s interpretation, it should be noted that having your candidate stand in front of such a slogan while looking “too rich to fail” should be avoided.

The Obama campaign has had some notably weaker efforts as well. We wrote about “Betting on America,” a phrase that seems as precarious as confident, but Romney had the same problem when he used “A Chance for Every Child” in front of the Latino Coalition. Really? Just a chance?

The Obama campaign has made more use of the “An America Built to Last” slogan. It is, of course, it’s a blatant play off the  “Ford: Built to Last” advertising slogan, but it dovetails nicely with the “Obama saved the auto industry” theme, so why not use a car-centric slogan? Simple, reminiscent of a successful ad slogan, direct.  It recalls cars, working, jobs, construction. A winner all around. Not so with “More Jobs, Less Debt, Smaller Government,” a slogan that puts out so many ideas that it collapses under its own weight (as well as violates the slogan blockage tenet above).

The most frequent and overarching campaign slogans used have been “Forward” by the Obama campaign and “Believe in America” by the Romney campaign.  While I understand the reasons for “Forward”: keep taking this path and we’ll succeed, we’ll overcome, we’ll make it through; I’m not exactly sure what the “Believe in America” slogan means (other than the obvious).

Besides some of your favorites, especially ones we haven’t mentioned, we’re curious to hear  your take on what the slogan mania is about and whether any one phrase, or volley, has had any particular effect.

— Karen Hull

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Karen Donley
See other posts by Karen here.

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