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July 16, 2012

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

UPI
UPI
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Unknown
CNN Video
CNN Video
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AFP/Getty
The New York Times
The New York Times
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AP
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Reuters
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Getty
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Getty
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AP
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AP
Obama Biden Campaign
Obama Biden Campaign

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

  • LanceThruster

    The Willard Mechanism has that look like Sefelt in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

    MCMURPHY
    Maybe I’ll just use that thick skull of yours as a batterin’ ram, Sefelt.
    SEFELT
    Why, my head would just squash like an eggplant, McMurphy.

  • robert e

    I do get the impression that both campaigns are trying things out, seeing if anything sticks. As sensible as that may be, it suggests a kind of cynicism–that the campaigns are just engaging in a marketing experiment, playing with keywords and concepts that they don’t really believe in. Or perhaps they’re disseminating slogans from The Ministry of Truth.

  • AJ

    I hadn’t been paying attention to all the slogans run up the flag pole so far, but this series of images does a good job of making the point. Obviously, both sides are casting about to find a message that resonates.

    We live in a consumer society, and advertising is the driving force for directing our consumption. It is at once discouraging and completely natural that candidates for the leadership of our country are sold to us like any other consumables. One would expect the slogans to be pre-tested with focus groups so the sellers might have some confidence in their pitch before unleashing it on the public.

    I don’t think either side has yet found its “Morning in America”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/George-Mokray/767686527 George Mokray

    Mitt looks like the dog in the National Lampoon “Buy this magazine or we shoot this dog” cover.  (OMG, another Seamus the dog on the roof comment!)

  • Enoch Root

    The conundrum of slogans:

    Everyone knows they’re BS, laid out for tea leaf readers to read as if tea leaves and pick up a few seconds of the news cycle. However, if you just omit them, then the message is that you have no message.

    So instead, campaigners can turn it into a sort of drinking game. Take a shot if it has the word ‘America.’ Two shots if it has ‘future.’ Add rules here. What will the slogan be tonight?

    Basically: Something else for people to discuss. Stick with one, and there’s not as much to discuss.

    • LanceThruster

      Rmoney – The Future America Is Coming To

  • Bugboy

    As per the Cokie Roberts effect, it’s not what it actually says, it’s what everyone is talking about it saying.

  • bystander

    I remain unconvinced that there is much more than slogans separating these two campaigns.  If my supposition is correct, then the slogans are the campaign platforms.  In which case the voting public is a focus group, suggesting to the relative marketing teams which slogans they prefer.  Good for those marketing teams to know going forward.  Doubtless, marketing strategies for 2016 are already being discussed.

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  • Pingback: Brand Obama seeks emotional traction « The Business of Emotions

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