During the presidential contest of 1840, supporters of William Henry Harrison became pioneers in political marketing, utilizing what would become among the first campaign slogans, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”.
Referencing the infamous battle of Tippecanoe, where Harrison defeated Native American leader Tecumseh, and a nod to John Tyler, Harrison’s running mate, the slogan was a clever rhythmic play on the party ticket.
A versatile, multipurpose motto, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” turned folk song, becoming the first campaign jingle in American politics.
While Harrison defeated incumbent Martin Van Buren becoming the ninth U.S President, Harrison fell ill and died one month after inauguration, the shortest tenure to date. Vice-President Tyler, of equal importance according to their campaign slogan anyway, served the remainder of the term.
The Harrison-Tyler campaign set a precedent, with every subsequent presidential candidate employing one or several identifying slogan.
When it comes to marketing, modern political campaigns have become a case study utilizing nearly every available platform and medium to communicate a candidate’s message.
From phone calls and text messages, direct mail to email, social media or banner ads, political campaigns practice a flood the zone approach, spending hundreds of Millions, in some cases over a Billion dollars on advertising in the process.
While you may not have that kind of cash to shell out for a marketing campaign, learning and deploying the effective portions of political ads, all while taking note and avoiding what doesn’t work, can make for greater efficacy and reach.
The title of this piece is a prime example, playing on Democrat Joe Biden’s slogan of “Build Back Better”. Whether this slogan can eclipse, “Promises Made, Promises Kept”, as well as perhaps the most recognizable campaign slogan in modern politics, “Make America Great Again”, remains to be seen.
Before crediting such a recognizable rallying cry to Donald Trump, it was the Reagan campaign of 1980 which utilized an almost identical slogan, “Let’s Make America Great Again”. Trump’s camp simply dropped one word.
As a slogan, MAGA conjures on an almost mythical sense of nostalgia, varying from person to person, with each individual drawing on different subsets of emotions. Good or bad, it elicits a memorable, almost visceral response. The fact an acronym can elicit these emotions from proponents and opponents alike highlights the campaigns efficacy.
A slogan is also a great way to maintain consistency in messaging over expanding platforms. With no shortage of communication and media outlets available, having an identifying, unifying message will create greater awareness. Let’s look at a brief history of campaign slogan origins and how they’ve evolved.
Slogans, a brief history
Using one’s name when marketing was an early favorite among presidential campaigns, instilling fear in changing course was another.
Now synonymous with his name, “Honest Old Abe” served as one slogan in Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election, while “Don’t change horses midstream” served as his re-election campaign slogan in 1864.
Our longest serving president utilized similar strategies, Franklin D. Roosevelt used “Don’t swap horses in midstream” for his re-election in 1944 and “I Want Roosevelt Again!” to serve a third term in 1948. Dwight Eisenhower mimicked this approach with his “I like Ike” (1952) and subsequent, “I still like Ike”(1956) campaigns.
While still used to a lesser degree today, utilizing your name in a campaign slogan has slightly fallen out of favor. One thing you should never do however, is use an opponent’s name in your ad. A misstep by the Clinton campaign of 2016 in using “Love Trumps Hate” as one of many ineffective slogans.
In 1844 Henry Clay used the slogan “Who is James K. Polk?” and while you may not remember which president Polk was (the 11th), suffice it to say Henry Clay never became president.
A common theme over the centuries is the notion of change. Good change, bad change, time for change, or don’t change, the concept is multifaceted.
Change works well when an incumbent discourages it, as Lincoln, Roosevelt and Eisenhower all proved, compared to a ruling party claiming themselves as agents of change. While serving as Vice President, Hubert Humphrey failed to rise to the presidency on “Some People Talk Change, Others Cause It” in 1968. Using the slogan while his party controlled the White House proved ineffective.
Anytime an opposing party has held power for an extended period of time, change can work. Bill Clinton and Barak Obama successfully utilized themes of change when running against an incumbent party which held power for two or more terms. Running on change against a party with only one term in office tends to be a recipe for failure, incumbents have an advantage here and usually deploy the fear of change tactic.
Perhaps the most notable change campaign came courtesy not of a political campaign but The Coca Cola Company in 1985. In introducing New Coke, fans of the old recipe, Classic Coke, were outraged and unhappy with the change. While some argued this was intentional, stating, among other things, Coke set out to manufacture nostalgia for the classic recipe, seeing how protective corporations are of brands, I doubt this to be the case. A company would not risk damaging a brand, specifically one as iconic as Coca Cola.
Change works when a reasonable to high level of frustration is prevalent with the current situation, otherwise, it’s best to avoid this theme all together.
So here we are, 2020, and Joe Biden is currently running on a series of slogans including; “The Battle for the Soul of America”, “Build Back Better”, and “We’re the Movement That Will Beat Trump”.
A battle for the soul of a country seems counterintuitive, an oxymoron akin to civil war. Also, never a wise strategy to include your opponent’s name in a campaign slogan, just ask Hillary Clinton. Lastly, quantity is no match for quality, pick a slogan, or theme, and run with it.
In this case, “Build Back Better”, while lacking in certain ways, seems to be the best of the three slogans. Will it be enough to counter the two pronged Trump approach of “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept”; we will all know in a couple of months.
One would be hard pressed to argue the past six months have been anything but disastrous and our federal response, or lack of, simply underscores every problem within the current administration. While running against Trump is appealing, it will not be a sufficient enough strategy to take the White House.
You have to convince people to vote for you and not against an opponent, otherwise, they tend to avoid the process altogether. Based on signage from the Democratic Convention, “Build Back Better” has become the favored choice, prepare to see this message increasingly and often across all platforms.
As far as marketing campaigns, be they political or general, three to four word phrases, some combination of verb, noun, adjective work best. “Just Do It” by Nike comes to mind, “Share a Coke”, “Got Milk” or “Get a Mac”. Including your name or product in the slogan, is a great approach.
If a slogan or campaign is working, no need to change it. Should it become stagnant, or ineffective, applying simple twist can help. Reformatting slogans or statements to questions, offering alternatives, or going as far as telling potential clients they’ll no longer hear from you unless they act can all be simple ways to introduce change, sparking action.
On a personal note, an effective campaign for my healthcare clinic was this; “Restoring Health, Enhancing Life”, which served a dual purpose. The first two words tell you what we do, the last two communicate more of a superficial concept that can vary from person to person. Think “MAGA” “Promises Made, Promises Kept”, and “Build Back Better” all which will carry different meaning for specific individuals.
For some, enhancing life is running a marathon, while others, it’s simply walking without pain. This is the same abstraction deployed by campaign slogans throughout history. By utilizing this strategy you allow your customer to place themselves within the message and pick up exactly what they need or don’t need, creating a personal connection.
Once you have the message, maintain consistency across platforms and media. This will further create brand awareness and hopefully, ensure your campaign accomplishes the requisite goals.