Slogans, Politics, and Marketing: Let’s Make Language Great Again

Slogans, sayings, epigrams and clichés don’t add up to a hill of beans in this old world. Think about it for a minute though. ‘Make America Great Again!’ sounded a lot better than whatever the Democrat 2016 slogan was, and no doubt convinced quite a few voters in the Rust Belt. Who among us hasn’t bought a certain chocolate bar because they want to ‘Work, Rest and Play’?  Why do slogans work so well? Why does something when said out of context sound silly, but can help get you elected to the most powerful position in the world? Is the internet finally reducing the power of the slogan and language? So many questions so how about an attempt at a few answers.

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The power of political persuasion

Politics is all about persuading the undecided that you are the one. A good slogan will get your name out ahead, make people think that what you are offering is better than your opponents. ‘Make American Great Again!’ means nothing if parsed but yet quickly got into the public consciousness and helped win an election. The power of words, especially when used in the right context is very strong. If you went into a bar and said ‘Let’s Make America Great Again’ you’d get a few screwy looks and maybe the odd thumbs-up, but get it into the mind of the disaffected voter and it becomes a powerful weapon. Getting words associated with something better is the essence of a good political slogan and helps win the battle.

Leave it all on the pitch

Sport is full of uplifting slogans and some of them have found their way into life outside, especially the cringe-inducing world of management speak. ‘I want that by close of play,’ was said to me many a time, but I doubt if any of the speakers ever stepped foot on a cricket pitch.  Which goes to show the power of an oft-used slogan, regardless of how stupid it may sound. It’s all about being understood, the association with what the speaker is saying and what they want you to achieve. Ironically we tend to associate sports phrases with achievement, with getting the job done, though the best sports stars are the silent ones. Bjorn Borg never said a word yet won five Wimbledons, Roy Keane just had to glare, while nobody knows what the great philosopher Arsene Wenger says in the dressing room, yet his 2004 Arsenal team will be forever known as the ‘Invincibles.’

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Buy it now!

Advertising is all about slogans. They stick in the head, seemingly forever, but it’s their power of mass appeal that should scare us all. I remember seeing an ad with ‘where’s the beef?’ as the hook. Looking it up now I see it was introduced in 1984, the year I left school, but can I remember a word any teacher said to me at the time? No is the straight answer, which isn’t a reflection on those fine educators, more on how their message was packaged. Don Draper used to dismiss some excellent pitches on Mad Men, not due to the quality of the work but because he couldn’t see it as appealing to the target audience. Therein lies the kernel of a good slogan: it doesn’t have to be smart, it just needs to resonate, stick in the brain until the right moment. Slogans seem to be slipping from use in advertising though, while product placement is on the rise.

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Marshall your thoughts

Has the internet dulled our senses so much that the power of the slogan is on the wane? Do we take note of anything we read online anymore, except that we need to click to like, share, tweet and buy? Marshall McLuhan, the man who foresaw the internet, tablets and smartphones back in the 1960s, said ‘the medium is the message,’ whereby he meant how we receive our information will become more important than the message itself. With all our surfing, another phrase of McLuhan’s, our heads are now full of random facts, with nothing actionable lodging in our brains. The internet affects us all the same; that button we click on every website is obvious, regardless of the language spoken. Will the global village effect of the web slowly do away with all the beautiful languages we speak today? If all we need to do is click, then it could happen.

The slogan may have lost its power, though it still holds sway in politics. How we use the internet could be responsible for its demise.  What slogans do you remember and are there any in use today that will stay with us for more than a few clicks?