With the US elections on the horizon, victory could hinge on which side’s slogan is the best. Elections really can be won or lost on the basis of a snappy slogan. Think of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” in 2016 or, closer to home, the Tories’ “Labour isn’t working” poster in 1979.
According to a new book on American presidential slogans called ‘Words to Win By’, election slogans work best when they are clear, simple and positive. Think “All the Way with LBJ” in 1964 or Eisenhower’s “I Like Ike” in 1952.
It has to be said they’re not all winners. The book includes Alf Landon’s “Let’s Make it a Landon-Slide” in 1936 (he won only two states) and Thomas Dewey’s “Dewey or Don’t We” in 1944 (it turned out they dew not).
Sometimes slogans don’t work because they’re too try-hard. For example, William Taft fighting for re-election in 1912 with the slogan “It’s Nothing but Fair to Leave Taft in the Chair”.
Perhaps the worst was Al Smith, the Democrats’ choice in 1928. Wanting to promote his opposition to Prohibition, which had led to him being called a “wet”, Smith ran under the somewhat unfortunate slogan “Make Your Wet Dreams Come True”.
Then there was Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate in 1964 who, against the advice of his pollsters, attempted to excite his base with the slogan “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right”. This gave the LBJ campaign a gift. They instantly countered with “In Your Guts You Know He’s Nuts.”
Other successful slogans, singled out by the Independent newspaper journalist John Rentoul, include “Yes we can” for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, the Vote Leave Brexit campaign’s “Take back control” and Boris Johnson’s “Get Brexit Done”, which regardless of your political views on leaving the EU, was undeniably effective.
But my personal favourite is Labour politician Moosajee Bhamjee’s successful campaign for the Irish parliament in 1992: “You’ve had the cowboys, now vote for the Indian.”
If you need a snappy slogan or hard-hitting headline for an advert, campaign or mailing, get in touch!