Why Some Campaign Slogans Fail

Political campaign slogans are a tricky business — the right slogan can boost your name recognition, highlight your issues, and stay stuck in people’s heads for years to come.  The wrong slogan, on the other hand, can not only be forgettable, it could sink your campaign by sending the wrong (or even unintended) messages.

Because campaign slogans are so important, be sure to not only take enough time to craft a good slogan, but also make sure you put your tagline in front of your entire core team before you finalize it – ask them how it strikes them, what they think it is saying (or not saying), and how memorable they think it is.  As you design your slogan, also keep in mind these four reasons why many campaign slogans fail:

1.  Your Slogan is Cumbersome

Cumbersome slogans don’t work… they’re not memorable, they don’t get read, and worst of all, they make your campaign look amateurish.  Slogans should be short, catchy, and to the point.  If you have trouble reading it through, quickly and alertly, the first time you see it, then it’s likely too cumbersome to use.

Example of a cumbersome slogan: “John Adams for President: He’s the smartest and most well qualified person for the job.” 

A better slogan would be: “John Adams for President: Qualified and Ready to Lead.”

2.  Your Slogan Isn’t Message-Based

All slogans should be directly tied to your campaign’s message.  Campaign slogans should, in general, be more expansive than your message, but they should still be directly tied to your overall campaign theme.  If your slogan isn’t tied to your message, you’ll confuse supporters, donors, and the press.  (For more information on your message, read Keeping Your Campaign on Message).

Example of a slogan that isn’t message-based, for a campaign that is focusing on jobs and the economy:  “Daniel Webster.  Better Schools, Safer Streets, and More Jobs.”

A better slogan would be: “Daniel Webster.  Better Jobs and Lower Taxes for Massachusetts”

3.  Your Slogan Isn’t Memorable

Too many campaigns rehash the same tired slogans over and over again – they use what other campaigns use because it’s easy.  Guess what?  Easy isn’t necessarily memorable, and creating a memorable slogan isn’t always easy.  Put some work into making your slogan one that people will remember and talk about.

Example of a slogan that isn’t memorable: “Al Schmidt for City Controller: Clean and Honest Government for Philadelphia.”

A better slogan would be: “Al Schmidt for City Controller:  We need this guy to watch those guys!”  (This example is from an actual campaign for Philadelphia City Controller in 2009).

4.  Unintended Messages

Sometimes, campaigns make a big mistake by thinking they are sending the right message with their campaign slogan, but actually sending an unintended (and harmful) message.

One great example of a campaign slogan that sends an unintended message is the slogan used by Bill Scranton when he ran for Governor of Pennsylvania in 2006.  Scranton had been the state’s Lieutenant Governor  in the 1980’s, then had left the state for some time to pursue business interests after he lost the 1986 campaign for Governor. 

In 2006, his campaign decided that the message of the campaign would be that it was time for the state to bring back the businesses and people that were leaving the state, and enter a new period of prosperity.  The campaign’s tagline, which fit with that message, was “PA Comeback” – the idea that Pennsylvania would stage a comeback… that its best days were ahead.

Unfortunately, the tagline also sent the unintentional message that Scranton, himself, was trying to stage a comeback.  There were lots of people in the state who thought he ran a bad campaign in 1986, then left town for 20 years, and was now trying to get in too little, too late… and the campaign’s slogan reminded people of this fact. 

A better slogan would have been: “Bill Scranton for Governor: Pennsylvania on the Rise.”

For more information on developing strong and memorable political campaign slogans, read Creating a Compelling Campaign Slogan.


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