Slogans: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

It is standard practice for campaigns to have a slogan. With people’s short attention span you really have to distill your message into a few concise words that describe who you are and why you’re running. A good slogan tells the voter everything they need to know in less than 9 words. Great slogans do it in way less.

A great slogan was used by Edwin Edwards in his 4th Gubernatorial race in Louisiana in 1991. Edwards was very corrupt and had been to jail multiple times. Each time, after he got out, he was re-elected Governor. Louisiana has a funny “jungle primary” system where everyone runs together and the top two finishers face each other in a runoff (much like California’s new system.) Much to everyone’s surprise, David Duke, former head of the Ku Klux Klan finished second and had to face Edwards in the runoff. Edwards needed a slogan to fight Duke, but knew that he couldn’t tell voters he was fair, honest or with integrity – voters all already thought he was a crook. So Edwards embraced the fact that everyone already had a negative impression of him, knowing they were even less in favor the KKK. Edwards slogan became “Vote for the crook. It’s Important.” He won by 30%

“If you don't mind smelling like peanut butter for two or three days, peanut butter is darn good shaving cream.” - Barry Goldwater

Sometimes your slogan can be used against you. In 1964, Barry Goldwater ran for President against LBJ. Goldwater was known for his brand of extreme libertarian conservatism. 1189 psychiatrists responded to a magazine questionnaire saying that Goldwater’s extreme conservatism was a mental illness and that he was unfit for President. It didn’t help that he used to shave with peanut butter. To counteract the negative media attention and public criticism, Goldwater chose the slogan “In your heart, you know he’s right.” Democrats immediately countered with “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”

Sometimes an awful slogan leads to awful results. In 1844, Whig Henry Clay was the prohibitive frontrunner to become President of the US. His main opponent was a poorly known, obscure Democrat named James K Polk. In an attempt to remind voters of the obscurity of his opponent, Clay chose his slogan to be “Who is James K Polk?” Clay lifted his opponent up from obscurity and made him a household name. Both Polk’s and Clay’s campaigns had signs and buttons that said Polk on it. Not surprisingly Polk won.

In Australia’s most recent Parliamentary elections, the Australian Labor Party was using the awful slogan of “Labor Cares.” What do they care about? Are they saying the Coalition DOESN’T care? The slogan doesn’t say anything about who they are, what they believe in or what they will do.

Possible alternatives they could use: “Labor Works For You” is a good slogan because it has so many layers of meaning. “Advance Australia!” would be another one. A play on the national anthem, it expresses succinctly what they hope to accomplish.