‘Uninspiring’ election slogans fail to sell political parties

Only Sinn Féin’s ‘Time for Change’ appears to catch mood in dull photo-led marketing

“The first thing that strikes you as an outsider is everything seems to be driven not by a slogan, not by policy, but by look at my photograph.” Photograph: Alan Betson

“The first thing that strikes you as an outsider is everything seems to be driven not by a slogan, not by policy, but by look at my photograph.” Photograph: Alan Betson

 

“In any other circumstances, you would say Sinn Féin ran with a very clichéd and hackneyed election slogan – but they’ve actually tapped into a mindset reflecting people’s desire for change at the moment.”

So says Neal Davies, chief executive of advertising agency BBDO, which helps household names like Guinness, Volkswagen and the GAA sell their brand to the public.

But while Sinn Féin’s “Time for Change” motif appears to have captured a mood, it was a risky strategy, he believes.

“There is something about positioning yourself as being about change which works if there’s an expectation or desire for it, but fails when there isn’t,” he said.

Jeremy Corbyn’s rejection at the polls in Britain a few months back followed a campaign under almost exactly the same slogan.

Having moved to Ireland from the US almost three year ago, Davies, a politics graduate from the UK, has now voted in general elections in all three countries. And he thinks parties here are missing a trick when it comes to effective slogans.

“The first thing that strikes you as an outsider is everything seems to be driven not by a slogan, not by policy, but by look at my photograph,” he said.

“It appears very strange and very different.”

Fianna Fáil’s “An Ireland for All” slogan was “very prosaic and uninspiring”.

“It feels like it should mean more that it actually does. And that they’re re-running it from the last election suggests they haven’t learned any lessons.”

‘Magician’s misdirect’

Fine Gael’s “A Future to Look Forward To” was like a “magician’s misdirect”.

“It was like let’s look over here everyone at shiny things – please don’t look at what’s happening in the corridors of our hospitals.”

Purist grammarians might also have had difficulty voting for a party ending its slogan with a preposition.

The Social Democrats’ “Invest in Better” was just “marketing word soup . . . the sort of thing marketers are asked to avoid because it doesn’t really say anything”.

The Greens also failed to capitalise on its own urgency, he believes, with its “Towards 2030: A Decade of Change” motto.

“It’s fascinating in that it gets in its own way. It feels like they are kicking the can down the road.”

Great examples of effective slogans – like “Get Brexit Done” or “Make America Great Again” – have a specific aspiration, urgency and a sense of delivery, says Davies.

“They either do that or they change the perspective completely,” he adds, referencing Tony Blair’s New Labour.

‘No great slogans’

“From a branding perspective, it not only reinvented the Labour brand but it gave permission for those people who had rejected the brand to dive back into it.”

Terry Prone, a communications expert who has worked with politicians, agrees that great slogans are “filled with urgency and excitement, with immediacy and infinity”.

“There were no great slogans this time around, from any party. Not even good ones,” she said.

“I cannot honestly remember any slogan from this election. Not least because Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael didn’t put their slogans on posters – not in my constituency, anyway.”

The Greens, she said, missed an opportunity of “defining themselves as the party that’s going to save us from the four horsemen of the climate change apocalypse”.

They appear to have “got anxious about taking a punitive threatening tone and abandoned the whole thing”.

But how big a role do slogans play in getting parties into power?

“My feeling is that they’re like the ribbon around a present,” says Prone.

“Not strictly necessary to keep the thing together, but announces it as what it is and helps predispose the recipient to liking the contents.”