A few weeks ago, the Democrats unveiled their new national slogan for the 2018 mid-term elections – “for the people.” How good of a slogan is it? How persuasive is it? I dedicated an entire section of Stumped to analyzing slogans:
Sloganeering (a form of headline copy) is a particularly insightful area in the study of crowd psychology. Does the slogan display social proof? Does the slogan play to emotions? Does the slogan motivate to action, to complete the sale, partly by thinking past it? One of my first lessons in marketing was in real estate, when I attended a seminar from Craig Proctor, one of the most successful real-estate brokers in the world. A key issue of import was that you, as the salesperson, must remove yourself from the equation. People may like a product that you’re offering, but still avoid salespeople like the plague on instinct. Anyone reading this will have had such an experience.
In other words, as the salesman, you need to focus on the prospect, not the product, the buyer, not the seller. You need “to play the radio station WIFM – what’s in it for me?”
Now let’s take a look at this year’s version of a slogan.
90% of people never read past the headline. While slogans might not be as important in politics as they are in marketing or news, mainly because there’s so little competition (most people are inclined to choose one party or the other), they matter more in primaries and reveal the overall persuasive mettle of a campaign. If you can’t craft a good headline, you aren’t likely to do anything else well, either.
How does “for the people” stack up?
Well, it’s better than anything Hillary Clinton did. The word “people” makes you think of a crowd, which ticks off the social proof box. It has an emotional message. It’s also vague, which means that anyone can fill in the blanks with what they want it to mean. Those are all strengths none of Hillary Clinton’s slogans had.
However, “for the people” lacks many other dimensions of successful persuasion.
First, there’s no call to action. “For” might be construed as one, but there’s no powerful verb that grabs hold of you and makes you say: “That’s for me!” Barack Obama did this with two words, “Change” and “Hope.” This doesn’t command near that much attention. Both of those are powerful verbs that demand action. “For” is weak.
The slogan also doesn’t effectively answer radio WIFM for people that aren’t already sold. While the vagueness is a strength, it’s also directionless. “Make America Great Again” had an unmistakable and beneficial direction. Even if you disagree with the slogan – and plenty of people did – you still talked about how wrong it was. As Scott Adams noted, effective persuasion is directionally accurate but has errors which force everyone to talk about it. Before you knew it, everyone was asking about how America would really be made great again, whether it would be great for everyone, and so on.
Lest you think this is limited to one party, a decade earlier, people said the same thing about how and whether Barack Obama would or could really deliver change.
Point being, everyone was talking about the direction Trump and Obama wanted to go and the benefits they were claiming they would bring to the country, if only they received the people’s vote.
Keep your benefit clear, but leave room for interpretation about it.
While we can talk about if and how much the Democrats are really “for the people” – what’s the direction? What’s the benefit the Democrats are running on? That still hasn’t been communicated clearly and it shows in the slogan.
The context of the slogan is also off. In 2008, people really were looking for change. When that change didn’t come, people wanted the real change, to reclaim a sense of greatness that had been lost. What needs to be “for the people” in 2018? What context are the Democrats running on to serve as the foundation for the slogan? What, in effect, is the market looking for? I don’t believe that the Democrats have defined that. That’s why there’s no benefit for their slogan. Their actions have diverted attention to “the people” but not what they should be “for.”
There’s great anger in the country about President Trump, but that’s all the Democrats are running on, and the slogan doesn’t connect well with this market. “For a moral people” might even be better, though it’s certainly not a slogan I would use.
The Democrats are upping their game compared to 2016, but that still doesn’t mean they’re in a good place. Their slogan is indicative of this. It’s an improvement, but the party still hasn’t positioned itself well to speak to the political marketplace beyond its own repeat customers.
The party will have to do more if it expects to retake power.
Learn all the features of a powerful political slogan inside Stumped.