How to Write Slogans That Move! (Better than "a better deal!")
by Susan C. Strong
When they aren't reacting to Trump's latest outrage, people are talking about the Democrats' horrible new slogan, "a better deal." Winning the '18 election for a better House is one of the most important ways we can fight back. For that the Democrats need a much better slogan. Even "Get a better deal--go Blue in '18" would be a vast improvement! Why? Because it has a verb, even two, and is a complete thought. (Think about "Make America great again!" I know you don't want to, but we must.) It has a verb, a complete sentence, it's speaking American to the max, it's aspirational, it speaks to those in pain or at least upset, and it's a match for their values!) These are just a few of the criteria that a proposed slogan ought to meet and pass. Read on for more clues to help you create "American truth bites" that will go viral.
Since it's only July of 2017 I trust the Dems are not serious about this slogan, despite the fact that it is the current name of their new platform. This is a feeler, and folks are telling them how they feel, that's for sure. This slogan sinks to Trump's own personal level--it's about "deals." Now I know that we'd had FDR's New Deal, Truman's Fair Deal, and so on, but the word "deal" has just become radioactive. It's association with Trump has spoiled it. We've got new suspicions about "deals" these days. Trump's own campaign slogan didn't even go there, probably because he had high-powered wordsmith advice. We on the left need to be offering the American people something bigger, brighter, and more moral. (Many complaining about the Dems' new slogan say it sounds like they are selling used cars.) As George Lakoff never tires of saying, American politics is about moral visions! Yes, and it's about economics too-- a moral economics that's fair, honest, and innovative.
No, I'm not going to say right now exactly what a substitute Democratic slogan should be. But below you can find the Metaphor Project's criteria for a slogan that has "legs." (These are also on our website at www.metaphorproject.org, under the Tools link.)
Now maybe you are asking yourself "how do I even get to the point of having something to test with all of these criteria?" Go to our site and look at the American Framing Steps, and the two main resources we use with that message builder, the American Story Elements, and American Metaphor Categories. There are also other very useful items under the Tools menu too: American Change Language, American Breakthrough Language, and Red,Blue,and Purple. Somewhere in those resources you might find just the right catch phrase, everyday political metaphor, or image you can tweak for today's needs. (Just reading through these lists might jog your memory re others.) Remember, everything now has to be short, fast, and powerful enough to evoke a familiar, ideal, American identity story. Even "new stories" need at least one familiar element in order to stick in people's minds. "Community rights" is a good example.
Now for the Metaphor Project's specific suggestions for testing slogan possibilities:
The Metaphor Project's eight main criteria below use some ideas and language drawn from the world of advertising, because advertisers were among the first to do serious research on what actually works to persuade people in modern communications media, starting during the Second World War. The GOP has long used this research and its modern updates in campaigns. It is high time that people of good will learned to use these ideas for the common good. If your funds permit, follow up on using these criteria by testing your results via polls, focus groups or other common surveying tools, formal or informal.
- Which of your creations might really be able to go viral? Be honest with yourself.
- Which ones are broadly accessible now? How do you know?
- Are they fresh new combinations, surprising tweaks of the familiar, or just the right conventional phrase or metaphor for the moment?
- Are they concrete, not
abstract? Do they create a new category, the way
"marriage equality" did?
- Do they suggest a story or draw a picture favorable to your cause? Are they self-explanatory? Do they evoke core American moral values?
- Do they make use of a comparison to something familiar to most people?
- Do they point to what causes the problem? Do they suggest a solution to the problem? Do the negative ones imply a potentially empowering positive story? (Example: 'Treaty trap' implies that one could also get out of it, go around it, warn people of it, spring it, stay out of it, prevent damage.)
- Do they have rhythm and do they 'jingle?' Say them aloud to check. Even words on a page or bumper sticker are heard in the head. This is a vital criterion today. See Leslie Savan's study of 'pop speak,' Slam Dunks and No Brainers, listed in American Studies in our Selected Sources and Links.
NOW THINK TWICE:
- Do your results really pass the audience accessibility test?
- Do they have broad audience appeal right now?
- Who might they offend?
- Is it worth it?
And here are some more tests to think about now, also on our site under Tools: