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Election 2016: campaign slogan hits and misses


Election 2016: campaign slogan hits and misses


David Waller talks political campaign slogans past and present.

DavidWaller 180While we can expect a blitz of advertising closer to the election date, there are still ads to be found on our TV screens, radio, online, newspapers, as well as on posters, placards, pamphlets, and so on. These advertisements usually finish with the campaign slogan.

As with other types of business, whenever an organisation wants to convey a message to an audience to promote a product, a service, a cause or an idea, there is a slogan. Slogans are rarely deep or profound, and may not even be true, but they can be very powerful.

A good campaign slogan can help change the perception of a community; become a part of a society’s vernacular; help reverse poll trends; and make a candidate/party more widely known. A poor slogan, however, can be received with total indifference, easily forgotten, promote a competitor, or even damage the image in the community.

The aim is to come up with a few words, a phrase or a sentence which encapsulates the main message of the campaign. Although recently there has been criticism of the use of the ‘three word slogan’ after ‘stop the boats’.

Related: last week, Waller talked election gaffes and guffaws »

So what makes a good slogan? There is no simple or guaranteed formula for success.

Some memorable ones from Australia include ‘Labor puts people first’ (ALP, 1961) and ‘Put Australia first’ (ALP, 1984). In 2016, Labor’s going with ‘We’ll put people first.’ Sound familiar? (This year’s Liberal slogan is ‘The plan for a strong new economy.’)

At least they are different in the USA: ‘Putting people first’ (Bill Clinton, 1992) – Really!

Of course there are plenty of good slogans: ‘I like Ike’ (Dwight Eisenhower, 1952); ‘It’s time’ (ALP, 1972); ‘Labor isn’t working’ (Conservative Party 1978); ‘Change we can believe in’ (Barack Obama, 2008).

But you must be careful, in 1990 the Liberals had the slogan ‘the answer is Liberal’, which prompted the reply from Bob Hawke: “If the answer is liberal, it must have been a bloody stupid question!”


David Waller is a senior lecturer in marketing with UTS Business School. Before joining the university sector, he worked in the banking and film industries. His PhD thesis looked at political advertising.



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