Monday, November 5, 2012

Sneaky Slogans

It’s truly amazing the effect that a simple slogan can have on a political campaign. Since William Henry Harrison began the trend in 1840 with “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” the slogan has been a vital tool in capturing the minds of Americans. In the current election we can track the popularity of slogans using social media to see how often they are mentioned. Since everyone and their mother are involved in some sort of social media it’s fairly easy to see which slogans the American people are getting attached to, but why? What makes a slogan effective?

To understand why slogans are so effective we must first look to the audience. Human nature forces us to notice certain elements in slogans that we may not even realize. To start, they target the most basic desires programmed into almost every American: the desire to be successful, to be a good parent, to improve the lives of themselves and their family. This is evident when looking at campaign slogans such as Al Gore’s “Prosperity for America’s Families” used in 2000. What kind of decent mother and father of four can look at that statement without it unconsciously reaching deep into their emotions and drawing them towards the family oriented type of guy that America must need. When Gore used the words prosperity, family, and America all in one simple line, he was making use of “god-terms” or terms that are fundamentally positive and will strike a chord in the minds of the listener, connecting the slogan and the speaker to positivity. The opposite of god-terms just happen to be “devil-terms” that are clearly negative and are used to describe the opponent’s ideas and motives. Another tactic used in the slogan is simplification. Whether or not a voter is educated on the the candidates in the election is irrelevant when the campaign slogan is so short and sweet. If an uneducated voter sees Gore’s slogan, he/she will automatically picture exactly what it says as an end result of Gore’s presidency if he were to win. This is true because the voter will have no preconceived ideas about either of the candidates, so for simplicities sake one would form an opinion based on such basic things as slogans. Using that technique can make it impossible for anyone to disagree with your views as well, like some pro-life slogans that state that abortion is “the ultimate child abuse”. Surely nobody in their right mind could walk away after seeing that and still lean towards pro-choice. Slogans such as these are also effective in bringing up the fears of the audience, as fear is able to attract attention more effectively than other emotions. In this case, a mother or father will obviously fear the thought of a child being abused and want to do whatever it takes to protect them. Another tactic used in making slogans is creating a unifying force that people can cling to. Take Obama’s “Change we can believe in” and “Change we need,” although the “we” is a very small part of the slogan it unifies us as one instead of splitting the country between different parties. One study on the effects of slogans on humans in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science states that people are more drawn to slogans that allow for two-sided communication rather than non-qualified communication that is only one sided as well. This shows how every little aspect of a slogan has an effect on the human psyche and slogans must be extremely well thought out to get the approval of the public.

It is also thought that some campaign slogans have hidden meanings beneath the surface. Take Obama’s latest “Forward” for example, which is being criticized by right wing bloggers for having ties to past Communist leaders such as Marx and Stalin.

     Forward was also a marching song of the Hitler youth. Apparently the critics were unable to decide whether Obama was Communist or Fascist, but nonetheless it is evident that slogans have created a new battleground for political debate the reaches deeper into the human mind than one would often think.           

                 Another aspect of a slogan that is able to subconsciously sway voters is the use of a graphic of some sort to portray the slogan rather than just the spoken words. One that was seen plenty in the 2008 election was that of Obama’s “Hope” slogan that depicted a rather artsy photo of Obama with the simple word in bold letters below him.      

                 Although you could go into an in depth analysis of the poster, the appeal of the poster is fairly obvious. The red, white, and blue, the modern artistic style that immediately catches your eyes, the dominance of blue in the picture. Not only was this an eye catching graphic, it swept social media sights as a sort of meme for clever designers to make their beliefs known. 

                Needless to say the campaign was a hit. The new designs were certainly not all pro-Obama, but you can’t tell me you never knew about his slogan.
                 Apart from rhetorical and visual analysis, the changing of slogans can affect a voter as well. Take, for instance, the four different campaign slogans used by Bush in the 2000 election. Alone, they were perfectly suitable for his campaign; however, the fact that he used four completely different slogans may show the public that he is indecisive and inconsistent, and therefore not suitable for a job in the White House.
                At the end of the day a political slogan is just like any other in the fact that it is selling a product, and if you judge a product by the big fancy words on the front of the box you are sure to be sorry. All we can do is get educated and avoid being swayed by these tricky little devices. 

1 comment:

  1. I think this is something often over looked but very useful in campaigns so I am glad you covered it. I find it interesting how slogans are so very broad and general and almost work better the shorter they are. I really like the graph you chose to use. It is very interesting what was the most popular. I never would have expected the "Romney Comeback" to have the most comments and more than any Obama phrases. One of my favorite parts of this post is the "Forward" controversy with Hitler. It is is amazing how somebody can take such a simple agreeable concept like moving the country forward and turn it completely opposite! Overall I would definitely agree that while slogans are catchy and show a brief side of the candidate, they are simply just a selling point and we should look into the candidates more on our own before deciding.