Written by John Howarth
It is at about this time that campaign organisers and candidate start to think about the slogans and straplines that they will use for the coming General Election. Either that or they think about revising or refreshing the slogans and straplines that they have been using until now.
It is easy to simply pick up a slogan from the party, from a print template or a previous campaign without really thinking it through. That’s a mistake. The candidate strapline might well be the shortest sentence written for the campaign – but it is one of the most important. There is an old saying in my industry – if you want three thousand words allow a few hours, if you want three words allow a few months. It is one of the hardest things to do and even harder to get right. When we are writing straplines or slogans for brands we are creating something that is meant to sum up what the product will mean to its users, what the brand represents. In an ideal world you are seeking to encapsulate a whole way of thinking. So the candidate’s strapline/slogans should sum up them, should fit their personality, it should be what they and their campaign represents.
Does it add value?
You have to remember one important fact that it is all too easy to forgot. Your function as a local Labour candidate is to add value to the Labour brand. Voters choose a party first and foremost – they may do that by choosing the party leader they prefer, they may follow their tribal loyalties and they may consider the detail of policy. Only a small proportion will scrutinise the local candidates. Whatever the personal strapline it should be adding value – bringing a valuable local or personal factor into the campaign. It is key that these elements don’t jar with the Labour message. Even if the candidate is of ‘independent mind’ there are always ways of presenting that notion so that it is not at odds with the party.
Incumbent or challenger?
There is a huge difference between running for re-election and challenging for a seat. This can and should affect what you have to say to the electorate. Incumbency can be a huge advantage. You should be asking yourself how the candidate’s record can be most effectively projected in a succinct sentence.
Does it chime?
This is the difficult bit. You have to challenge your own, or your candidate’s thinking. You can have the slickest slogan this side of Madison Avenue but if it doesn’t ring true you might as well not bother. A good example – it’s all very well saying ‘Jane Doe – working hard for Someplace’. But if the candidate isn’t an MP, isn’t a local councillor and holds no other representative role how does it ring true? They might be working hard to get elected but that doesn’t really count! I’m not saying that this person isn’t actually working hard for real people – merely that perceptions are often more important than reality.
The old ones are the best. Aren’t they?
Well, not necessarily. Here it’s important to distinguish the Party and the candidate. It is tempting to pick up lines used in previous campaigns and run with them but challenge yourself first. Can the same slogan be applied to the new candidate? What circumstances have changed? If the predecessor was good can the new candidate live up to their mantel? All considered it is probably best to move on unless you are running a ‘team’ campaign for a local multi-member ward of course where you are seeking to transfer the positive reputation of the team to a new candidate.
As few words as possible
A fine thing coming from him, I can sense you thinking. But really, if it isn’t snappy just don’t bother. Or find a different way. The most difficult thing is being lumbered with a long constituency name: Fighting for a fair deal for Rotherskill and Little Wettingfold North (if such a place existed) is always going to be a challenge. So ask yourself, what do we really need here? Like a headline, you should aim for an absolute maximum for six words.
Alliteration is always alright, almost
Well, OK, so it’s hard to make anything work with ‘alliteration’ but the point stands. If you have a name that lends itself to alliteration then use it, within reason. Why? Because it is memorable. One of your objectives is to improve the name recognition of your candidate, alliteration helps make it so – as do rhymes (within reason). The more people who can remember your candidate for the right reasons the better. Think about how the line rolls off the tongue, but remember to challenge yourself.
How will they send it up?
This is the least important point but still worth considering. Your opponents (or their friends to need to get out more) are going to spoof your stuff. They are going to send up your candidate – or at least it’s best to assume they will. Try not to make it too easy for them – that means thinking of how you would satirise your candidate – always try to put yourself in their shoes and work out how they will come at you. That’s not just good for your publicity; it’s one of the first rules of political strategy.
Hope you find these thoughts helpful – best of luck.
Follow John on Twitter @johnhowarth1958