The campaign trail is long and arduous one. Even the slightest pebble in the road could be the preface to a mudslide, and everyone is looking for the best path to the top of Victory Mountain. Every campaign manager is tasked with answering the question, “How can I get voters interested in what my candidate has to say?” and more often than not, it all comes down to creative and innovative advertising campaigns. The trick, however, is that oftentimes it’s difficult to know what strategies will stick and will flop.Every campaign manager is looking for a “Keep Cool with Coolidge” or “Morning in America,” but nobody wants a “Let America Be America Again” or “I Still Like Ike.” And with the midterm elections coming up on the horizon, now is as important a time as ever to understand the difference between winning political advertisements and losing ones. But since no one really knows what “works,” here are a few things that definitely don’t:
Horrifyingly Bad Political Slogans
Albeit a physically small component, your slogan will inevitably be the largest part of your campaign. It will appear on your promotional products, people will slap it on custom t-shirts, excited supporters will toss it on the bumpers of their Priuses, and so on. It will come to define you (barring no major scandals or other PR nightmares). Some candidates prefer to keep it clean, simple, and to the point. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower adopted the “I Like Ike” campaign slogan during the 1952 Presidential Election, and it helped him win a landslide victory over his democratic rival, Adlai Stevenson. Since then, the “I Like Ike” slogan has been considered one of the best political campaign slogans of all time.
… And then there are others; slogans that broke all the political advertising rules in all the worst ways and just, well, see for yourselves:
We Polked you in ’44, We Shall Pierce you in ’52 – This slogan, popularized in the 1852 election of Democratic candidate Franklin Pierce, utilized pretty odd set of puns (“Polked” to represent James K. Polk, who won the 1844 Presidential election, and “Pierce” to represent, well, Pierce) to literally say the democrats would be “piercing” (read as: shanking) voters. Despite threatening their primary voter base, Pierce walked away with a landslide victory over his opponent, Winfield Scott. We don’t get it either. Scott’s campaign slogan must have been something like, “Don’t vote for me. No, really, just don’t vote for me.”
This is a White Man’s Government – This was the political campaign slogan of 1864 presidential hopeful Seymour Horatio. We can’t figure out why he didn’t win, either.
He kept us out of War – This now-infamous phrase was the slogan for former President Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 campaign. It’s infamous because less than a month later, Wilson would push America into the trenches of World War I.
Defeat The New Deal and its Reckless Spending – This political gem was brought to us by Alfred M. Landon, who ran against Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election. He also brought us the horrible-but-not-horrible-enough-to-make-this-list slogan, “Let’s Make it a Landon-Slide,” which really isn’t as horrible as it is cringe-worthy. But anyway, funny thing about The New Deal… It is believed by most to be one of, if not the, single largest contributing factor that helped drag America out of the depths of the Great Depression, thus firmly establishing FDR as one of America’s most beloved presidents of all time. Hey! Here’s a play on words: LOLandon!
It’s the Economy, Stupid! – Ahh! There’s nothing like addressing voters and the people to whom you might eventually be responsible as stupid. To be fair, this slogan wasn’t conceived as such. It was actually meant to serve as a reminder of the three key campaign messages (Change vs. more of the same; The economy, stupid; and don’t forget healthcare) for Clinton’s campaign staff, but morphed into something greater. Eventually, it would help Clinton usurp then-President George H. W. Bush.
Awkward Social Media Presence / Scandals
The Internet is the best and worst thing to happen to politics in the last… Well, ever. It has enabled voters, taxpayers, and entire legions of ruthless internet trolls to have dialogue directly with their favorite elected officials, corporations, movie stars, musicians, artists, actors, etc. Sometimes, it’s incredible. And other times, it’s incredibly bad:
Former Democratic U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner basically wrote the book on politicians and social media catastrophies. We won’t go too into detail, but basically, Weiner’s otherwise optimistic political career came to a screeching halt after it was revealed in May 2011 that he had sent promiscuous photos to female Twitter followers. In what we can only describe as a politi-social 21st century digital Hindenburg explosion from which the world couldn’t avert its gaze, Weiner resigned from his congressional post, bowing his head in shame.
… Until he announced in April 2013 that he again would enter the political arena, this time with his eyes set on the New York Mayor’s office. Weiner would eventually lose the mayoral primary, following yet another Twitter sexting scandal. Old habits die hard, eh?
Former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman taught the world why it’s super-duper important to check every link you plan on posting to social media. At the end of a tweet about her then-opponent Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Brown, Jr., Whitman’s press secretary, who was responsible for the account, attached an unusual YouTube video of a cross-dressing bass player. (Editor’s note: Well, that escalated quickly)
The link to the intended video was believed to have been accidentally cut off at the end, thus leading those who clicked on it to the Korean cross-dressing bassist. Whitman’s official response to the tweet? “Oopsie.” Whitman would go on to lose the campaign, but not before sinking $144 million of her own money into the charade.
Throughout his life, it is said that William Shakespeare invented over 1,700 words that are still commonly used in the English language. Apparently, he gave us the word “eyeball.” No, we’re not kidding. And it was Shakespeare who Former Alaska state Governor and Republican Vice President Nominee Sarah Palin said she was channeling when she made her own contribution to the English language a few years ago in a tweet to supporters of the then-controversial plan to build a mosque at Ground Zero in New York City. Palin, no stranger to making “interesting” comments, used the word “refudiated” in the tweet, apparently as a hybrid of the words “refute” and “repudiate.”
The Internet had a field day.
The point to be made here is that, while your social media presence alone certainly can’t make you, it can definitely break you.
Out of Context Statements/Gaffes
The dangerous thing about speeches is that they’re not always pre-written, well-rehearsed pieces of Oscar-worthy monologue. Sometimes they’re downright sloppy, especially when politicianss fumble their way through questions they don’t know how to answer or weren’t expecting, or when they’re caught off guard completely. Choosing appropriate diction is a true art form, and sometimes it’s really just easier to keep one’s mouth shut. Unfortunately, some politicians have to learn this lesson the hard way:
“We’re the country that built the Intercontinental Railroad.”
— President Barack Obama, September 2011
Fun fact: There’s no such thing as an “intercontinental railroad.” Sorry, Barry! What President Obama meant to say was that we built the first trans-continental railroad; that is, a railroad connecting one end of a country to the other.
“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
— Former President George W. Bush, August 2004
This gem from former President George W. Bush came at the signing ceremony for a $417-billion defense spending bill. We still don’t know whether we should have laughed or cried when he said it, but we’re sure it was just an honest mistake.
“But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”
— Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, March 2010
This out-of-context quote came from former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, during a speech she gave to the National Association of Counties about a proposed healthcare bill. While she didn’t actually mean the House should pass bills without first reading them, it made her the target of tons of negative ad campaigns.
“Only 36,000 people lost their jobs today, which is really good.”
— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, March 2010
This iconic gaffe from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was in reference to unemployment numbers. Economists had predicted that 75,000 people would lose their jobs that month, and only 35,000 actually did. Reid wasn’t settling for lackluster unemployment numbers, but was commenting on how economists’ estimates were off by almost half. This quote is the quintessential example of how anyone can be made to sound like a real jerk when they’re taken out of context.
“When the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”
— Former President Richard Nixon, 1977
… Actually, we still have no idea about this one.
Bad Political Advertisements.
This midterm election is bringing unprecedented amounts of advertising money to the table, with overall purchased television spots up nearly 70 percent over 2010’s midterms. Now more than ever, candidates need to be exceptionally careful about the messages they choose to broadcast. We figure it’s a lot like buying a new car: think about what you want, settle on an idea, and then walk away. If you wake up the next morning and it’s still a good idea, do it. Here are a few political hopefuls who apparently skipped that last part:
As if having to watch their own tails wasn’t difficult enough, politicians also frequently have to dance on the fine line between good old-fashioned mudslinging and virulent low-blow tactics. Sometimes, going too far over the line can cost you everything – Just ask former Senator Elizabeth Dole.