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Just Words? Rating the Republican Nominees on Their Slogans

It Seems None of Them Learned From Barack Obama's 2008 Positioning

By Published on . 7

How are the eight contenders doing in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination?

If you watched the first two debates, you might have an opinion, positive or negative, based on their debating skills. That's important.

But not as important as their "positioning" skills. Here is my opinion of the relative positioning skills of each potential candidate (from one to five stars.)

Michele Bachmann
According to MicheleBachmann.com . . . well, currently she doesn't seem to have a slogan, although just recently Ms. Bachmann was urging voters to "Join the fight to reclaim America."

Fight? Is that the right metaphor for a politician in today's environment? Is she proposing to liberate America the way the rebels have liberated Libya?

Credit: CNN

Besides, who was she proposing to fight? The Democrats?

Isn't that one of the major reasons voters are turned off by the political process? Every poll I have seen shows that they want politicians of both parties to work together, not to fight each other.

Well, you might be thinking, this was just a political slogan. Nobody takes these things literally. Exactly. You could say the same thing about most marketing slogans. Consumers don't take them literally; that 's why they don't work.

"Take charge."

Does this slogan make you want to go out and sign up for an American Express card? I thought so.

Herman Cain
According to HermanCain.com . . . well, he doesn't seem to have a slogan, except for the rather innocuous "Cain 2012."

In his speeches, Mr. Cain emphasizes his business experience, especially the 10 years he spent running Godfather's Pizza. With his business background, you might think he would hammer the other wannabes (who all have political backgrounds) with a slogan like "Let's run America like a business."

Yet the key idea in Cain's "Vision for economic growth" is his 999 Plan. A 9% business tax, a 9% income tax and 9% national sales tax.

The 999 Plan is a brilliant idea, in my opinion, but the wrong strategy for a "business" candidate. What does a businessperson know about setting tax rates?

He should focus on fixing the the Post Office, Amtrak, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the dozens of other businesses the government is involved in.

America is fed up with politicians. Someday we are going to elect a business person to run the country like a business.

Newt Gingrich
According to Newt.org, he doesn't seem to have a slogan either, but he does have a "Jobs & Prosperity Plan."

Unlike Herman Cain, however, Newt Gingrich seldom mentions his successful businesses that might cause voters to trust him to create jobs. Rather, he emphasizes his political experience, not exactly a winning strategy in the current environment.

Jon Huntsman
According to Jon2012.com, his slogan is "H."

I assume it stands for Huntsman, but it might have been a better strategy to make the H stand for "honesty" or "health-care reform" or some other conceptual idea.

You can't really run for anything without a strong ego. Focusing on a big "H" is exactly an idea that would appeal to an ego-centric politician.

Years ago, we did strategy work for the governor of a large state. If you want to sell the governor something, his aide advised us, make sure he thinks it's his idea.

Late news flash: Jon Huntsman has now added a real slogan to his site. "No pledges, just solutions."

I think I like the "H" better.

Ron Paul
According to RonPaul2012.com, his slogan is "Restore America now."

Let's see now, Bachmann was trying to "reclaim" America and Ron Paul is trying to "restore" America.

What's the difference between reclaiming and restoring? I'm not too sure, but I know that neither idea is going to resonate with voters.

One of the most important conceptual ideas in marketing is being "different," not being better. Unless you can be different, your message is just dust in a windstorm.

Rick Perry
According to RickPerry.org, his slogan is : "Time to get America working again."

This is very powerful positioning because he has the credentials to validate the slogan: Since June 2009, more than 40% of all net new jobs in America have been created in Texas.

Sure, his opponents will try to debunk this track record. That's to be expected. Good slogans do two things for you: (1) They draw a raft of negative reactions from your opponents, and (2) They help to keep your campaign on track.

Negative reactions are not all bad. You want your opponents to spend all of their time talking about your program, not theirs.

Mitt Romney
According to MittRomney.com, his slogan is : "Believe in America."

How much negative reaction is a slogan like that going to generate? "You don't really believe in America, Mitt, you're a Mormon."

I don't think any of his opponents are going to raise this issue.

Mitt Romney was the front runner for the nomination, but he seems to have missed his opportunity. Instead of focusing on a single message, he has tried to cover everything.

A brand is like a garden hose with an adjustable nozzle. Turn it one way and out comes a powerful stream of water that could knock down a child. Turn it the other way and out comes a fine mist that wouldn't harm a butterfly.

When you lose your focus, you lose your power to influence people.

Rick Santorum
According to RickSantorum.com, his slogan is : "The courage to fight for America."

In this campaign, we have had two fighters for America: Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.

Neither has a chance. No negative reaction from opponents and no positive connection with "fighting."

Now if David Petraeus ever runs for president, he could effectively use a slogan like this.

They never learn
I had thought the 2008 election of Barack Obama would send a message to political candidates everywhere.

You can't be elected today without two things: (1) a strong position, and (2) the credentials to support that position.

"Change we can believe in" was a strong position, made even stronger because it was used by the one candidate who seemed best able to execute the idea.

"Change" was a particularly appropriate for Barack Obama. He was black and the other candidates were white. He was young and the other candidates were older. He was virtually unknown while the other major candidates (Hillary Clinton and John McCain) were extremely well-known.

They never seem to learn from the past. Most of the current crop of Presidential hopefuls have missed the essence of what a good positioning strategy is all about.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Al Ries is chairman of Ries & Ries, an Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm he runs with his daughter Laura.
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