Did Obama's Slogan Cut Mitt Romney's Chances?

'Forward' Easily Beats 'Believe in America'

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All slogans are not created equal. Some slogans are one-sided and some slogans are two-sided.

A two-sided slogan is like a two-sided knife. It cuts both ways. It says something positive about your brand and something negative about the competition.

Take "Believe in America," Mitt Romney's slogan. It's a nice thought, but it's a one-sided slogan. It says something positive about Mitt Romney, but what does it say about his opponent?

That Barack Obama doesn't believe in America? A country that educated him at Harvard. A country that elected him to the Senate and the Presidency. A country that made him wealthy and world famous.

Barack Obama doesn't believe in America? Highly unlikely.

What does Obama believe in? The No. 1 issue among voters is "jobs," but he couldn't claim much progress on this issue because of the economy. His best approach was to plead for more time to "finish the job."

"Forward"
His slogan did exactly that . Furthermore, a "Forward" slogan implies that Republicans want to go backward to policies that failed in the past. "Forward" is a great slogan because it cuts both ways.

This makes two in a row for Barack Obama. His 2008 slogan, "Change we can believe in," was also a two-sided slogan. With the Republicans in power, John McCain couldn't exactly advocate "change," because that would offend his base. The best he could do would be to imply that he would do the job "better than Bush."

By the way, what was John McCain's slogan? Here are some of them:

  • "Straight talker."
  • "Best prepared to lead from day one."
  • "Reform. Prosperity. Peace."
  • "Country first."
The only two-sided slogan was the second one (a weak one at that ), but it didn't have a chance of working because of the confusion with the other slogans.

As you know, Mitt Romney also ran for the Republican nomination in 2008. But do you remember the slogan he used? Probably not. (I had to look it up myself.)

"True strength for America's future."

Who writes these things? I can't believe marketing people were involved in either Mitt Romney's 2008 effort or his 2012 effort.

(In the last few weeks, Romney changed his 2012 slogan to "Real change. Day one." That was also a mistake because it just confused voters about what he stood for.)

One effective technique is match your strength against your opponent's weakness. What is Mitt Romney's strength? He's a successful business manager and Barack Obama has no business experience at all.

"Let's run the country like a business"
A two-sided slogan like this would have dramatized the difference between the two candidates.

Romney could have talked about how current politicians have been running various government businesses. In the past year, Amtrak lost $1.3 billion. The Postal Service lost $5.1 billion. Freddie Mac lost $5.3 billion. Fannie Mae lost $16.9 billion. The two Federal mortgage companies (Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae) together have lost $257.7 billion in the past five years.

Then there's Solyndra and dozens of other government financial disasters.

When a private company starts to lose money, management either fixes the business or shuts it down. When a government agency starts to lose money, it continues to lose money, year after year after year.

Is this any way to run a government? Let's run a government like a business.

Such an approach would have created "howls of anguish" from the left. But that 's exactly what a political campaign needs to do. Force your opponent to focus on your issue and don't worry about the negative attacks. You'll be on the positive side, always the best side to be on.

Furthermore, a "business" focus would have translated well to the global scene. China is a threat, not because of Chinese aircraft carriers, but because of Chinese production facilities. America needs to win in the global marketplace by out-producing and out-marketing our foreign competitors.

One reason Greece, Spain, Italy and other countries are in trouble is because their businesses have been regulated to death. America needs a leader who can cut the red tape to get the economy moving again.

Then, too, Mitt Romney could have used a visual hammer. I would have suggested that he start each speech by standing next to the 82,419 pages in the Federal Register published last year. These 82,419 pages contain just some of the regulations that businesses must adhere to.

Or the 73,608 pages in the U.S. tax code.

Two-sided slogans are more memorable
Any slogan that implies something about your competitor activates two areas in the prospect's brain. In other words, the slogan creates a double entendre that can greatly improve its memorability.

Consider the 1963 Avis slogan, which Advertising Age ranked as the 10th best advertising campaign of the 20th century.

"Avis is only No.2 in rent-a-cars, so why go with us? We try harder."

Avis had lost money 13 years in a row, then had a remarkable turnaround after this Doyle Dane Bernbach program ran.

The Avis slogan wasn't just about Avis. It was also about Hertz and why a leader doesn't really have to try very hard. But it wasn't just the slogan that made the campaign successful. It was also the "tone" of the advertising that consistently made the comparison between a lackadaisical leader and a No.2 brand.

An early Avis advertisement: "Avis is No.1 in Poughkeepsie and already we've had a few complaints."

In truth, a brand doesn't really need a slogan. What a brand needs is a "focus" that consistently repeats the same overall message in many different forms.

Often the best reason to have a slogan is to keep the marketing people from tinkering with the company's message.

"A new California"
What was Meg Whitman's slogan in 2010 when she ran for governor of California, spending $178.5 million on her campaign, including $144 million of her own money?

That's right. "A new California."

How inane. When asked, voters have a bushel basket full of issues they are concerned about: jobs, the economy, taxes, education, Social Security, Medicare, immigration and so on.

When asked, I suspect few voters would say, I would like a new California. Those are words politicians use. "Believe in America. Reform, prosperity, peace. True strength for America's future."

Now that Meg Whitman is chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, you would think she is older and wiser. And that she would insist that H-P develop a marketing strategy that resonates with prospects not with executives in the company's boardroom.

The new H-P slogan: "Make it matter."

Another inane slogan, only marginally better than "A new Hewlett-Packard."

Back to Obama
When he leaves office in 2017, I predict a bright future for Barack Obama . . . in the business community.

Anyone who can devise two winning slogans ("Change" and "Forward") could use those skills to great advantage in once again making America the global economic leader.

In case you haven't noticed, America is now in third place in exports, behind the European Union and China.

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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