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Three words that worked, three that didn’t.
Three words that worked, three that didn’t.

What was the Conservatives’ slogan at the General Election? If you answered Get Brexit Done then give yourself half a point. In fact, give the Conservatives half a point – it’s their job to get you to remember their slogan, not yours. In fact, it was: Get Brexit Done. Unleash Britain’s Potential.

When focus groups asked people why they were voting Conservative, time and again they would reply that it was because the Tories would get Brexit done. I doubt anybody ever said, ‘and unleash Britain’s potential’. The first part has power and resonance – it means something, it says it pithily, emphatically, in the language people use. We know that because that exact phrase was used all the time in similar focus groups before the election.

The Tories had the sense to just copy it down and use it.

The latter part – Unleash Britain’s Potential – comes straight out of a copywriter’s or political consultant’s lexicon. You can understand why it is there – Get Brexit Done does beg the question – ‘and then what?’ But their answer was an unmemorable cliché, and so had close to zero impact.

What was the Labour slogan?

I’ll give you a bit more time…

Ready…

OK, if you answered It’s Time for Real Change, give Labour 1 point, but in fact don’t give them any.

You can see the appeal of It’s Time for Real Change. Change is a good card to play when you’re running against quite unpopular incumbents who have been in office for nearly ten years. And when Boris Johnson is portraying himself, and therefore his prospective government, as shiny and new, you might want to say that only your change is real change. The problem is the language is so predictable and dull, and carries no real meaning, or sense of inspiration.

What does this mean for the rest of us who don’t have political parties to get elected, but who do have communications challenges?

The election slogan is akin to your organisation’s strapline, or a campaign strapline. How do you judge whether your one passes? Subject it to 3 tests:

Test 1: Does it mean anything?

Putting a set of words together that are grammatical and seemingly coherent doesn’t mean that they actually mean anything. Most of the time they are humdrum descriptives eg Shelter ‘the housing and homelessness charity’. Or meaningless clichés which could apply to any charity alone the lines of Let’s Change Lives Together. There’s no inspiration, no particularity.

Which brings us to…

Test 2: Could your peers say the same?

You not only need to say something meaningful, you also need to say something distinctive. If you could put your peers’/competitors’ names over your strapline, you have failed.

Test 3: Would someone repeat it back?

Essentially, the question is: would someone remember it if asked, and is it the type of language used by actual people? Catchiness, memorability and pithiness is what you’re after. Get Brexit Done is a classic example of people repeating back your slogan. Another brilliant, winning slogan was Take Back Control which was authored by the Vote Leave campaign.

By contrast, Remain’s campaign slogan was… no I hadn’t a clue either, until I looked it up. The slogan of the official Remain organisation, Britain Stronger in Europe, was Stronger, Safer and Better Off. A classic, written-by-committee slogan. By contrast, Take Control (the Back was added later) came from what people in focus groups gave as the reason they wanted to Leave.

Does any of this matter?

You can ask if a few (usually glib) words make any difference? Surely, it’s the whole relationship that someone has with your brand or idea that counts? Consider this, though. Straplines and slogans are as valuable for how they force a clarifying of thought on the part of the organisation or campaign, as for their impact on the audience. The typical glibness is the result of failing to make a choice, instead settling for some meaningless, comfortable mush.

Also, most people have very little attention for anything, let alone your campaign. In the election, most people didn’t read the manifestos, visit the websites, watch the debates or read the leaflets thrust through their door. How will you use the precious seconds you are granted?

How do you get a winning strapline?

A few words doesn’t take a few moments thought. And it’s not about just handing the task to some nifty wordsmiths. You do need the wordsmiths, but they have to draw perceptions from asking fundamental strategic questions: who are you, why are you here, what difference do you make, what is the single thought someone needs to take away about you?

At Hope, we get those insights from our Discovery process, where we dissect and reveal the organisation’s true essence by the not-so-sophisticated process of talking to people. Our special sauce is the distillation and the observations that we bring out, drawing on three decades’ experience.

To find out whether a Discovery project makes sense for you, come and have a chat with us on our boat. We also offer free half-day workshops where, together, we can tease out some key issues. To find out more, contact lionel@hope.agency.


Michael Isaacs

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