Every good election needs a decent catchcry. Every bad one does, too. It’s campaign time in the ACT and the slogans are coming thick and fast as “CityNews” political reporter BELINDA STRAHORN discovers.
THE in-your-face hurly-burly of election time in the ACT has begun and so too the snappy catchphrase.
“There is a better way”. “Building a better normal”. “Demand better”.
If these slogans were men, they’d wear double breasted jackets, far too formal for my liking, but I’m no catchcry expert.
So, what do the pundits say? Do they work? Do they inspire loyalty? Are they strong enough to change minds?
For every ripper slogan such as “It’s time” (ALP, 1972) or “Kevin 07” (ALP, 2007) there are those that play a part in why many of us have a hard time remembering who was running.
In 2020, “There is a better way” is the official Canberra Liberals’ campaign catchphrase. The Greens are running with “Building a better normal” and Labor is still searching for the perfect one-liner (last time it was “The Canberra you love – only better”).
Political communications guru and associate professor of journalism at the University of Canberra Caroline Fisher says a good slogan should be something catchy, short and pithy, with a lathering of ideology, good language and limited yawn factor.
“It needs to be about something bigger, a big idea, something bigger than the item that’s for sale, in this case politics,” she says.
Fisher, a former media advisor to Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, thinks parties here are missing a trick when it comes to effective slogans.
While the ACT Greens motto “Building a better normal” seems to have captured a mood, Fisher admits it hasn’t hit the mark.
“Very lacklustre,” she says.
“There’s a sense of the future and working towards something better, so it’s aspirational, but normal is a very uninspiring term, it’s very anticlimactic.
“If they had perhaps tapped into that sense of a ‘new’ normal, building a better ‘new’ normal, it may have worked.
“It’s a very flat slogan and doesn’t have a lot of emotional appeal.”
The Canberra Liberals’ “There is a better way” is like marketing word soup, something marketing connoisseurs should avoid because it doesn’t really say anything.
“The question it raises for me is, a better way to ask what? A better way to where?” Fisher says.
“It is ambiguous, it’s better than the Greens’ slogan, it’s a serviceable slogan, but it won’t go into the archives of a great slogan”.
ACT Labor is yet to choose their campaign catchcry, a task for which Fisher has some invaluable tips.
“They need to offer some vision,” she says.
“They will need to dig pretty deep to find a vision that the public can grab on to, to give them a reason to vote them in for another term.
“It will be interesting to see what Labor comes up with.”
The Canberra Progressives’ “Demand Better” will appeal to some voters, Fisher says.
“It’s a call for action, it’s calling on the electorate to expect more and so that will resonate with some people,” she says.
And Sustainable Australia’s “Stop Overdevelopment. Stop Corruption” falls short in “building vision”.
“It’s negative, they are big claims and big statements, I don’t think it’s building a vision to bring people along.”
But “Barrack 4 Carrick”, independent candidate for Murrumbidgee Fiona Carrick’s battle phrase, has some makings of a decent slogan, Fisher says.
“It’s very catchy and I remembered it, so I think it’s really good,” she says.
“It doesn’t tell us what she stands for but what she needs is name recognition and, in that sense, it’s terrific.”
None of this year’s mantras will make the slogan hall of fame, where textbook classics such as “Keep the bastards honest” (Australian Democrats) or “Turn the Lights On” (Fraser, Liberals, 1975) reside.
“Make America Great Again” (Trump, 2016) and “The Bill we can’t afford” (Liberals, 2019), are other “clever” slogans that had “loads of emotional pull”, Fisher says.
Dr Andrew Hughes, political marketing master and lecturer at the ANU, has helped big names such as BHP and the Commonwealth Bank sell their brand to the public.
Hughes agrees that great slogans should be simple, filled with punch, mood and emotion.
He says the Greens have failed to capitalise with “Building a better normal”.
“What’s normal?” Hughes says.
“It’s very vague, too broad and not specific enough.
“It’s like someone has got the buzzword generator out and said we should use this as a slogan, without believing in it.
“If they had said something like ‘Building a better normal for a greener society’ that makes more sense and that is consistent with their brand.”
The Canberra Liberals’ “There is a better way” could “work quite well”, Hughes says, “as long as they back that statement up with what their brand is and what they signify through policy announcements as a political party.
“But if people have had a bad experience with your brand, in this case the Libs, that’s where it can get dicey.”
As for ACT Labor’s catchcry, watch this space.
“They [Labor] might focus on a social message like ‘Stick with us to see it through’, which is another way of saying we recognise there are uncertain times right now but stick with us and we can progress forward together.”
The Flux Party’s “Upgrade Democracy” slogan raises questions it shouldn’t, Hughes says.
“How are you going to change democracy to make it better?” he says.
“A slogan shouldn’t raise questions straightaway.
“If a slogan raises questions then questions are doubt and doubt is a negative and a negative is a bad thing in politics.”
Bad slogans, there’ve been plenty of those, such as Labor’s 1987 attempt “Don’t change horses in midstream” – try squeezing that on a badge – or John Howard’s strange 1987 “Incentivation”.
But Hughes says Tony Abbott’s “Five-point plan” takes the cake, describing it as “terrible”.
“A reporter walked up to him and said, “What’s the five-point plan?” and after point one or point two he said, “I don’t know”.
“Anything above the four-word limit in a slogan is dangerous territory.”
So, how big a role do slogans play in getting parties into power? Can a catchphrase really win an election?
“They sure can,” Hughes says.
“Gough Whitlam’s “It’s time” is a classic example.”
“Slogans really are for the undecided voter; the jingles, the slogans can make a real difference,” Fisher says.
“If they capture that mood for change really well, then yes they can build momentum.”
As far as campaign slogans go, this year’s pickings for the ACT election may not be good enough to sing, pop on a T-shirt or stamp on a badge. But who remembers any of John Howard’s catchcries, and he went on to win four elections.