MARKETING COMMUNICATION LESSONS OF 2019 POLITICAL SLOGANS – Akin Osewa

So soon, the much-hyped 2019 elections have come and virtually gone and we thank God the predictions of the naysayers did not materialize. At the run-up to the 2011 elections, I wrote an article titled “MARKETING BEYOND POLITICAL SLOGANS: CASE STUDIES OF 2011 POLITICAL ASPIRANTS’ SLOGANS”

The write up critiqued the slogans of the major presidential aspirants within the political space then and inadvertently endorsed the CHANGE slogan of the APC aspirants as the most potent and effective at getting the job done. The 2019 political campaign was virtually reduced to a two-horse race between APC and PDP. The other parties seem to have conceded defeat as their political campaigns offered little or no unique and memorable slogans for any significant marketing lessons.

Before going further, permit me to clearly explain the role of a slogan in marketing communication. In business, a slogan is “a catchphrase or small group of words that are combined in a special way to identify a product or company,” according to Entrepreneur.com’s small business encyclopedia. In many ways, they’re like mini-mission statements. Companies have slogans for the same reason they have logos.  While logos are visual representations of a brand, slogans are audible representations of a brand. Both formats grab consumers’ attention more readily than the name of a company or product might. Plus, they’re simpler to understand and remember. The goal is to leave a key brand message in consumers’ minds so that, if they remember nothing else from an advertisement, they’ll remember the slogan.

  A good campaign slogan is, precisely, one that captures the essence of the brand or product (the politician) in a credible manner. It is a summation of what the brand stands for, it makes a statement for the values and character of the brand.  It would appear to me that credibility is the bedrock on which other factors of brevity, memorability, campainability and call to action stand.  A good campaign slogan is not a product of a wide creative license of the creative team but MUST be based on a SOUND idea or DNA of the brand (the politician or his party). A strong and effective campaign slogan makes meaning to the target group if it connects with it as a group or individuals and there is no credibility gap between the slogan (the words of the icon) and the actions or character of the slogan owner.

The result of such a connection is a long term relationship based on trust. In the words of Arthur Friedman, “men of genius are admired: men of wealth are envied: men of power are feared but only men of character are trusted.” This means that the campaign slogan must not lie about the character of the brand. Zig Ziglar in his book “Better than Good” says “one of the ways we communicate that we can be trusted is in the way you care for other people. When people see we care for them, they will ‘entrust’ their lives (and their hopes, dreams and fears) to us as a confidant.” A political candidate or aspirant that is perceived as a liar upfront from the stage of the campaign cannot be entrusted with the people’s mandate.

Before I sharply focus on reviewing some of the campaign slogans that popped up during the season of the 2019 political campaign, let us take a look at examples of slogans that got the job done for some political icons, in the not too distant past.  I would like to consider “CHANGE” by Barack Obama ( immediate past president of America) “CHANGE” by APC (the ruling party in Nigeria) and “HOPE” by the late MKO Abiola (the post-humouredly declared the winner of the 1993elections). Right from the blow of the whistle at the primary elections, Obama, a relatively unknown politician rest his case on CHANGE. Of course, he knew that Americans were tired of the war, economic recession, and the cowboy style of his predecessor. The slogan was so apt and effective that his opponents started giving their campaigns a semblance of CHANGE. Hillary Clinton came up with “COUNTDOWN TO CHANGE” while John McCain introduced “CHANGE IS COMING” but the Obama’s camp represented the real CHANGE people believed and today, the rest is history.

The APC properly set the stage for its CHANGE slogan by shaping public perception against the outgoing PDP government. The GEJ government was presented as corrupt, slow to act, inactive and clueless. The CHANGE slogan summed up the collective wish of the majority of the people of Nigeria and they expressed their support for it by voting in the candidate of the APC party who hitherto was a serial elections loser.

The Late MKO Abiola came up with “HOPE” for his 1993 campaign. HOPE is a powerful word in the minds of people all over the world, particularly a religious society like ours. It resonated well with Nigerians and, in any case, it was along the grain direction of what most Nigerians are used to and hold on to in churches and mosques pan –Nigeria. When the pastors or imams say “your tomorrow is alright or it shall be well with you” the Amen is usually resounding because, without hope, a man is dead. The word HOPE also has meaning in all local languages. The pedigree of MKO Abiola supported his slogan as he had given hope to a lot of people scattered all around the county. There was no gap between the campaign slogan and the character of the man MKO. Again, the rest is history.

The two campaign slogans that dominated the airwaves nationally were “NEXT LEVEL” by the APC and “LET’S MAKE NIGERIA WORK AGAIN” by the PDP. However, to enrich the debate, this piece will attempt to bring some sub-theme slogans into the scope of the analysis.

NEXT LEVEL

A lot was said, particularly by critics of the APC, to invalidate the credibility of the slogan. They ask how we can talk about next level when there was no foundation. The issue of whether there was foundation or not is debatable but even if we agree there was no foundation for the sake of this discussion, that does not tamper with the potency and credibility of the slogan; the NEXT LEVEL for a process without foundation before is the foundation, for one without a clear plan, the NEXT LEVEL is putting a plan in place, for the one that was not following the plan the next level is adherence to its plan, …etc. Seen from this perspective, NEXT LEVEL gives hope of action where there was inaction, progress where there was stagnation…etc. The slogan is also brief enough, therefore passing the brevity test while it is also fairly memorable. The question however is, can the party APC be trusted when it comes to the fulfilment of election promises? If the answer is NO, then there is a trust issue which can weigh heavily on the credibility of the actors and subsequently make the feet of the slogan wobble at the altar of credibility. But if the answer is YES, then the credibility pillar of the slogan is further strengthened. The two-word slogan is memorable, brief, “campaignable” and passes the call to action test. Little wonder it got the job done for the ruling party. The marketing lessons become clear for us to see if we can put aside politics and sentiments.

“LET’S GET NIGERIA WORKING AGAIN”

This slogan by the PDP, though weak on brevity can be very potent if it has no credibility baggage by the actors, particularly the presidential candidate of the party. He has been a Vice President before and people could not remember how Nigeria worked at a faster pace than currently under him. Not many people can vouch for the integrity of the former VP on the moral and corruption questions hanging him. The default question, therefore, is how can someone who did not demonstrate the capacity to get Nigeria working at his first coming claim now claim to want to do it again and hope to get away with it? What has changed? There seems to exist a big credibility gap that weakens the potency of the slogan of the PDP. It is a very strong slogan on call to action just that the credibility and integrity factors are by far so strong and fundamental to all other. The campaign team of the former Vice President seem to have set aside the marketing lesions of his 2011 slogan; “MAKE GOOD THINGS HAPPEN” which was treated in my write up then. I still want to insist that the candidate can better be packaged creditably on its strengths. For me, the former Vice- President is seen more as an acknowledged democrat, good in party organization but unwilling to compromise his ambition to rule. These are credible character traits the campaign managers have to come to terms with and manipulate to the advantage of the candidate.  

“O TO GEE”

This was the slogan of the APC in Kwara state. “O TO GEE” loosely translated into English as “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” but there is no doubt that this translation does not capture the essence of the meaning; “O TO GEE” has a strong tone of finality and a stern warning by a desperate victim who has been pushed to the wall. At that stage, the seemingly weak becomes emboldened to damn the consequences and challenge the old order. “O TO GEE” called for a paradigm shift in the most powerful way in the local language, it resonated with the people and cut on like wide fire. The slogan must have jolted the opposition to come up with “O TUN YA” slogan to counter “O TO GEE” but the effect of that was very feeble and the rest is history. In the history of elections in Nigeria, there appears to be no political campaign slogan that was able to do so much damage to the established political structure of the opponents, within such short a time, as “O TO GEE”… a great slogan absolutely demonstrated the power of the spoken word.

The “O TO GEE” slogan profoundly made the point that politics is local and local context can actually be the hook for a great slogan. The coordinators of the APC demonstrated a good knowledge of Kwara politics and cashed on it with a most apt slogan. The slogan did not directly focus on what the candidate of the party or the party has to offer but on the frustration of the electorate against the status quo. These nuances would have not been played up by any foreign communication agency without good insight into the native discuss. “O TO GEE” is a made in Nigeria slogan for Nigeria and Nigerians.  

 Akin OSEWA a seasoned management and marketing consultant is a fellow of Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) and the National Institute of Marketing in Nigeria (NIMN)

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