The title of this post is, in fact, a slogan. But I’m thinking slogans are verbal dead weight in the internet era. What harm would it do us to just cut them all out and put content up front?
I used to think I was just tired of seeing the same ones or slight variations of same after 22 years working for the labour movement. Which is certainly true. But it’s more serious than that.
Think of what sorts of slogans we write. Forward together. Standing together. Standing for fairness. Fairness works. Working for fairness. They could be about anything. And produced by anyone. And we use them so many times that we run the risk of being docked google page rank for duplicate content.
Slogans in the labour movement are either a call to action, a political declaration used as part of a concerted effort to make change (what we call campaigns), or (most excruciatingly) some form of general, thematic statement for a convention, conference or big-ass meeting. The slogan is applied to visual collateral associated with the campaign, convention or initiative.
One of the reasons I hate slogans is that it’s usually after the hard copy ‘look’ has been designed – complete with slogan – that I’m given the artwork. It’s already been the subject of weeks of meetings, arguments, brain storming sessions and approvals so there’s no changing it even though it’s designed to go on legal sized paper, a 3″ button, a frisbee or anything other than a web page.
But that’s another blog post.
The slogan is meant to be evocative so that it sticks in your head and acts as a sort of memory gateway to all the other good words that the union fed you in the leaflet, TV commercial, newspaper ad, etc. And the next time you happen by it, on the side of the bus, in a newsletter you get in the mail, you’ll feel like there’s some movement going on and that you’re part of it.
We work hard at getting the ‘right’ slogan. And we work hard to make it a different slogan every time.
We want them to be unique because they are designed for a moment in time which emphasizes the importance of the call to action. Things have never been this bad. Nothing has ever been this important. How do you know? Because we have a slogan like no other. Even if it’s in fact an issue we’ve been fighting for years or even decades. As most of them are.
All other slogans previously constructed to fight for x or against y have failed to lead us to victory hence we need a new one.
We also want to create and express our own uniqueness – as communicators – and demonstrate our creativity. Organizationally we want to set ourselves apart from that other union.
And yet we never get there.
Even if the internet hadn’t happened I would think at this point most slogan writers should be having some sort of existential crisis.
In the bad old days, the people working on a campaign would sit around a table (or along a bar) and dream up the slogan. They would chose the one they hated the least by the time they were too tired or frustrated to keep fighting.
Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s we started to hear about this thing called social marketing, the central premise of which was that we social change organizations should use opinion research techniques to craft our messages so that we would be more successful.
So our slogans started to be generated by focus groups and opinion polls. They became less ‘out there’ and original and more machined, sanded down (polished) to appeal to the most people or some imaginary average opinion.
“Can’t argue with that” replaced “capture our imagination” as the objective. But here’s the thing. If a slogan is supposed to motivate people to action, how are we really succeeding if all we motivate them to do is not-argue-with-something?
Once I was driving back from my dad’s place, when I saw something that almost made me drive into a bridge abutment. Still fresh in my mind was a two hour meeting/phone conference to discuss whether the anti-privatization campaign slogan should be “building strong communities”, “re-building strong communities” or just “strong communities”. All of a sudden I saw, at the bottom of an Ontario Ministry of Transport road sign warning of construction ahead, “building strong communities”.
So this is where we often find ourselves. Trying to find craft the perfect epithet and get it on a button before someone puts it on a road construction sign, milk bottle or some such. That should have given us slogan writers pause right there.
But then the internet happened.
And suddenly the relationship between audience and communicator was inverted. We don’t go out and find our audience (by postering or leafleting workplaces or mailing them at home). They find us. Our websites. Our social media presence etc.
Think of what captures the imagination on the internet. And how it’s identified. Wedding video. Crasher squirrel. Double rainbow. Dancing baby. Drinking kitten. These are not slogans. They are nouns with adjectives. Keywords or key phrases. Imagine a million conversations taking place over SMS, SnapChat, Facebook or in real life at a bar that go like this:
“Did you see that video where [something crazy or wild happens]?”
“No. It’s good? What’s the address?”
“Don’t remember. Just Google [adjective noun] and you’ll find it. Do it now.”
So how would our slogans fare in the same conversation? Terribly of course.
“Did you hear about the union’s latest campaign against X or for Y?”
“No. But I have a feeling I’m about to.”
“Yeah. They’ve got a great video on the YouTube”.
“What’s the URL?”
“I don’t know. Google something fairness.”
“Uh I did. What am I looking for?”
“Never mind. Did you see that thing where Olivia Chow is riding a unicorn? It’s awesome.”
Slogans make it harder for people to find and share our stuff. Very few people will have their minds or their behaviour changed by reading one. I think it’s time we question why we continue to spend so much time creating them.