Martin van Beynen: Political sloganeering - It's common sense

Great together but not for long.

Great together but not for long.

OPINION: Given the political ructions of the last few weeks, party bean counters will in the future think much more carefully about their slogans.

The embarrassment, not to mention the cost, of changing party hoardings once they have already littered the landscape, has been drawn into sharp focus by recent events.

Perhaps slogans need to be even more relentlessly trite than they have been in this election and others, just to cover all eventualities.


As party slogans are supposed to be the winning formula for an election, it's surprising they so often descend towards the meaningless. Ideally they should encapsulate the party's ethos in three or four pithy words and connect with the voters' mood in a powerful but inoffensive way.

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They are supposed to be a sort of shorthand. Voters naturally look for anything other than policy to make their decision. Issues are difficult and policies hard to assess so voters look for something simple like a slogan. Three or four words to decide who should run the country.

Fresh faces, fresh troubles.

Fresh faces, fresh troubles.

Slogans are supposed to work subliminally as well as hit you between the eyes like an ice pick. They aim to be subtle but slay you with the obvious. Some caution is understandable. You need to make sure your slogan cannot be easily and wittily bastardised with the addition of a letter or single short word. 

I'm sure a lot of thought and brainstorming goes into party slogans for each election. Advertising executives are paid big bucks to come up with some magical, evocative phrase that resonates with potential voters. Hillary Clinton, according to leaked emails, considered 85 slogans suggested by her pollster before opting for "Stronger Together".

Say what you like about Donald Trump, but his slogan, "Make America Great Again," was a direct and highly effective appeal to patriotic voters who felt America had lost its way.


Generally parties should probably save the money they spend on sloganeering. Granddad's suggestion is going to be just as effective as one dreamed up by the brightest young creative talent in the agency.

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In most elections slogans just don't have the stickability that parties pay a lot of money for.

Banality usually wins the day. I bet very few people could recite any of the slogans from the last election. They are about as memorable as last year's housing policy.

Delivering what exactly?

Delivering what exactly?

Most party slogans are virtually interchangeable. New Zealand First's current "Stand With Us" would not be out of place on United Future's hoardings. United Future's "A better deal for future generations" is perhaps lacking in punch but you can imagine the Green Party going with it if it wasn't so hip.

Of course this year is different for all the wrong reasons. The irony is too rich to avoid. Labour's and the Green's missteps have drawn attention to the other slogans, as though the jinx will hit them as well.

Before Jacinda Ardern stormed into the national spotlight, Labour opted for the uninspiring slogan, "A fresh approach". Crikey, no wonder Little failed to connect. "A fresh approach" can mean anything, although it brings to mind vegetables. We all know Labour would take a different approach to the incumbents but fresh approaches often fail for the same reasons the old ones do.

With the slogan obviously failing, Ardern did indeed need to come up with a fresh approach. Labour has gone with, "Let's do this". But let's do what Jacinda? We assume she means change the government but maybe she means, "let's do lunch". It's the sort of thing a troop commander would tell his platoon as they prepare to go over the top, sometimes it must be said, to certain death.

Anyway Labour's problems are nothing compared to the Greens'.

The Green Party slogan, "Great Together" seemed to suggest that not only were leaders James Shaw and Metiria Turei great together as they stood grinning from the hoarding, but that we could all be great together if we all just spread things out a bit more. And it might have meant "great together with Labour".

Turei and Shaw now look, due to events, as great together as jihadists and Christians and Shaw must be wondering how he can recycle all the hoardings without adding to the country's carbon debt.

So we look to National for some clever sloganeering. They have come up with "Delivering for New Zealanders". Well we didn't think they were delivering for Germans or Filipinos. Just "Delivering" might have done it but delivering what? Delivering bad news?

As someone who has done a lot of delivering, I can't get the image of Bill English as the milkman out of my head. Labour could have riffed on the National slogan with "Delivering you from National".

And National could have countered with "Delivering you from Winston".

The point I guess is that sloganeering is an art that makes all sorts of assumptions. One of the main ones is that the leaders won't change in the few weeks before the election.

That certainty is gone. Parties need to do better. It's common sense.

*Comments on this story are now closed.

 - Stuff


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