I’ve worked on only a few political campaigns.
In theory, professional ad folks should be utterly enchanted by this adreneline-charged line of work: it commands serious media spend ($6.23 billion in the U.S. in 2020., according to eMarketer, Jan 2020); it begs the urgency of a short-term initiative; it owns a “brand” to market; and there are clear metrics—you win or you don’t.
Or is this last note why we all don’t get involved? Perhaps we are not willing to put our ability to brand and sell on the line. We might prefer incremental brand-building with more ambiguous results—and a way out if things don’t go our way.
The thing is, political advertising demands skills at which top marketers excel: building a relevant value prop, conducting consumer research, sifting through mountains of data, designing complex channel strategies, anticipating win/loss with scenario planning, and a strategic and competitive tapping of martech.
And creatively, the work has potential for a legendary portfolio. Here are some favorite taglines, statements and lines of copy that stick around from Presidential campaigns, at least to me:
“Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” (1840)
Storytelling is not new to marketing. This popular campaign song during the 1840 Presidential campaign sang the merits of its Whig Party candidates, William Henry Harrison (hero of “Tippecanoe”) and John Tyler while simultaneously putting down incumbent Martin Van Buren (“Little Van”).
“Don’t change horses midstream” (1864)
This proverb accredited to Abraham Lincoln made a statement both about his re-election campaign and also about replacing generals during a war. FDR would use it again 60 years later.
“A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” (1928)
This campaign line, promising tangible benefits (if that isn’t good advertising, what is?) was a part of Herbert Hoover’s 1928 Presidential Campaign, although there is debate whether he ever said it or it was placed by a local campaign on his behalf. Hoover had credibility here, having been appointed food czar by President Woodrow Wilson. Either way, the promise backfires when opponents try to hold him to it later.
“Happy Days Are Here Again” (1932)
Slogans as music. The theme of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first campaign slogan hits the right nerve during The Great Depression. Written in 1929 by songwriters Milton Ager (music) and Jack Yellen (lyrics), “Happy Days” would be repeated in 76 future recorded albums and featured in 80 movies.
“I Like Ike” (1952)
When you want to change the topic from the issues, here’s a lesson from the likability playbook. Consumer research had revealed more voters felt comfortable with Dwight D. Eisenhower, so using his nickname, this slogan became a favorite pin, button, banner and TV spot.
“Let’s Make America Great Again” (1980)
If this slogan seems familiar, it’s because it was used by Ronald Reagan in his 1980 Presidential campaign, first at the Republican National Convention and then in commercials. He, of course, didn’t create as much merchandise as the more recent version.
“Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago?” (1980)
No wonder he’s been called the Great Communicator. Ronald Reagan takes another spot on this list with the provocative question others have copied since. It deftly depositions an incumbent by raising doubt and possibility in the same breath.
“Morning In America” (1984)
Ronald’s Reagan’s 1984 re-election spot is a highlight both for its beauty (scenes, sounds, charm) but also for its strategery. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss wrote in The New York Times: “The ad’s haze of nostalgia and optimism helped obscure Mr. Reagan’s lingering political problems with the deficit and unemployment.”
“Yes We Can” (2008)
The infectious optimism of Barack Obama’s first campaign first appeared in 2004, but was brought back for New Hampshire primary in 2008, which Obama actually didn’t win. John McCain’s “Country First” was authentic to him for sure but couldn’t compete. MSNBC has a segment on “Yes We Can.”
“For The People” (2020)
We all know marketing is more ownable when it ties deeply into the brand’s authentic narrative. I love this line by Kamala Harris’s campaign because it ties into her experience as a prosecutor and points at the audience so directly.