The Phrase That Pays

phrase-paysIn another life I was a weekend disc jockey at an album rock station (WDHA in Dover, NJ) in the 80s. Playing rock and roll records, even in the middle of the night, for $6 an hour was thrilling. Thankfully my “day job” as an account management guy at BBDO/New York paid the bills far better than my weekend radio gig.

But one of the things I loved about radio in those days was the promotional aspect of local radio and giveaways tied to the phrase that pays…. like “99X means free money”, and others of that ilk.

I recall the late Phil Dusenberry of BBDO referred to powerful ad theme lines as the phrase that pays (he had worked in radio too in his youth). In the ad world theme lines like “We Bring Good Things to Life”, “Don’t Leave Home Without It”, “Just Do It” and others were glue that positioned brands and companies and made their cash registers ring. Even in today’s digitally dominated world, I still strongly believe that strong theme lines serve as a memory hook that places a brand in the pole position of consideration, making it the brand that consumers digitally search for first.

It’s no different in politics as strong theme lines help position the candidates.

I read an interesting article in Adweek, Presidential Candidates Need to Step Up Their Branding to Keep Up With Trump. The article laid out the theme lines of the leading Republican and Democratic candidates.

In 2016 Make America Great Again was a strong theme line. Let me be clear. I abhor its underlying meaning and its implicit racist appeal. Yet it successfully struck a nerve in 2016 with disaffected voters and White Nationalists as well. Surely Hillary’s lame I’m With Her will never be inducted into the theme line Hall of Fame (one of the many reason alas that she snatched defeat from the jaws of victory).

Assuming the President is not impeached/convicted before the Presidential election in 2020, Trump is making the classic mistake of getting tired of a successful slogan and trying to update it. This time around it will be Keep America Great.  I suppose, he’s trying to imply to the American people that America has now become great again (in the 2+ years since January 20, 2017 no doubt). Nothing can be farther from the truth. Regardless of my political point of view, my marketing instincts tell me that the Trump campaign has now watered down their successful and memorable 2016 theme line into a weaker variation of itself. They should stick to what worked. No tears here.

However, in looking at the possible contenders, leading Democratic candidates theme lines largely fall short as well:

Joe Biden                                           Our best days still lie ahead

Elizabeth Warren                              Warren has a plan for that

Bernie Sanders                                  Not me. Us.

Kamala Harris                                   For the People

Pete Buttigieg                                    America doesn’t have decades to wait.

If I were to chose, perhaps Kamala’s For the People would be my favorite—simple, memorable but alas a little too broad. If it were me I’d probably go with United We Stand. Perhaps overused but it’s a nod to the unity that is so lacking in today’s political world and the necessity of the American citizens to rally behind our government.

But secretly my favorite is the slogan of Republican Joe Walsh who will very likely not get the Republican nomination, but will be a thorn in Trump’s side along the way. Walsh’s theme line is this year’s top political “Phrase that Pays”.

Joe Walsh. We Can’t Take Four More Years.

Way to go, Joe. Now that’s Life in the Fast Lane.

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