Everyone knows what Barack Obama’s campaign slogan was in 2008. No one seems to know what it will be for 2012.
The White House has been cycling through catchphrases since announcing his reelection bid a year ago: Winning the Future, We Can’t Wait [ROFL: wait for what?], An America Built to Last, An Economy Built to Last, A Fair Shot [ROFL x2: politics as the chance to buy a lottery ticket?]. They seem to be looking for one to resonate — and the constant unveiling of new ones suggests that so far, none of them have. To communications experts, the kaleidoscope of slogans is the latest reflection of the difficulties finding and marketing a message that Obama has faced almost since his inauguration.
To date, Obama and his advisers have largely been defining themselves through contrast messaging — senior adviser David Plouffe called the GOP field a “clown show,” and Obama’s been casting of himself as the sober voice arrayed against irresponsible and hapless opponents.
[All the advisers] agree: The window for Obama to settle on a strong — and consistent — slogan is closing, no matter the continuing Republican primary campaign.
What an irritant these election shows are for the empty vessels who want to sell themselves as the system’s pitchfork catchers! As wondrous a strategy as squatting on the corporate nest is for collecting the monies that buy the ads, selling oneself as the sober voice of stasis in a time of clear popular outrage is simply hard to do.
Apparently, it’s equally difficult for the mainstream media to come within a mile of describing this eminently simple conundrum. (After all, doing so would risk irking the source of not just political but also commercial advertising dollars.) Politico, the vile website in which the above story appears, chalks the sales dilemma up as “another challenge that came with the shift from insurgent outsider to sitting president.”
Advertising Age, soliciting its readers for slogan proposals for the candibots, concurs, commenting that “Change We Can Believe In” will not work for an incumbent candidate.
Of course, neither publication acknowledges the rank illogic of their proffered explanation. What if Obama had been what he sold himself as in 2008? What if he’d passed single payer medical insurance, ended wars, stopped the slide into a police state, overturned Citzens United, imposed peace and disarmament on Israel, taken energy and environment seriously, and actually helped working class people (to say nothing of African-Americans)? Wouldn’t “Defending Change” then make an even better slogan than the one he used in his first election?
But, of course, this tube of toothpaste was always filled with snake oil, wasn’t it? Hence, the slogan problem.
Now that all politics have been completely reduced to marketing campaigns, this is no trivial matter, either. In the balance hangs the salability of the brand:
Its importance, [Obama advisor] Newman explained, shouldn’t be understated. “That [the slogan] becomes the branding of the whole campaign,” he said. “That becomes the anchor to bring together disparate voter segments. It’s the glue, if you will.”