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Advertising Marketing Politics

The US Presidential election viewed as marketing

So following my look at the marketing slogans used in Brexit back in June, it came as little surprise that the Make America Great Again, message trumped the Stronger Together message.

Once again, the learning is this: PUT A DAMN VERB IN YOUR SLOGAN IF YOU ARE ASKING PEOPLE TO TAKE ACTION.  Every copywriter knows people need to be told how to respond to the message you have just given them. It’s not called a ‘call to action’ for nothing, it needs a verb. I find it a mystery that this was able to escape the notice of the both the Remain campaign in the UK, and the Hillary campaign in the US .

maxresdefaultStronger Together, echoed Britain Stronger in Europe with its hanging comparator. Stronger than what? Neither has a call to action. What do you do with Stronger Together? Go out and hug someone?

Of course, the thinking behind it is clear. Opposing the wall-building, happy to be divisive Trump campaign, the Hillary side wanted to present itself as bridge-building, and inclusive, ergo: Stronger together.

All good in theory, till your figurehead and brand ambassador describes half the voting population as ‘deplorables’. D’oh!

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Make America Great Again is a far stronger slogan. The voter can infer that a vote for Trump will make the place he or she loves, and calls home, great again. As someone who has visited the  US many times,  I found everyday patriotism far more evident there than any other country I’d visited. Old Glory flutters everywhere, while the pledge of allegiance to it is repeated by every school child in the country.

Make America Great Again, also paralleled the UK Brexit Leave campaign’s Let’s take back control in that it hankered back to a mythical past. Making America great again, sounds like something no American could disagree with. But surely, as Michelle Obama and others pointed out, America is already great.

But Make America Great Again  compares the America today with a nostalgic America, against which reality can only fall short. The slogan seems positive but there is an engine of negativity in the word ‘again’. A provoker of the angry question, so why isn’t America great any more?  And then, ‘who is to blame?’

This campaign was bold. It could have been flipped to make it seem that Trump thought that  America was no longer great. It plays with the never-to-be-spoken fear that the US will one day no longer be top nation. Just as the Brexit campaign still talks to the UK’s faint memories of former dominance.

But as an emotive, action-provoking slogan, Make America Great Again beats Stronger Together  by a country mile.

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It is a popular revolution. It seems that Brexit provided at least part of the blueprint for Trump’s election. We are told those who have been left behind by an increasingly globalised capitalism, who feel marginalised by ‘liberal-elites’, have had enough. Donald Trump, (again borrowing some of the more extreme Brexiter’s clothes) positioned himself as a highly patriotic candidate with easy solutions, who unashamedly played to bigotries.

Sadly, the vision of the future both Trump and Brexit offers is unachievable, however. Their vision of the future is a myth about what happened in the past.

As someone who loves literature, I know that myths are powerful things. In fact these two post-factual elections show that myths beat facts hands down.

For me this turbo-charging of a national myth is alarmingly reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s. This mood in the US and the UK, allied to increasing nationalism in some European countries, could destabilise Europe. This is exacerbated by the possibility of NATO withdrawal, and Putin’s territorial ambitions. Add China’s expansionism, and the threatened tearing up of climate agreements, which will accelerate huge global migrations, the future is in want of hope right now.

Or perhaps everything will be okay. Please, God, let it be okay.

Creative gulfs: UK, France and US

I have been working with two agencies lately. One is a French-owned agency, and I am writing English copy for French companies hoping to infiltrate the UK market. The other is a US-owned healthcare agency, where your creative ideas must be run past creative directors in the New York office. This has given me a fresh opportunity to observe again cultural differences when it comes to agency creativity.

Broadly speaking, the French want what seems to me to be florid, overwrought copy. I find myself being asked to make descriptions even more descriptive, and I have to push back by saying that in the UK if you look like you are trying too hard, people smell a rat. And that copy that’s forested with adjectives and adverbs is hard to follow. And, of course, the whole point of advertising copy is that people can read it with minimum effort. To get all Pooh bearish for a moment, I want my copy to slide down like warm honey, not to stick around like chewed thistles.

Unerringly the New York office are drawn to what seem to be, to my UK eyes, risible ideas. Worse still, for pharmaceutical clients anything psychological, or on a human scale is quickly rebuffed. US approved concepts I’ve encountered are usually visually spectacular: over the years I’ve seen things like sharks, two-headed dogs to symbolise cholesterol, apocalyptic earthquakes with people tumbling into them to symbolise the dangers of a particular medical condition. But they just make me laugh. To me they like some absurdist Monty Python throwback.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the US and met extremely talented and smart people. What’s more they care passionately about the product they are trying to promote on behalf of their client, often in a completely irony free way. I also know that to them UK creative can seem half-hearted, and underwhelming.

It is lazy to say this is about irony. But I honestly believe that this is at the root of a cultural gulf, which as ideas cross and recross the pond in teleconferences, and even in portfolios on planes, can cause a good deal of mutual incomprehension.