The Five Key Elements of a Persuasive Tag Line

Guest Post by Kristina Keats

So what is a tag line?  It is a pithy message that defines your campaign. Before you design any literature, write any speeches, or in any way market yourself, you should have a tag line that works for you.  If it is good, it should be easy to remember and easy for you to explain your ideas and platform as it relates to your tag line.

Examples of tag lines from the 2016 presidential campaign are:

Trump:  “Make America Great Again”       

Jeb Bush:  “Jeb!”       

Ted Cruz:  “TRUSTED” & “Cruzin’ to Victory”

Marco Rubio:   “marcorubio”

                           A NEW AMERICA CENTURY

Hillary:  “I’m with her” & “Fighting for us” & “Stronger together “(She had three in this order)

Bernie:  “Better with Bernie” & “A future to Believe in”

I will analyze the quality of these tag lines in a minute but before I do that, let me give you some guidelines for creating a tag line.  They are in order of importance.

    1. It should be aspirational (hopeful, visionary, optimistic)
    2. It should be about the voters not about the politicians!  Remember, you are asking for THEIR support. You need their vote.  It is the same as asking for money or selling anything. The voter is in the driver’s seat.  The more you make it about them, the better off you are.
    3. It should use active verbs and language.  This is important as it indicates movement and direction. Examples of movement words are make, inspired, change, change, tested, can, and verified. 
    4. It should be inclusive (everyone can relate to it).
    5. It should paint a visual picture if possible.  The more visual the language, the better

It is very difficult to create a tag line that meets all five standards but if you get three or four and it is one with which you are comfortable, it is good enough.

Now go back and look at the different tag lines above.  Who had the best one? Regardless of what you think of President Trump, there is no question that he had the best tag line (and ultimately the best message).  

People who hate him consider him stupid, inept, arrogant, a jerk, etc. but are not honest about his persuasion talent. Not only was it the best tag line in 2016, but probably the best tag line in my lifetime.  It was so good that it could be shortened to MAGA or a red hat and people understood the message.

A good tag line is memorable and Trump’s was not only memorable but unforgettable. Quick, tell me what the tag line was for any other previous president.  My guess is the one that you will remember (if you can remember any) is Obama. Right? Hope and Change OR Yes, We Can. Two very good tag lines and the best presented in 2008.

What was Hillary’s? (Solutions for America).

How about McCain?  You can’t remember, right? (Country First, Always)  Not bad, but not as good as Obama.

So, using the guidelines, how does “Jeb!” stand up?  Aspirational – nope! About the voters – BIG NOPE! Active – Nope! Remember low energy Jeb? That image was created at the beginning. Inclusive?  Sure, if your name is Jeb. Paints a picture – yeah, of Jeb.

Using this analysis, can you see how easy it was for Trump to dispatch Jeb?  He was NOT communicating to the voters from the very beginning.

What about Cruzin’ to Victory?  Aspirational – No. About the voters – No.  Active – yes. Cruzin’ is definitely an action verb and is a clever play on the candidate’s name.  Inclusive – No. Paints a picture – I would say yes in that the voter gets some picture of a person cruisin’ – maybe on a motorcycle or in a convertible – but is this the picture you wanted to paint?  That is important too.

On the other side, how about good ole Hillary?  Keep in mind that she paid consultants MILLIONS of dollars to help her design her tag line but campaigns are ultimately run by the candidate so my guess is Hillary made the decisions.  

So how bad is “I’m with Her”?  Hard to believe, but it is worse than Jeb!  Why? It isn’t aspirational, active, or about the voters. But by emphasizing her gender, she only includes half the country to begin with.  

I know that men voted for her too but her MESSAGE says it’s all about being female and in fact that was her message.  People should vote for her because she would be the first female president. Compare to Obama who NEVER pointed out that he would be the first black president.  He didn’t have to and was smart enough to know that.

“Fighting for us” is a little better because it is at least inclusive and action oriented but fighting is a negative word in that the visual is literally people fighting (a fist fight for example) and therefore it is the opposite of aspirational.  Evidently the Hillary campaign figured that out because the tag line didn’t last very long.

Her final line was the best, “Stronger Together” because it was inclusive, it was about the voters, it was active and it was aspirational.  The problem was it was her THIRD message and came at the very end. She didn’t have enough time to undo the two previous bad messages that were still floating in people’s heads.  

Plus, she had another really big problem in that her speeches were all about the importance of electing a female president which climaxed with her deplorable speech that alienated half the country. No wonder she lost even though she and her supporters out spent Trump at least 2 to 1 and possibly even more.  

Let’s look at Obama’s messages.  Both of them are excellent and were clearly the best in 2008.  

“Hope and Change”:  Aspirational, action oriented, inclusive, about the voters, paints a picture (of pretty much anything the voter wants it to be).  A+ It is a reflection of the persuasion skills of the candidate.

“Yes, We Can”  – wins on all five measures.  

I don’t think it is an accident that the candidate with the best tag line wins.  It means that candidate has the best message. The tag line reflects the message of the candidate and as you look at the candidates, their tag lines, and the message of their campaigns, a consistency emerges.  Even when they realize the message is bad (Hillary), they had a really hard time changing it because it was the candidate continued with her female message because that was what she wanted!

My ranking of tag lines by candidate is:

  1. Trump (the only reason I rank him above Obama is because his message was SO memorable.  No one could get it out of his head – even the people who hated him!)
  2. Obama
  3. Bernie (A Future to Believe in)
  4. Everyone else
  5. Hillary (except for her last one)

In reviewing the list, it is interesting that the winners also had the best message.  Gee. What a surprise!

When you get your tag line, it should work!  You should be able to show how each of your principles fits with the tag line. Examples from Trump: Build a Wall; Repeal Obamacare; Tax Cuts, Conservative Judges, etc.  You may not agree with Trump but the persuasion (marketing) works.

You could pay someone to help you find your tag line but you and your team need to buy in and make it your own.  You are the ones listening to voters (or should be). It is also cheaper for you to go out, talk to voters and test phrases.  You will be doing what you should be doing right now anyway – talking to voters (aka campaigning).

In my experience, paid consultants are by nature risk averse.  It is always safer to do what has already been done but if Trump has taught us anything, the old rules do not apply. Also, theoretically, no consultant can be as wise as the combined brain power of your team.  They live there, work there, and talk to lots of people.

A warning about who to listen to: Go OUT into the precincts and talk to REAL people. Not lobbyists, activists, donors or business owners. The people WILL tell you what they think if you are sincerely interested in listening.

© Kristina Keats 2018


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