President Ford holds up a WIN, or "Whip Inflation Now," enlistment form, which asks citizens to sign up as inflation fighters during his news conference in the White House Rose Garden on Oct. 9, 1974. The slogan turned out to be a dud.
President Ford holds up a WIN, or "Whip Inflation Now," enlistment form, which asks citizens to sign up as inflation fighters during his news conference in the White House Rose Garden on Oct. 9, 1974. The slogan turned out to be a dud. AP
Last week's State of the Union address came with a catchphrase: "Win the Future." Not surprising since the Obama team has a lot of experience with political slogans.
"Change We Can Believe In" was a runaway hit. So was "Yes We Can." Other promises, such as "Recovery Summer," failed to deliver.
Will "Win the Future" be a winner?
'Bright And Shiny'
Dan Balser runs the advertising department at The Creative Circus, an advertising and graphic design school. When NPR e-mailed him asking for an interview, we used "Win the Future" in the subjectline. Balser said he almost deleted the message without reading it.
Tony the Misfit/via Flickr
Obama used the "Change We Can Believe In" slogan during his election campaign.
Obama used the "Change We Can Believe In" slogan during his election campaign. Tony the Misfit/via Flickr
"My initial reaction as a consumer was I quickly ignored it. And then I started looking at OK, why did I ignore it?" he says.
Basler finds the phrase too thin, too amorphous. He's not sure what President Obama wants him to do. But, he says there's hope for it.
"To me it reminds me of 'Let's roll,' and I think kind of it gets into a rallying cry that's universal to Americans and isn't either on the left or the right," he says.
Win the Future is not a new phrase. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich titled his 2005 book, Winning the Future. During last year's World Cup, the advertising firm Wieden and Kennedy coined the slogan, "Write the Future" for Nike.
Mark Fitzloff, Wieden and Kennedy's executive creative director, likes "Win the Future."
He says it has teeth.
"It's certainly optimistic and bright and shiny, but it's also aggressive and competitive. And I think that in that way it's a slight shift from 'Yes We Can,' which in some ways is defensive in nature and certainly not combative," he says.
Instead, "Win the Future" sets up a contest, where America is one big team. Obama made this point repeatedly during Tuesday's State of the Union speech.
A Life Of Their Own
Lots of presidents have coined slogans, but most failed to stick. President Clinton talked about the "New Covenant." Reagan and Nixon both had "New Federalism." One of the biggest duds was President Ford's "Whip Inflation Now."
The "Yes We Can" slogan was used by hip hop artist will.i.am to create a video collage using snippets from an Obama speech.
The "Yes We Can" slogan was used by hip hop artist will.i.am to create a video collage using snippets from an Obama speech. www.BarackObama.com
Geoff Nunberg of the University of California at Berkeley says the best predictor of a slogan's success is whether the program it's attached to succeeds.
For example, Nunberg says people panned the phrase "Great Society" during the Johnson administration.
"It was considered at the time a pompous inflated choice of words," Nunberg says. "Johnson had initially preferred 'A Better Deal,' which didn't really take off, but because the program itself was so successful, the phrase is still with us."
Other times, political slogans have taken on a life of their own.
Nunberg says President Roosevelt never intended for "The New Deal" to be a slogan. It was just a phrase he dropped into his 1932 nomination acceptance speech at the last moment.
"It was picked up by the press," he explains. "People liked the idea, it connoted a re-dealing of the cards, and certainly it was a very effective slogan for him long before it was attached to a political program."
For Obama, "Win the Future" has the advantage of being vague. At the end of "recovery summer," people asked where the recovery was. The future, on the other hand, is always just around the corner.