Always Stay on Message

May 13, 2023

When starting up a business or organization, it’s important to treat slogans as a sort of marketing mission statement. If anyone’s watched The West Wing’s final two seasons or read David Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win, one truism about presidential campaigns that regularly appears is, “always stay on message.” It seems like an obvious rule to keep in mind and yet many campaigns fail to discipline themselves to follow it, which can lead to disastrous results.

If you look at John McCain’s general election campaign in 2008 for example, one of his slogans was, “Experienced Leadership, Bold Solutions.” The idea was to brand a possible criticism – that McCain, at 72 years, would be too old to take the Oval Office – into a valuable strength, which his opponent, candidate Barack Obama, lacked (“he’s too inexperienced”). This would have been a fine way to continue the campaign if it weren’t for his nomination for Vice President. Sarah Palin was exactly what McCain was not, i.e. “Experienced Leadership.” She was a “Bold” choice no doubt, but in every negative connotation of that term. She was not a “Solution” because given her considerable lack of experience – far less than Obama’s – and McCain’s age, she was, to put it morbidly, a short breath away from the most powerful office in the world. It not only betrayed what was a serviceable slogan (I say serviceable because the slogan did nothing to alleviate general feelings of antipathy towards the Republican Party at the time), but it also betrayed McCain’s hair-trigger approach to leadership. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the McCain campaign for all start-ups and organisations out there, and having the discipline to stay on message is one of them.

Sticking to your slogan does two crucial things:

  1. It sets a standard to which your organization strives to meet
  2. It sets a standard to which the public expects you to meet

Externally, with little to no prior history to base anything on, a customer or client will look at a slogan almost as though it’s gospel. When you meet and hopefully exceed their expectations, you begin to build a reputation for good quality service and/or products. Internally, a good slogan can help to unify your staff and make them feel like they’re contributing their time to something important. This can lead to high morale and productivity.

When we came up with our new slogan for Langoor, “Helping you find your online space,” the initial concept began with the myth of the Old West. Back in the 19th century, as settlements in America were expanding, politician Horace Greeley wrote famously in one editorial, “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.” The sentiment promoted autonomy, adjoining itself to the build-yourself-from-nothing mode of thinking in America. We wanted to take this big idea and transpose it to the World Wide Web, this limitless space in which everyone can be represented, but we also needed to pare it down to reality because, well, we’re not a world super power, we’re a digital media agency with an office in Darlinghurst. The message we hoped to get across is that representing yourself or your organisation in the vast expanse of the web is a big investment and our job is to help you get there.

So when you write your slogan, take some time to consider your words carefully. If you need to, think big.

Sertan Saral