While going through an old cigar box full of keys, keychains, wooden nickles, and tiny whatnots, I came across some vintage presidential campaign buttons from both political parties my father had collected through the years. There were three “I Like Ike” buttons; a “JFK for the 60s” button; a couple of “LBJ HHH for the USA” buttons; and some Carter buttons I had contributed to the collection.
As I pondered these relics, I reflected upon the fact that catchy slogans have been used through the years to influence the public. Whether we like or dislike the politician or product, the slogans remain with us like earworms or obsessive memories. For instance, although I have not smoked tobacco since decades ago, the slogan for one of the cigarette brand’s singing jingles pops into my mind sometimes–“Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”
For good or ill, the public is unwittingly fooled and divided by catchy, often irrational slogans. Seemingly the most simplistic phrases have the most faux-credibility. Millions of votes or product purchases are connected with the deployment of catchy slogans. Partial truths, empty promises and slogans convince us to act in ways that are opposite to our self-interest. Full disclosure, honesty, and keeping the public’s interest in heart rarely leads to success at the ballot box, or wise buying decisions in the retail store. It seems that magical thinking is the default mode of society.
There are many slogans and memes that irk us because they are overused and counterintuitive at the core. Some of the most insidious slogans are found in so-called corporate “mission statements”. Perhaps some of the memes were included in naïve, good faith, however, they usually come off as phony jargon. Some of the worst are overuse of “passion”, “sustainable”, “transparent”, “We are family”, and “We put the customer first”. The sayings are rampant catch-alls that have lost any honest meaning. It’s little wonder why people become cynical.
Many of the slogans pander to special sub-cultures. They sometimes even offer a kernal of truth. For example: “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” During LGBT Pride month, corporations fall all over themselves to claim inclusivity by placing rainbow logos in their ads. Some of the most polluting industries try to woo consumers with “greenwashing” claims that the companies are “environmentally responsible”.
Too often, we fall for empty, eloquent phrases. Our desires for quality, meaningful products and reasonably ethical politicians go unfulfilled. Too often the slogans are backed by little or no substance. The slogans are distractions from the actual agendas. In the end, it behooves us to be skeptical whenever we encounter catchy phrases. Using discernment when choosing a political candidate is more important now than ever before. In the marketplace, we are better served by doing our homework before spending our hard-earned money on products. That said, even the most careful voters and consumers intentions are short-circuited by clever slogans.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes University of Chicago Law and Ethics Professor, Martha Nussbaum. “Every single university student should study philosophy. You need to lead the examined life and question your beliefs. If you don’t learn critical thinking, then political debate degenerates into a contest of slogans.”