Election and meaningless campaign slogans- By Magnus Onyibe
Sloganeering and symbolism are very effective and critical tools used by marketing experts to attract and retain the attention of their targeted audience. They are conceived with a view to ingraining messages into the memories of targeted audience through their catchy or clever appellation.
As such, it is not by sheer happenstance that the most globally recognisable products and services such as the Coca-Cola had “Coke is it” as its slogan. Much the same way that Nike, the foremost sportswear firm, had, “Just do it”, while Citibank had “Citi never sleeps” and Zenith Bank has “In your best interest” as their slogans at one point or the other in the development process of the brands.
A critical study of the slogans and symbols would reveal that they actually conveyed clear and unambiguous messages to their target audiences hence the products and services became famous.
When you juxtapose that art of selling products and services in the world of commerce and industry into the arena of politics and politicking, you would realise that trying to convince a constituent to vote for a particular politician entails identifying a common issue/cause and then marketing the leadership and competence qualities of the candidate that would provide solutions to the identified challenge to the electorate.
Like what obtains in the commerce and industry space, it involves the crafting of slogans and design of symbols that would best deliver the vision and mission of the politician succinctly.
In Nigeria, rather than crafting a slogan/mantra or symbol clearly defining and delivering the agenda of a candidate contesting for a public office, most slogans/mantras swirling around the political firmaments today are tilted more towards verbosity as if in competition with a former member of House of Representatives, Patrick Obahiagbon, a.k.a lgodomigodo, who has turned bombastic writing and speaking into an art.
The assertion above is validated by the fact that most political slogans in Nigeria are mere mumbo Jumbo as opposed to conveying any distinctive and meaningful campaign message.
Arising from the foregoing, as someone who knows a thing or two about strategic communication, l am of the view that heading into election 2019, there has been a bastardisation of slogans/mantras and symbols which is geared more towards the sound rather the content.
To drill the conversation to the current existential reality, what positive message does ATlKULATE convey to an average voter and what emotion is expected to be activated when Atiku Abubakar supporters and loyalists pose the question: Are you ATIKULATED?
Compare the blandness of ATIKULATED as a slogan to the positivism and clear messaging of: I STAND WITH ATIKU, which is an unequivocal declaration and pledge of support to Atiku in his quest for the Presidency a second time.
A couple of weeks ago, l was in Enugu and saw billboards with pictures of the governor of the state, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, with a bold inscription: Enugu State is in God’s hands. Is Ugwuanyi informing the good people of Enugu that he is God or a god? If that’s the case, is that not being messianic?
Similarly, just last week, l was in Benue State where l saw erected billboards with imposing photos of Sam Ortom, the incumbent governor of the state. His surname, Ortom, had been rebranded ORTOMATIC.
Is the message in the billboard aimed at conveying a message to voters that the governor’s election is automatic?
If that’s the case, is the impression not being created that Ortom’s return to power in 2019 is a done deal with or without the support of the good people of Benue State? Is that not a case of extreme presumption?
Owing to time constraint, l won’t have the luxury of delving much into the situation in Kano where KWAKWANSIYA Movement, when Musa Kwakwanso held sway as governor, was and remains a formidable political force after the concept was elevated to an art through effective sloganeering and symbolism via the wearing of red caps by devotees.
For a similar reason of time limitation, I also would not be dwelling on the concept of Buharism or Buharideen whose adherents are manifestly dye-in-the-wool, if not fanatical supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari due to the myth of incorruptibility that he evinces.
Nevertheless, without much ado, l would like to quickly make historical references to how the dexterous use of sloganeering and symbolism in politics propelled presidential candidates to victory in the USA, a country that Nigeria is modeling her presidential system of governance after.
By far the easiest reference points would be Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the 44th and 45th presidents of the USA, respectively.
In contemporary USA history, the aforementioned presidents are on record to have effectively used slogans/mantras in remarkable ways to turn the tide of politics in the USA in their favour.
Take for instance Obama who crafted the popular slogan, ‘Yes We Can’, and which propelled him into the White House against the run of play.
As a black presidential candidate whose progenitors were mere slaves and servants in the White House, the USA seat of power, Obama had huge odds stacked up against him. So, he needed a powerful punch line such as, ‘Yes We Can’, to inspire the electorate into believing that nothing in life is impossible. And the strategy worked.
The ‘Yes We Can’ slogan was necessary because it was never thought that a scion of a black American who not until 1865 after the 13th amendment were slaves in the USA could rise up to become the number one citizen of the country.
The seeming impossibility of a black man becoming president of the USA was reinforced by the inability of Rev Jesse Jackson to become president after vying for the presidency several times without success. So, the strategy of applying ‘Yes We Can’ slogan as a battle cry was intended to be a kind of shot in the arm for the despondent and weary minority electorate. It was also aimed at firing up their emotions and galvanising them into a movement that would spur the Caucasian millennial young adults (who were not born during the dehumanisation of blacks through slavery) into opting for competence as opposed to allowing primordial sentiments that were still being nursed by their parents becloud their judgement . Thus, the little known Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party primaries and went on to trounce the Republican Party candidate, Mitt Romney, in the 2008 presidential election.
At this juncture, it is apropos to recall that before Obama’s emergence, it was thought impossible for a black man to become president, hence ‘Yes We Can’ became a sort of magic wand designed to lift Obama from a first term senator in Chicago into the hallowed Oval Office of the president located at No 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC.
Obviously, ‘Yes We Can’ is a distillation of Obama’s audacity of hope to become president in a land where his forebears were slaves a little over 100 years ago.
Another good example is the current president of the USA, Donald Trump, who has also toed a similar path of enjoying the benefits of a slogan/mantra bolstered by an existential issue-ultra nationalism.
Riding on the prevailing global anti-globalisation sentiments as reflected by the British people voting to exit the European Union now referred to as Brexit, Trump stoked ethnicity in the USA by adopting the ‘America First’ slogan.
By so doing, the toxic undercurrents of discontent in rural America against foreigners came alive with Trump’s America First’ agenda. Invariably, Trump became the elixir for those who are mainly folks in rural America calling for walls to be built around the USA borders to keep away immigrants especially their South American brothers whom they are accusing of stealing their jobs.
The ‘America First’ slogan has been so powerful to the extent that today, we are all witnesses to the xenophobic sentiments that have become very dangerously pervasive in the USA. This is evidenced by the rise of the obnoxious Ku Klux Klan, which is a throwback to the darkest days of racism and segregation, and reflected by other ethnic supremacist groups stoking the fire of racism in the USA hitherto known as the land of the free where every citizen of the world went to chase the American Dream.