Simplicity and repetition is key in election campaigns

People want security, but advances in tech mean everything moves at a relentless pace. This is the conundrum facing political parties, says a former head of press at No10.

In an uncertain world people want security and peace of mind. But we also live in a world where huge advances in technology mean everything is moving at a relentless pace. Capturing people's attention and leaving a lasting impression is getting harder and harder. This is the conundrum facing political parties. 

During this election the Twitterati and pockets of the commentariat have been up in arms over the repetition of simple slogans by the parties. 

But while the media is scrutinising every policy and soundbite rolled out, the reality is that the public will not be forensically reading the different party manifestos. And political messaging goes wrong when people craft a slogan based on a whole load of assumptions. More than likely people will dip in and out of the election as they juggle the challenges of everyday life, from taking their children to school to paying the bills. Therefore simplicity, repetition and brevity are key. 

The window to reach voters and set out a compelling case is even shorter during this snap election. This plays massively into the hands of Theresa May, who has the priceless advantage of incumbency. She has an established track record on which to be judged – six years as home secretary and nearly one year as prime minister.  Against the backdrop of a climate of uncertainty around Brexit she is offering a simple sell to the electorate. Her "strong and stable" message is in essence "continuity with stability". 

For Jeremy Corbyn, it is much harder. He is an unknown quantity to vast swathes of the electorate and is asking the public to roll the dice and take a gamble. Labour’s decision to change their slogan in the middle of a campaign from "standing up for you" to "for the many not the few" leaves them open to the charge that "they are making it up as they go along", and crucially it suggests a lack of clarity of thought. 

Hillary Clinton and Ed Miliband repeatedly searched for a slogan that encapsulated their vision for the future during their respective bids for power. It has been reported that Clinton considered 84 potential slogans before finally settling on "stronger together". And Miliband got through at least five slogans before going with a "better plan for a better future". This flip-flopping suggested a lack of conviction and subsequently a lack of authenticity. And the electorate made their views clear at the ballot box. 

It is not just in the political sphere that repetition works. While some people complain about the use of soundbites during this election, take a look at some of the most successful slogans used by big brands. Nike’s "just do it" has been going for nearly 30 years, crossing social and cultural boundaries. Similarly, "We live in Financial Times" has served the FT well as the respected source of financial news. And arguably the most famous, "A diamond is forever", has spanned the generations. If you’ve got a winning formula, why change it? 

Let me end though by sounding a note of caution. Despite the need for brevity and clarity, politicians sometimes make the mistake of crowbarring their message onto Twitter. As many have found out to their cost, Twitter is not always the best platform when you are dealing with nuance. Of course we all know that Donald Trump has become Twitter’s biggest advocate of conducting diplomacy by 140 characters. But I very much doubt the public want their politicians (I certainly don’t) often dealing with life and death decisions, spending their day giving a running commentary on social media. As a well known politician once said, "Too many tweets make a t***"

Giles Kenningham is a former head of press at No10 and spokesman for prime minister David Cameron. He is a founder of PR consultancy Trafalgar Strategy

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