Say what? The message behind political party election slogans

When you look at election campaign materials, what message are the parties trying to sell you about their values and intentions?

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Composite image of political party logos / Credit: News Now Finland

With the general election getting closer, Finland’s political parties are sharpening their messages, promoting their manifesto pledges and unveiling their campaign slogans.

So is there much value attached to the images, colours and words in campaign advertising, or is it just a rehash of the same old political clichés every few years?

We asked expert Päivi Hovi-Wasastjerna, Docent of Digital Culture and a researcher in visual communications at Aalto University for her thoughts.

She says in general terms, effective political messaging should work in the same way as an effective advertisement. A slogan should strengthen and support the campaign’s values, evoke emotions and stand out from other competing slogans. And they need to be used consistently throughout the party’s election campaigning.

File picture showing exterior of parliament building / Credit: News Now Finland

“Sometimes I have been asked what a good advertisement is like. The answer lies in the fact that the advertisement is exactly as good as it suits that certain group of people. The ad must tell something specific about that group – how it differs from others, and why this certain group should be voted for” says Hovi-Wasastjerna, who is also the author of a book about Finnish elections.

Many of the current parliamentary parties have already released their 2019 general election campaign slogans, so we took a closer look at a few of them:

  • National Coalition Party: “We trust in Finland”
  • Social Democrats: “We’re probably going in the same direction”
  • Swedish People’s Party: “The party close to you”
  • Left Alliance: “A fair Finland for all, not for a few”

“I find these slogans pretty common. The regular themes such as trust and the future comes in most of these examples, and in my opinion it says more about the difficulty of compressing thoughts into one sentence” Hovi-Wasastjerna tells News Now Finland.

“Slogans should contain a vision […] and slogans should work as a lure to attract people to the party. And I see none of these working in that manner” she says.

National Coalition Party election slogan / Credit: Kokoomus

National Coalition Party

The National Coalition Party lead by Petteri Orpo was one of the first to launch their election campaign, and Päivi Hovi-Wasastjerna says they’re the only party so far that have managed to bring their campaign to any significant level of awareness with voters.

In January, the NCP released their first campaign billboard featuring Minister of Finance Orpo, with a red and blue background and the slogan “We trust in Finland”.

There was some initial online backlash on social media over the centre-right party’s campaign.

“It is good that the National Coalition Party trust in Finland during the election. I thought the election was about whether Finland trusted the National Coalition Party. Lovely arrogant” wrote one Twitter user.

“I don’t know why, but it’s look reminds me of Eastern European nationalist parties” wrote another user.

According to National Coalition Party´s Chief of Communications Kirsi Hölttä, the premise of the slogan is the party’s will to trust in the Finnish people.

“Finns are the most trustworthy nation in the world. We have been able to define our future also in difficult times. And we are sure that Finns have all capabilities needed and desire to make Finland even better country than it is today” she says.

Hovi-Wasastjern thinks however that assumption of trusting in Finland should be so obvious in the first place that it should be clear for everyone without even saying it.

“That’s such a vague phrase. If the question is about the trust, something more concrete should be communicated, like trusting voters, or trusting something more specific” she says.

Social Democrat election campaign poster / Credit: SDP

Social Democrats

The Social Democrats kicked off their campaign by releasing a video of party leader Antti Rinne driving a bus and picking up passengers with the message “we’re probably going in the same direction”.

According to the SDP’s Chief of Communications Iida Vallin, the message is actually an invitation for people who share the same ideals to join the party’s campaign.

“If the Finns share these same goals, then we are probably going in the same direction” Vallin explains.

Päivi Hovi-Wasastjern sees the bus metaphor as a great concept, but wonders about the wording of the slogan.

“We are going in the same direction? This is fine. But the phrase has the word ‘probably’ in it. I can’t remember an advert before that would be put in this way. It evokes a feeling of uncertainty with the message” she concludes.

SFP/RKP leader Anna-Maja Henriksson / Credit: SFP/RKP

Swedish People’s Party

The Swedish People’s Party (SFP/RKP) have gone with the notion if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, and chosen the same slogan that they’ve used for the last four elections: “The party close to you”

“RKP is probably trying to get closer to their voters, but otherwise I don’t quite follow the thought process of the message, and it doesn’t evoke any kind of emotions in me” says political slogan expert Päivi Hovi-Wasastjerna.

According to the Chief of Communications Viktor Grandell, the party wants to emphasise its people-centric perspective. SFP is also using other the sub-headline “SFP for freedom, justice, equality and tolerance” to sum up their election programme.

Left Alliance campaign poster / Credit: Vasemmistoliitto

Left Alliance

The Left Alliance is one of the latest parties unveiling their new election campaign slogan “a fair Finland for all, not for a few” – which is very similar to Britain’s Labour Party slogan of “for the many, not the few”.

Although the slogan contains a clear message, Päivi Hovi-Wasastejerna thinks it should be shorter, and more to-the-point.

She also stresses that as soon as a party launches their campaign, it needs to attract immediate attention – and if the campaign slogan is not used well, it will not stand out from the crowd.

“It´s all about how the party appears to the public. Many parties have already published their campaigns, but they have not been very visible so far” she says.

File picture of vote being cast in Finnish election / Credit: Vaalit.fi