“tough on crime tough on the causes of crime”, “he got on his bike and looked for work”, “pure criminality”, “you turn if you want to”, “cutting too much too fast”, “I’ve never voted Conservative before but”, “I will not be the King maker”
Politics is riddled with sound bites and phrases designed to stick in our minds. They can encapsulate a concept perfectly, conveying your message to the electorate with moral authority. They can also disregard reasoned debate by simplifying a situation to “Boo Hiss” level of politics that has more in common with a football chant then a mature debate. Phrases and sound bites should be used with caution because they forever follow their originator around setting traps in the shades of grey of an unexpected unrelated scenario. In this article I look into the past and present dissecting some of the phrases that have stuck in our minds and how ill-thought sound bites can damage the spokesperson, the issue and the country.
It over simplifies the issue:
“The war on terror”, “Three strikes policy”, “if you are old enough to do a crime you are old enough to pay for it”, and “life should mean life” are old and new phrases that are guilty of simplifying policy surrounding criminal behaviour and has done nothing but mislead and drive public outrage further than it needed to go. These phrases, because they sound good seem to hold weight however after the slightest bit of scrutiny they fall apart. This has never been so true than with “if you are old enough to do a crime you are old enough to pay for it”. If children are informed individuals why do we teach them anything? Why is it possible to be able to make informed consent about stealing but not sex? Should we not have sex education because if the children work out how to do it they automatically comprehend the consequences? The statement does not justify its reasoning, it does not explain why being able to do an action makes the individual informed enough to understand and therefore justifiably deserve its consequences. The unfortunate truth is that sound bites do not need to, their only job is to ring true in the ears of the hurt victims of the London riots or the target audience at the time and get them riled up so that further debate is stunted and quick unnecessary policy can be implemented.
It binds important future decisions:
“you turn if you want to” has followed around the Conservatives for quite some time now and the Iron lady probably wouldn’t approve of the Coalitions “listening and changing” policy which obviously is not the same as a U turn. The problem with saying “I don’t change my mind” publicly is that you no longer have the choice about changing your mind. What is the point of a politician if we can just interpret enough of their old sound bites to come to the conclusion about a future decision. Decisions’ in local and national government are complex and individual issues require a level of comprehension of details that a 1 sentence sound bite is never going to summarize and a non specific sound bite will follow you around waiting to be thrown back at you when the details are not the same (which they never are).
It is too easily countered with comedy:
Because these phrases sound good but have as much substance and realism as a twilight novel they can be manipulated to give the opposite message than the one you might of intended and have just as much legitimacy. I personally did enjoy “I’ve never voted conservative before because I am working class not stupid” version of the Conservative poster campaign of 2010.
It creates a phrase to end discussions
I was recently at dinner and the riots came up in conversation and immediately some one said its “pure criminality” everyone nodded agreed and went on eating… until I said something of course. To have a well used phrases be able to end what potentially could had been an informative discussion and a good practise of human intellect is a very disappointing thing. We continually complain that children are not able to think for themselves but the media are expected to give us daily small nuggets of vacuous words to explain all the worlds wrongs in a hour.
Phoenix campaigns runs political campaigns of all types and in some cases we have written and re- written phrases which that could be guilty of some of thing above but we try not to. We believe in what we promote and try and back our phrases with reason so with that in mind we would like to give you some handy tips on writing your own sound bite.
1. Try not to let it stand alone:
When you send a letter that contains your phrases, don’t allow them to justify for yourself, as we have explained at length most of them don‘t. Give a sentence or too either before or after the phrases explaining why in the circumstance the phrases you are using is appropriate. The audience will probably only remember the phrases but at least you will not be guilty of being a ill informed politician jumping to conclusions.
2. Do not use an excessive number:
The simple truth is at the end of the day it will all come out of the wash. As the phrases have no substance they are only there for the emotive impact and as always the devil will be in the details. Make sure that there are some well thought out details to your concepts and ideas. A good catch phrase can be a great hook but that fish will get away without a line rod and boat.
3. Give the opportunity for discussion:
You will not have answered everyone’s questions with your press release, letter or leaflet. There will be people that want to know more or want clarification so add a return slip or give your e-mail address where people get more information or ask questions it will put their minds at ease and allow you to get a better understanding of your policy.
By Rory Laing
I recently signed up with Ecotricity an energy provider that appears to be one of the greenest in the land. They are not the cheapest, nor do they have the perks that other more established companies often have, what they had was an ethos. More importantly they made me believe that they were being moral because it was the right thing to do and not just to get my business. It is this last bit I would like to examine – how they were able to convince me of the conviction, rather than coming across as deploying a marketing gimmick to get my business.
How I found them
I found them via a search online “green energy providers” and had never heard of them before, so assumed that they were spending more of their money building wind farms than on advertising telling the consumer that they were building wind farms. Since then I met a transition town group that was encouraging local residents in Hebden Bridge to sign up to the electricity provider. For each new customer they signed up, the community group got £40 to be spent on green developments.
What we can learn from this?
Some people will come to you because they are looking for your ideology, so make sure your goals and intentions are clear and unambiguous. Through referral schemes or social networking these initial customers can become your advocates, shedding some of the mistrust that naturally surrounds companies and businesses. A sale representative is far less likely to convince me of the importance of global warming than my mate Dave. The sales representative may have more knowledge but motives and self interest are what will be on the potential customers mind.
What they do
All profits made by Ecotricity go back into sustainable energy development and infrastructure. The call centre staff are proud and happy to talk to their customers at length about the most recent green developments taking place in the company – and that is all they talk about. They are honest about their prices, but it makes it much easier to swallow an expensive electricity bill if it gives you the same feeling that you get from giving to charity.
What can we learn from this?
If your business can afford to link your profits to the ethos of the group there is no way customers can question your motives. Be proud of what you are doing and try and get your staff behind it. Make your customers feel valued to the point where they want to spread the word and do not be afraid to ask them to share your details on facebook or twitter if they are showing enthusiasm. People care about motives, the story and how they fit in with it. They want to know ‘why you do what you do?’ even before they know what it is your organisation does. Ethics are not to be taken lightly and to commit to an ethic can be more than a lifelong commitment for a business.
Phoenix Campaigns thinks it shouldn’t cost the earth to make it a better place. We believe in giving small, localized campaigns and businesses every opportunity the big businesses and corporations have by allowing them to share our capacity for an affordable price. From leaflet production to direct mailings we believe that affordable campaigning services results in fair competition of views and products. Phoenix Campaigns will give the best deal possible to local charities and community groups that are just starting up, so just send us a message with what you and your group is doing and we will get back to you about how we can help. We support the Lib Dems in the various campaigns they have fought over the years from the rights of gurkas to fairer taxes and therefore will not work directly for any other political party.
From ‘hug a hoodie’ to riots in the streets of London, how did the hard line Conservatives get to be perceived as soft on crime? (and then hard again)
Re-inventing a perception of yourself or your organisation is never easy and before attempting it you must be sure you believe in what you are saying. People do not like hypocrites or being given conflicting messages. To illustrate this point we will look at the Conservatives over the past couple of years.
The riots in London and across the country caused every politician to respond with one line “it is pure criminality” (and then some other lines blaming it on the other guy). Typically this kind of message would be most fitting to the Conservative right but this may have only been true up until 10 years ago. When Cameron’s brand of Conservatism began re-inventing the party it began suddenly with a new face, a new logo, but not a new organisation. The most notably turning point was in 2006.
“Mr Cameron claimed teenagers who hide under hooded tops are trying to “blend in” rather than appear threatening.”Monday, 10 July 2006 as reported on BBC news
Post riots the same Conservatives now are looking at proposals that will make it a criminal offence to not remove facial coverings if a police officer asks.
Apart from the ontological issues with “pure criminality” the Conservatives used to have an understanding of the concept so familiar they didn’t even need to say it for the public to know what they meant. Cameron flirted and wooed new attractive voters on the left whilst simultaneously explaining to his loyal ‘wife’ on the right that this didn’t really mean anything, and he would be home again for tea straight after the election.
The problem is that the continued conflicting messages will eventually mean that the wife and the lover stop believing them. This leads to a breakdown in trust between politician and electorate.
Since the riots there has been a need to clarify the party’s ideology and values. A raft of policy announcements are designed to show the Conservatives never actually changed at all. The question is were they simply lies or just a re-invention gone wrong?
To ensure you don’t fall foul of some of the pitfall in communicating change Phoenix Campaigns offers a direct mailing services for organisations and business. We can print, stuff and deliver your letters through Royal Mail from prices starting at 29. We are happy to look over your letters before we print them. We would recommend you:
1. Keep your messages regular, consistent and simple – It sounds obvious but in letters and leaflets the shades of grey don’t come through (unless you’re printing in black and white). If the audience is not used to the message you are giving then simple statements with facts are going to be understood a lot better than long explanations.
2. Make sure your organisation doesn’t put out conflicting messages – Though people in organisations are allowed to disagree on the finer points, conflicting messages can result in a confused audience. I am sure we all remember David Cameron on Gay equality the same party is now promoting the nuclear family values.
3. Have some clear examples of how you have changed – For instance if you state you believe in green values then demonstrate you have actually switching to recycled paper (and yes recycled paper is available at Phoenix Campaigns just message us for a quote).
We have decided to start a blog going on our website here. Phoenix Campaigns was formed at the end of June, and since then it has been a whirlwind of activity. We are now nicely settled into our office in Beehive Mills in Hebden Bridge. We have some fantastic new equipment to get going with too, a new folding and stuffing machine, some Risograph printers for cheap two tone colour leaflets, a new guillotine and a digitial full colour laser printer.
Not having a shop front our costs are kept low, and that means we can pass this onto our customers & clients with some very competitive prices. Take a look at our leaflet printing price guide, and remember all those prices include free folding if you require it.
In addition to keeping people updated about what we are doing, this blog will have another purpose. Both of us would also like to write about some of the latest and most exciting campaign techniques we come across. Whether it is the quick fizz of Number 10s petition site, techniques from across the pond, or an examination of a ‘traditional’ print campaign we will blog it, share it and engage you with it.