THE BLOG
11/16/2005 03:27 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Together, The Democrats Can't Do Much Worse.

Much has been made of the Democrats new slogan, “Together, America Can Do Better.” Frankly, I don’t see how we could do worse.

Where to start?

How about a few flashbacks to the Kerry Campaign? By my count, the campaign had somewhere between 10 and 20 slogans. Some of these might ring a bell for anyone who’s read Arianna’s post from earlier today.

“Together, we can build a stronger America.” “A stronger America begins at home.” “America deserves better.” “Stronger at home, respected in the world.” “A safer, stronger, more secure America.”

Hundreds of thousands of dollars was spent developing and testing these slogans on the campaign. Just as hundreds of thousands of dollars has been spent on “Together, America Can Do Better.” And guess what? It's hundreds of thousands of wasted dollars.

First of all, testing slogans in focus groups is not a good idea. It wasn't on the campaign and it's not now. You have people who are paid $50-$100 to sit in a room, given donuts and soft drinks and then shown these lines. Really, that's how they do it. A moderator holds up a board with a line on it and behind a two-way mirror, consultants hover with notepads. June from Peoria smiled at that line. It must be good. Well, either that or she has gas.

They asked pointed questions like “How does this line make you feel? What do you see when you hear these lines?” It’s just a bad process, doomed to failure. As everyone who’s ever read the brilliant book “Blink” will tell you, people don’t think that way. People don’t act that way and people don’t respond to work or slogans created that way. “Blink” also details the disaster of New Coke which, fyi, was partially masterminded by a well-known Democratic strategist found of focus groups. In that case, they ignored the fact the soft drinks come out of a can. What's more basic than that?

So why do Democrats do it? And why are the same research folks that advised the Kerry Campaign doing research on these same lines again? Getting paid again and again to bring out and test the same lines?

Because after exhaustive qualitative and quantitative research, I have come to the conclusion that living in DC makes you stupid. It’s not the fault of the people mind you. They don’t move there with the intention of having the capacity to think sucked out of their skulls. It just happens. If you or I spent enough time surrounded by people who spend all of their time worrying about whether it should be a ‘stronger’ America or a ‘better’ America, we too would be speaking in slogans, or worse.

All you have to do is talk to someone caught into the beltline to see the tragedy of the situation. Two recent examples.

How else do explain a senior Democratic strategist answering the question last week of “how are you?” with “I’m great because John Kerry is going to be president in 2008.” President of what?

Or another ‘leader’ telling me that Evan Bayh can win all the states John Kerry did plus Ohio and Indiana and that makes him President. No, that makes him a victim of fantasy. I like Evan Bayh a lot to be honest but frankly, he should be worried about how to get to the point where you might be able to see a path to winning a primary or two.

Point number three, if great slogans don't come from focus groups, where do they come from? The real world. Ever hear the radio themeline for Motel 6? "We’ll leave the light on for you.” That was a line from a radio script a friend of mine wrote. Never tested. Never developed and no one ever worried about whether it was a lamp or a light. Funny how it actually worked.

You know the best slogan the Kerry Campaign had? And it doesn’t even count or show up on the official record because it wasn’t focus group tested? “Bring it on.” Remember that from the primaries? “Bring it on.” You want to talk about my war record? Bring it on. It was simple, ballsy and showed that we were ready for the fight. After the primaries, it disappeared. Totally went away, so I asked why? Everyone loves it. Everyone cheers when John uses the line in speeches. It says where ready to stand up and fight. You know what the answer was? “It didn’t test well.” With who?

Or when the Swift Boats attacked? The campaign dithered and delayed – partially because they were focus group testing response lines. I was told that “funded by Republicans” tested well. That’s nice. Personally, I was fonder of “Fuck you Rovian scum.” But maybe that’s just me.

Point number four. I have worked on themeline development for some of America’s top companies. LIke Continental Airlines. TGIFriday’s. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. Neiman Marcus and more. Let me tell you one key thing to always remember. When you see a company struggling, when sales are falling, when layoffs are everywhere, short the themeline because there's a new one coming. It gives them something new to hide behind. (Shining example from a few years ago, AT FORD, QUALITY IS JOB ONE. Now it's something about "innovation" don't laugh, I'm serious) A themeline doesn't make the company or the campaign or the man and here's the proof – no focus group required.

“Yes, We Can.”

You know where this is from right? No? Neither did I. Evidently, that’s the official themeline of George Bush’s re-election campaign. Proving that right or wrong, when you know what you stand for and when you know how to say what you stand for, then and only then is it okay for your slogan to suck.