In business, a good advertising slogan serves a definite purpose. Constant repetition of a short, catchy phrase fixes awareness of a given product in the mind of the consumer in a crowded market. The best slogans can be very effective at that, but most make little impact, and none of them serve any other function. They do not in themselves persuade the customer to buy. Nor should they in themselves be mistaken for a marketing strategy.
The words “Because You’re Worth It” may be lodged in your contributor’s mind, but he is not going to buy any L’Oreal feminine beauty products as a result. Changing it to “Because We’re Worth It” will not involve the consumer more in the company’s philosophy – which is how a charlatan of a consultant sold the change to L’Oreal, no doubt in return for a massive fee.
So even in the private sector, where they can have a useful role, the limitations of slogans, mottos, and straplines must be recognised.
In the public sector, they can serve no purpose whatsoever, other than to irritate. Someone in the process of being burgled is not going to telephone Police Force A rather than Police Force B because the former has a more memorable slogan on its patrol cars.
The Plain English Campaign are right to complain that these slogans are, at best, meaningless. At worst, they are positively insulting: in the case of some police forces, the words “To Serve and Protect” on a police car must have a bitter irony about them, especially to some minority communities.
The defence that such slogans cost little or no public money is a downright lie. They are often a matter of obsession in the public sector, the subject of intense debate in endless, pointless meetings – this is the voice of first hand experience speaking. The charlatan consultants are almost invariably brought in and come up with a suggestion that could easily have been made in the first place by an amateur, but which commands respect simply because a huge fee is paid for it.
Implementation is even more expensive, but the full costs are easily hidden by spreading them between budgets.
The slogan may be just part of an expensive “corporate image” makeover – equally unnecessary in the public sector, but beloved by politicians because it gives the superficial appearance of Change without the effort of delivering it.
If only they put the same time and money into actually improving public services.