If Scott Morrison is to be remembered for more than knifing Malcolm Turnbull, the 2019 election, bushfires, corruption and climate denial, it will be his propensity to relentlessly deploy two or three-word slogans.
It’s not that he actually is Scotty from marketing or great marketer himself – as shown by his experiences at the New Zealand and Australian Tourism boards – but that he employs people who dream up variations on a traditional and effective marketing device.
Morrison is great at obfuscation whether it is faux apologies or verbal gymnastics to avoid apologising or answering questions. He is also expert at positive-sounding declamatory announcements which don’t get followed up by actual action or results.
But he does seize effectively on two or three-word slogans or neologism combining two words. Most people probably don’t think about the ubiquity of three-word slogans probably because they are ubiquitous.
If you just look around the world at recent examples you get: Brexit Means Brexit; Take Back Control; Get Brexit Done; oven-ready deal; and, debt and deficit, jobs and growth.
These recent examples are interesting because all of them are developed from research by the firm Crosby Textor or the various firms which have been founded by its alumni. In Australia Morrison gave a $500,000 contract (after a limited tender) to Jim Reid of Resolve Strategic and formerly of Crosby Textor. The contract ballooned out to more than $1 million through $50,000 incremental increases and produced the Our Comeback campaign among other things.
One of the most powerful modern three-word slogans was the 1988 Nike’s Just Do It. An earlier entrant was the 1961 Grace; Space; Pace. for the Jaguar E-type although it didn’t have the mass appeal the Nike slogan achieved nor its compelling punctuation.
The concept was given academic underpinning by research in 1971 by David Meyer and Roger Schaneveldt.
They had been pursuing similar research individually for some time but then combined to publish a paper around the concept of priming.
Priming is basically about the process by which one thought activates another. For instance, say bread and the word butter probably comes to mind. Cat and mouse is another example.
In the literature, the phenomenon is known as semantic priming and has led on to other research on how semantic information is structured and processed and how visual word recognition promotes related cognitive processes.
Thus Just do it activates the thought of going running or just getting on with something.
There is some controversy about the concept. In recent years it has been plagued by the replicability problems other behavioural psychology propositions have experienced and Daniel Kahneman warned about.
Closely linked to the three-word slogan communication approach is the creation of gerunds – in this case, one-word slogans such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker. The combination of verb and noun which comprise a gerund is an excellent way for politicians to come up with a cute brand which seems to promises both action and outcome.
The Boris Johnson government, which employs Crosby Textor (Now CT) and various of their alumni, has produced a blizzard of three-word slogans including Build. Build. Build.; Hands. Face. Space.; Rule of Six (not sure what this actually is but nevertheless); and, Eat out to Help Out (which is five but works on the same principle.
The Catalans, of course, came up with Distancia, Mans, Mascaretta first which may be where the Brits stole the Hands. Face. Space. idea from idea. No doubt whoever suggested it to the Brits charged millions of pounds for the idea – and which may make it the most expensive three-word translation in history.
Being a classicist Johnson may also lift Veni Vidi Vici when he comes back from Brussels with a deal however dud it may be. This could be the most expensive quip in history running into billions in costs rather than just millions.
And speaking of slogans it is worth remembering that the word slogan is derived from an old Scottish Gaelic war cry sluagh-ghairm which was Anglicised as slogorn. It would therefore be ironic if Brexit Means Brexit, Get Brexit Done and Take Back Control help that other three-word slogan Alba gu brath, along with the Saltire flag, to lead to Scottish independence.