Birth of the political slogan

Somewhat ahead of schedule, here in the UK we have a general election. And like any political campaign the parties have their sound bite slogans.  Theresa May …. er, sorry, the Conservatives have, “Strong and Stable Government”, Labour has, “For the Many, Not the Few” and the Liberal Democrats have “An Open, Tolerant and United Britain”.  And while we are on the subject, let’s not forget the American Presidential election’s infamous “Make America Great again”.

In respect to the current UK election it seems every Conservative at every possible opportunity says, “Strong and Stable Government” over and over again. Some are asking the question, what does it mean? and does repeating something over and over and over….. really do any good?  Sadly the answer is probably, yes.

I’m going to leave the UK General Election there and travel back to a milestone in time when, it can be argued the campaign slogan was born (at least in the modern sense of the definition).  The story is certainly interesting and quite possibly rather disturbing.

Bernay's women lighting their Lucky Strikes"

Bernay's women lighting their Lucky Strikes"

The journalist turned psychologist, Edward Bernay has been called “the father of public relations”. As the nephew of Sigmund Freud, he was certainly born into the beginnings of physiology as an intellectual discipline. at that time, in the 1920s, there was a stigma against women smoking in public, where it was associated with prostitution. The tobacco companies however, just saw it as depriving them of 50% of the market. Bernay was contacted by George Washington Hill (President of American Tobacco Company) who asked, “how can we get women to smoke on the street …..” (quote, unquote).  Bernay then embarked upon a campaign any modern political party might be proud of.

This was a time of the suffragette movement. Bernay and his associates were not concerned with the rights of women however, but certainly saw it as a marketing opportunity.  He invented the campaign slogan, “light another torch of freedom” turning the cigarette into a political symbol of emancipation. As if this level of abject cynicism was not enough Bernay then hired ten young women to walk down Fifth Avenue lighting their “touches of freedom” thus gaining front page headlines. And so it was that one of the greatest drives for social justice in history was highjacked by the tobacco industry. History tells us, of course, it was very successful.

I like to think of this story each time I hear, “strong and stable government,” just to put things into perspective.