Perhaps slogans were essential for a presidential campaign to be victorious in the old days. PR people know a catchy slogan or product can be beneficial to kickstart a campaign or improve a brand's recognition, but while perusing the infographic below from Syracuse University, one is hard-pressed to make many direct connections between a good slogan and a strong presidency. More than that, some of the best slogans were attached to the least successful presidents, and vice versa. Look at Abraham Lincoln's two slogans, for example.
One of the best-known slogans, from 1840, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," brought William Henry Harrison, the first Whig party president, into office. The oldest president at the time of his inauguration and the last born a British subject, old Tippecanoe lasted just 32 days in office. Great slogan, very brief presidency.
Then you have, "This Time, Vote Like Your Whole World Depended on It." That gem came from the Republican candidate Richard Nixon in 1968. You know how that presidency turned out.
There are slogans that were fine at the time they were used, but just wouldn't work today. For example, from the 1852 campaign of Franklin Pierce, a Democrat, "We Polked You in '44, We Shall Pierce You in '52." While the slogan was referring to former President James K. Polk, the meaning of polk has morphed its way out of polite usage.
And the slogan for Republican William McKinley's second term in 1900, "Let Well Enough Alone," likely wouldn't resonate in today's hard-charging political atmosphere. McKinley, it must be said, wasn't left alone. A bullet to the abdomen ended his life and his second term, after just six months, in 1901.
You have to admire the tremendous effort that went into the 1956 slogan for Republican Dwight Eisenhower. In 1952 he triumphed with "I Like Ike." His slogan in 1956: "I Still Like Ike."
Speaking of effort, it's amusing to imagine the string of meetings and high-level strategy sessions that resulted in President Obama's second-term slogan: "Forward." Still more effort, Democrat Harry Truman's slogan of 1948, "I'm Just Wild About Harry," wasn't even original. It's the name of a Eubie Blake-Noble Sissle composition (music by Blake, lyrics by Sissle) published in 1921. Oh, to err is true, man.
We may be biased, but the more recent slogans, creations of PR pros no doubt, are some of the best on this infographic, which covers 175 years of presidential tag lines. Republican Ronald Reagan's slogans were strong, as was Democrat Bill Clinton's second. And several of the slogans of the many hopefuls in the field now are far better than their candidate's polling numbers.
Maybe the lesson here is that the American public, while loving a good slogan for brands it finds at the grocery store, takes its choice of president more seriously than we thought.
Follow Seth Arenstein at @skarenstein