7 Messaging Lessons to Learn From the "Stay Home" and "Stay Alert" Campaigns

Slogans are the leading force of a campaign - the sound bite people will always attribute to your cause. They're the first impression of your brand - so if you're going to adopt one, it's important to get it right.

They've been hot in the press this week because of the Government's new "Stay alert. Control the Virus. Save Lives." campaign slogan.

Their messaging has been highly criticised for a number of reasons: What does 'stay alert' mean, when you're looking out for a microscopic virus instead of an oncoming car? How does staying alert help control a virus?

Just 30% of people polled by YouGov last Sunday thought they understood the messaging. Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called it "vague and imprecise".

These are not words that you want to attribute to your brand or product, so here's some lessons we can learn from the "Stay Alert" slogan to help build effective product messaging. 

Why are political slogans relevant examples for building your product messaging?

The aim of any slogan is to sell a concept and drive an action. The concept could be an idea, a product, service, lifestyle or desired behaviour, but all slogans are designed to encourage us to adopt them.

Some of the most memorable messaging of the past few years has come from political parties – which means product campaigns really need to step up their game.

This blog covers the following tips:

  1. Keep your messaging short and simple.
  2. Utilise verbs.
  3. Use poetic techniques.
  4. Can your message be drawn?
  5. Make it relatable.
  6. Harness the power of emotion.
  7. Revisit your work.

  1. Keep your messaging short and simple.

This is where the previous slogan, "Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives." worked so well. Whilst it’s actually double the length of the average slogan, the individual sentences are short, punchy, and comprehendible.

 Short sentences give the impression of impact - and “stay home” certainly had impact. Campaign Live said it’s likely to go down as one of the most effective messages in the history of government communications. Telegraph called it a ‘Rallying Cry’. Some lockdown critics even called it ‘too effective’.

It’s understandable that the government tried to replicate this impact with their latest message.

The average slogan length is 4.4 words, so think about famous slogans. What's the longest one you can think of?

Apple's (now retired) slogan was just two words long - and still inspires people to buy their products.
  1. Utilise verbs.

Action words - verbs - are powerful tools for copywriting. The purpose of your messaging is to encourage action - so include that demand in your slogan.

Some of most impactful recent slogans are driven by action words...
"Just do it."

Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives." 

Taste the rainbow.” 

As an ERDF funded programme, we're loathe to admit it - but the Vote Leave campaign did a great job with "Take back control" for this reason.

Whilst we know the British public isn't only driven to action by slogans, "For the many, not the few" certainly lacks action and impact compared to"Get Brexit Done". 

What action can you attribute to your product, and how can you include this command in your messaging?

Nike's 'Just do it' slogan has been inspiring brand messaging for more than 30 years, thanks to including a verb

  1. Use poetic techniques.

Repetition, rhyming and alliteration are all tools used to help set pacing and rhythm in phrases. Messaging with rhythm is much more memorable to a target audience.

Think “Grace, Space, Pace” or “Once you pop, you just can’t stop." These are two extremely memorable statements that reflect their product well.

Is your messaging memorable? Is there any word that can be switched for an alternative to make your slogan or tagline more poetic?

This Jaguar ad from 1962 shows the impact created by poetry in product marketing.

  1. Can your message be drawn?

It’s essential that your messaging is clearly communicable. This is where the “stay alert” slogan failed. "Stay home" worked better than "Stay alert" because everyone knows what 'home' entails.

The best test of your message’s effectiveness is a ten-year-old child. Can they interpret what it means? Could they draw it?

If the answer to these two questions is 'no', then your slogan may be too abstract. Consider restructuring it into something that better represents your product.

Can your message be drawn by a child? If not, it may be too abstract.

  1. Make it relatable.

To quote one Gogglebox couple, "the NHS is the UK's new religion". We're eager to defend it because we all have experience and some kind of relationship to it. It's something we can all understand and are able to criticise or appreciate as a result of personal experience. We all know someone who works for it, we all know someone who was saved by it, we have all seen the headlines over the previous years. We know its struggles. In short, we see the NHS as a key component of British culture – something that ties us together as a common people.

Where a reference to the NHS is uniting, referencing 'the Virus' is overwhelming.

It paints the virus is the enemy, the menace hiding round the corner. The “He who must not be named” of real life. How can we relate to that?  

"Stay Alert. Control the Virus. Save Lives." overwhelms us where "Protect the NHS" compelled us, because we're already feeling powerless against this entity that’s completely altered the way we live- so how can we control it?

The famous "Have a break. Have a Kit Kat" slogan works for this reason. Everyone has had the experience of needing a break from work (or school), so we can relate to the situation.

Both the "Stay home." Message and the Kit-Kat slogan prompt us to complete the desired action because of these shared experiences.

So how can you make your messaging more relatable to your target audience? The next lesson will help.

Kit Kat's iconic slogan reminds us of a past experience - that's why it's so effective.

  1. Harness the power of emotion.

Emotion is one of the best marketing tools you can utilise to sell your idea, product, or service - so try to capture it in your messaging.

The most powerful emotion at your disposal is familiarity. 

The Familiarity Principle is the tendency of human beings to develop a preference for things they experience more often. Familiarity creates comfort - so if you can use comforting language in your messaging, people will feel more at ease with your product. They’ll trust it more. They’ll feel more comfortable purchasing it.

This may also be where “Control the Virus” appeals less than “Protect the NHS”. The familiarity of the NHS makes us want to protect it. Add the powerful action words and that’s what drives a slogan into a rallying cry.

“This girl can” drives the same kind of determined emotion in its target audience. It makes the audience remember a struggle that turned into a success - and obliges them to complete the desired action.  

“Let's take back control” and “Make America Great Again” also pull on these same emotive strings - they make the target audience feel a sense of loss, a need to reclaim control or greatness.  

Emotion drives the sense of passion in messaging, which is why there’s no doubt that emotive, action-based slogans have been the most effective of the last few years.

What steps can you take to ensure your messaging encompasses these lessons?

"Let's take back control" harnessed the power of an emotion (loss) to turn people to Vote.Leave's cause.

  1. Revisit your messaging.

Once you've written it, put it down for a few days. Looking back with fresh eyes will help you chop unnecessary words and find more impactful alternatives.

Iconise your message. If you don't know which ones to use, does the messaging even make sense?

Test your message. Ask friends and family, find your target audience in a Facebook group or subreddit, and get reactions from them. What do they think it means? What impression do they get from it?

Finally, don’t be afraid to change your message if it isn’t working.

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