What can politicians teach us about persuasion?

“You win elections nowadays by communicating best”

Simon Kuper, writing for the Financial Times

Language has always been the most useful tool in any good politician's oversized and taxpayer-funded shed. Having been immersed in the dark arts of linguistic guerrilla warfare for most of their lives, world leaders can certainly teach us a thing or two about persuading an audience.

Use emotional language

As Kuper puts it, ‘the audience is bored before you’ve even said anything’. Want to have any chance of holding their attention? Then you need to get them excited. Try some emotionally charged adjectives. Trump often does this to paint topics as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, e.g. ‘the Iran deal is a disaster’ or ‘insane’ or ‘terrible’. It has much more of an effect than saying something is ‘going poorly’ or ‘not quite right’. So, if you want to make your audience feel, try for some more powerful trigger words.

Tell familiar stories

Boris and Trump tell a story that everyone loves hearing - a tale of approaching evil resisted by a strong and stalwart hero (themselves). Trump would appear to see himself as the defender of the American people, building his wall to keep out the evil forces of immigration. In Johnson’s case, he paints an image of a soldier of the British people, determined to ‘never surrender’ until Brexit is done or he ends up ‘dead in a ditch’.

While brands don't usually tell stories in this way, they are no strangers to mythical archetypes. Many a brand personality brainstorm has started by exploring characters such as ‘the wanderer’, ‘the reluctant hero’ or ‘the joker’. But brands don’t tell as many stories as they could. How about re-telling a classic story through the lens of the brand’s own journey?

Keep it simple, repeat regularly

Short sentences are easy to grasp. Short words are easy to grasp. Repetition helps them stick in your head. Dominic Cummings, Chief Special Advisor to Boris Johnson, favours simple and repeatable straplines - ‘Get Brexit Done’ and ‘Take Back Control’. Trump likes them too. ‘Build The Wall’ and ‘Make America Great Again’. Kuper rightly points out that neither of these politicians is the first to use this style of repeatable phrase. George Orwell employed the same tactic in Nineteen-eighty four and Animal Farm, ‘Big Brother is watching’ and ‘Four legs good, two legs better’.

Take control of a name

Names have power. When Boris named the bill that would stop the chance of a no-deal Brexit the ‘Surrender Bill’ it caused quite a stir. The rapidly-growing popularity (or unpopularity) of the name forced his opposition to use it when discussing the topic. It also implied that, as he clearly opposed the bill, Boris was ready to fight for the British people and refused to surrender. By using emotional/military terms to name something, you can take control of a topic and paint it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

What's in it for brands?

Good communications win elections. Take the Conservative party’s ‘Get Brexit Done’ - a powerful example of language winning votes. If brands can absorb some of the lessons from politicians and put them to use, perhaps political communications techniques could also win consumers...

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Barnaby Benson Copywriting Agency, UK

Barnaby Benson Ltd is a leading UK copywriting agency. Based in London, we provide copywriting services for many agencies and brands. We offer a wide range of writing services with a strong reputation for tone of voice.  Want to find the right words to make your point? Get in touch with us: we can help.

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