"It's Rasmuson's opinion time!"
That's one of the "catchy slogan ideas" from a slogan generator at shopify.com. I typed in "Rasmuson's opinion," and I got 1,076 options like these:
"Unzip a Rasmuson's opinion."
"I'm not going to pay a lot for Rasmuson's opinion."
"Give the dog a Rasmuson's opinion."
"Rasmuson's opinion—the secret of women."
It was not women's secrets that got me thinking about slogans. It was this paragraph in The New York Times: "Fox News is 'Fair and balanced' no more. In the latest sign of change at the cable news network, the 'Fair and balanced' motto that has long been a rallying cry for Fox News fans—and a finger in the eye of critics—is gone. The channel confirmed on Wednesday that slogan and network have parted ways." Catching my eye were the nouns "slogan" and "motto" used interchangeably as if they meant the same thing. In Rasmuson's opinion, they don't, even if the mighty New York Times intimates they do. Take the state of Utah as an example. "Industry" is the state motto; "Life elevated" is its slogan. I don't see how one can be substituted for the other. Neither can the Boy Scouts' "Be prepared" motto stand in for its slogan, "Do a good turn daily." They are not the same.
The Scout motto dates to 1907, more than 20 years after the Marine Corps adopted "Semper fidelis" (always faithful) as its motto. The Corps' slogan, "The few, the proud, the Marines," replaced "We're looking for a few good men" in the 1980s. The slogan is primarily a recruiting tool, a marketing tagline. On the other hand, "Semper fidelis" is like most mottos. It is at once a secret handshake, a marriage vow, a rallying cry and a code of conduct. When a Marine says "Semper fi," it is usually in a reverential tone.
The tendency is to think of slogans as having a marketing bent, as being an expression of an organization's desire to sell itself or its products. The Marine Corps needs recruits. Utah wants tourists to sample "Life elevated" (above the smog layer). Lay's bets the eating of one potato chip will lead to a bag binge. Not all slogans are promotional, however. Some are aspirational. Think of Nancy Reagan's "Just say no" anti-drug campaign, and Smokey Bear's earnest mantra, "Only you can prevent forest fires." In June, when Sen. Mitch McConnell uncloaked his repeal-and-replace health care bill, the American Medical Association criticized it by acting on its motto—"Helping doctors help patients"—while invoking a slogan. The doctors' association said: "Medicine has long operated under the precept of 'Primum non nocere,' or 'First, do no harm.' The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels."
Slogans are crafted to stick in your mind and influence the choices you make. I have to admit that slogans I first heard on a black-and-white Zenith television are still with me. Many are breakfast cereals. The "Snap, crackle and pop" of Rice Krispies; Wheaties, "The breakfast of champions," and Tony the Tiger's ebullient roar, "They're gr-r-reat!" The millennial generation won't remember "I'd walk a mile for a Camel cigarette" or "See the USA in your Chevrolet," but they are sure to recall Nike's "Just do it" and Capital One's "What's in your wallet?"
Some slogans are as smart as Kay Jeweler's "Every kiss begins with Kay." Others are memorable because they are unapologetically dopey. "Please don't squeeze the Charmin" is a case in point. A few are in a category of their own, as is Hunter Thompson's gonzo-journalist slogan, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Which brings us to Donald Trump. The president takes credit for coining "Make America great again," the campaign slogan that resonated with the disaffected. In fact, he cribbed it from Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign. Bill Clinton also used the MAGA phrase occasionally in 1992, but called Trump's use of it last year a "racist dog whistle." So it goes with politicians. Not all political slogans have such a long run. In 1974, confronting an annual inflation rate of 12 percent, President Gerald Ford announced a "Whip inflation now" initiative replete with red-white-and-blue WIN buttons. It quickly sank out of sight in a swamp of ridicule.
Some slogans grow threadbare from use and are discarded like a sweater with holes in the elbows. "Fair and balanced" has been replaced by "Most watched, most trusted" at Fox News. The Army retired its widely admired "Be all you can be" after two decades of service. The replacement, "Army of one," lasted five years before yielding to "Army strong" in 2006. That same year, Utah spent $14 million on the "Life elevated" marketing campaign that eased "The greatest snow on Earth" into small print.
Mottos are more durable than slogans. "Semper fidelis" has been in place since 1883. That it is rendered in Latin, the language of Caesar, might be a status-granting factor. Of the 28 states that have mottos in languages other than English, 22 use Latin. (If Utah's was "Industria," you can bet your elevated life that one of our crusading legislators would be pushing to 'Mericanize it.) Latin or no, the national motto, "E pluribus unum" (meaning, "From many, one"), is coming undone. Unless we can end the war of attrition between them and us, we're stalemated at E pluribus duo (From many, two) with no chance to make America great again.
Rasmuson's concluding opinion? We should take a cue from Maryland's motto "Fatti maschii, parole femine" with its balance of "manly deeds" and "womanly words."
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