Yes, But What Three Words?

Stop the Boats

That slogan is an excellent piece of marketing: it tells a story using only three words, it has an emotional impact and it is simple to remember.

For international readers or those in the UK who prefer to spend their limited and valuable time on this planet away from the machinations of politics, the phrase was presented to the people of this country by our current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, at the beginning of 2023.

It was one of five pledges that he made on behalf of the Conservative Party that would describe what he would achieve during his tenure in charge (and, to persuade the public to return him to power at the yet-to-be called but inevitable election).

Except, at that now-called election, the phrase is weighing like a cruise ship anchor around Mr Sunak’s neck.

“Stop the Boats” was designed to show that Sunak had developed a solution to the humanitarian nightmare that is migrants being trafficked across the English Channel, usually in rubber dinghies, from France.

Even if you have never heard of this dangerous and heart-breaking situation before, you would have by now thought to yourself that it is created by a tangled mess of so many different issues that how can it just be stopped?

The marketing point here – and please don’t confuse yourself thinking that I don’t care about the people on the boats by using this as a case study, I certainly do – is that the details don’t matter.

The slogan says, trust us. We have a solution. We will stop the boats. Don’t worry. We got this.

As I said at the outset, it is excellent marketing and people were happy to buy in. It brought Sunak and the Conservative Party a much-needed lift in their fortunes.

Well done to the marketing department. Parties all round.

So, in the words of the waiter who delivered champagne to George Best’s hotel suite to find him in bed with the current Miss World and surrounded by thousands of pounds in casino winnings: ‘where did it all go wrong?’

Simples (as one of the most successful marketing characters of modern times would have said) – success or failure of the message was as binary as a satellite launch!

‘Stop’ means no boats. None. Not one.

Your satellite is either in orbit, sending data back to a waiting world or it isn’t.

In the months that followed Sunak’s presentation of his pledge to ‘Stop the Boats’ (months of ever more suitable weather for sailing), the number of crossings steadily increased.

As did the number of his competitors willing to jump into their safely sea-worthy vessels and point out these failings to a once-again let down and disappointed public.

As we enter the finals days of campaigning, the number of people arriving is only going in one direction.

If you can find a three-word slogan that describes your offering, creates emotional impact and is simple to remember – ‘Just Do it’ is pretty good, but I think someone is already using that – then you are very good at marketing.

You will draw interested prospective customers to you, they will want to know more and they may even go on to buy what you’re selling.

But if you don’t deliver what you promise, those gains will be short-lived and it will be a long time before anyone in the market, trusts you again.

*As I wrote this article, I asked ChatGPT for some famous three-word slogans and it replied with “Because You’re Worth It”, which reminded me of the late, great darts commentator Sid Waddell’s finest moment behind the microphone: “Only one word for that, magic darts”.