Gimmicks in Politics

By Mariana Diaz

According to the Oxford dictionary, the word gimmick can be understood as ‘any trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or trade’. So, why would politicians, or any electoral campaigns, use this device to catch people’s attention?

Donald Trump and his ‘freedom girls’ are a perfect example of gimmicks used in political campaigns. Trump’s electoral team authorised a ‘cute’ performance of three little girls dressed with the flag’s colours, singing about freedom, and about ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’, but mostly about how Donald Trump will ‘make the United States of America free and safe again’. At first sight, no one could think of any danger from having three little girls singing a catchy song favouring Trump’s campaign. That is what democracy is all about, right? We have the right to publicly express our opinion towards any political party. But the main issue here is Trump’s electoral team. His team authorised the cheerleader group to sing a song written by George M. Cohan in 1917, who wanted to inspire World War I Americans’ soldiers. The young girls cheerleader group re-wrote the song, and added a catchy tune to encourage people to sing it. It could be said that in terms of marketing, this particular gimmick was a success from Trump’s electoral campaign, even though the lyrics were not entirely ethical for girls of that age to sing.

Following cover songs, we find another example of catchy lyrics performed by right wing conservatives’ parties. UKIP released a music video parody of Badiel & Skinner’s ‘Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)’ , where two woman, dressed again with the flag’s colours, ‘dance’ and sing with a big Union Jack waving behind them. They sing about ‘Britain coming home’ and how they will vote to leave the EU. Another clever move from the electoral team, who used a catchy song, changed the lyrics, and spread the word. This way, people will remember the new lyrics, which reflect the party’s values, and probably gain more sympathizers.

Gimmicks in politics are a very common tool used by any politician. Even Cardiff Student’s Union make use of gimmicks in political campaigns. The reason why almost every political party, who want to stand out from the crowd and pull up the polls, make use of this tricky device is because they are very catchy. Our attention is easily attracted towards any bright colours we see. We are easily distracted by things that break the standard, and we do not have any trouble to remember any catchy song we randomly heard somewhere. It seems that politicians know their population so well that they successfully planned their next marketing campaign.

However, I would not entirely agree with those measures. I recognize that in order to stand out from the crowd politicians need to be constantly reinventing themselves, and I would be in favour of any ethical trick they might want to use. But, when ethics in politics are less important than gaining sympathisers, gimmicks can be a problem. In this case, gimmicks start to undermine the seriousness of politics by treating the population as not very clever people who would follow any catchy song and any bright colour sign without finding any fault in it.

Unfortunately ethical or unethical gimmicks are useful to catch people’s attention. They will always succeed by gaining sympathisers, like Trump’s ‘freedom girls’ that succeeded by being on everyone’s lips. Donald Trump’s electoral team were smart enough to recognize a good gimmick and made use of it, despite it being unethical. They probably reach more people, although it is hard to think of anyone who does not know who Donald Trump is at this moment, I bet they gain at least one more sympathiser.

Electoral campaigns are becoming more of a marketing camping than a political one. Sadly, political parties will always use gimmicks on their campaigns, and the only power we, as free citizens, have over them, is to think twice before we start singing that catchy song we heard. We can stop for a minute and read through that bright sign we saw with their manifesto, and critically think if those lines really reflect our values. And never forget that everyday people are the primary source of political power.