Pitch­ing any­thing? It’s likely ‘great again’

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Z. Barabak

His prom­ise to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare has crashed and burned. Tax re­form hasn’t got­ten far, the White House is in dis­ar­ray and big plans to re­build the na­tion’s in­fra­struc­ture have hit a brick wall.

But there is one unim­peach­able tri­umph Pres­i­dent Trump can point to: He’s made “great again” great again.

The 2016 cam­paign slo­gan — limned in block let­ters and em­bla­zoned on count­less cherry-red ball caps — has been reimag­ined, re­pur­posed and cheek­ily ap­pro­pri­ated for count­less pitches and com­mer­cial prod­ucts.

Apart from the now-fa­mil­iar caps, mer­can­tile op­tions in­clude aprons, bean­ies, beer co­zies, cof­fee mugs, hood­ies, leg­gings, swim­suits, T-shirts, wa­ter bot­tles and, for the special some­one, Don­ald Trump Make

Amer­ica Great Again Women’s Booty Shorts.

But MAGA, as the pres­i­dent short­hands the phrase on Twit­ter, is also pop­ping up in places hav­ing lit­tle or noth­ing to do with pol­i­tics.

On a cat­walk at New York’s Fashion Week. High in the sky, pro­mot­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic in Phoenix. On the menu at an Ital­ian restau­rant in At­lanta.

“It went ex­tremely well,” Chris­tian Favalli, owner of La Grotta, said of “Make Wed­nes­days great again,” last month’s wine-and-pair­ings event in At­lanta’s up­scale Buck­head neigh­bor­hood. A few cus­tomers “weren’t en­tirely thrilled” with the pedi­gree of the pro­mo­tion, Favalli said, but “ev­ery­one’s damn fa­mil­iar with it.”

That’s what makes the ap­pro­pri­a­tion facile but also risky, ac­cord­ing to advertising pros, who sug­gested the epi­gram can just as eas­ily of­fend as en­tice.

“The small­est thing seems to set peo­ple off to­day,” said Ross Lowinske, se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Mil­wau­kee-based ad agency Laughlin Con­sta­ble, which has done work for Mc­Don­ald’s and Sears Auto Cen­ter, among other clients. “Sim­ply put, any busi­ness, or agency for that mat­ter, that uses this slo­gan are rather in­sen­si­tive to the cur­rent cli­mate.”

Po­lit­i­cal slo­gans rarely have much life beyond elec­tion day. Per­haps a hand­ful are re­mem­bered by his­to­ri­ans and the odd po­lit­i­cal junkie, for their jaunty charm, “Tippeca­noe and Tyler Too,” or snappy mnemonic, most fa­mously “I Like Ike.”

But it is some­thing else en­tirely for a cam­paign catch­phrase to make the leap to pub­lic con­scious­ness, much less jin­gle at the cash reg­is­ter.

Trump him­self came up with the MAGA man­i­festo, he told the Wash­ing­ton Post, back in Novem­ber 2012, when few be­sides him­self imag­ined he might ever se­ri­ously vie for the pres­i­dency.

“I said, ‘That is so good,’ I wrote it down,” he re­counted, and had his at­tor­neys patent the phrase for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses. (Al­though, for the record, Ron­ald Rea­gan used the slo­gan “Let’s Make Amer­ica Great Again” and vari­ants in his win­ning 1980 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Trump told the Post he was un­aware of that prove­nance.)

Some of the copy­cat­ting is overtly po­lit­i­cal, in­tended as turn­about or a re­join­der directed at the po­lar­iz­ing pres­i­dent.

When Cal­i­for­nia state Sens. Scott Wiener of San Fran­cisco and Mike McGuire of Healds­burg an­nounced leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing that all fu­ture pres­i­den­tial and vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates make pub­lic their tax re­turns, some­thing Trump re­fused to do, the two Democrats stated their in­ten­tion to “help make trans­parency great again.”

De­sign­ers dressed down the pres­i­dent dur­ing the in­dus­try’s win­ter fashion week with ball caps — cherry red, bold let­ter­ing — read­ing “Make Amer­ica New York,” a ref­er­ence to the his­tor­i­cally wel­com­ing na­ture of his poly­glot home­town.

In cen­tral Florida, the Mus­lim com­mu­nity marked Ra­madan in June with a bill­board along In­ter­state 95, styl­ized in the man­ner of Trump’s cam­paign ads, read­ing, “Mak­ing Amer­ica Great with love, com­pas­sion and mercy.”

“Ev­ery­one in our na­tion is mak­ing Amer­ica great when we all work to­gether to serve neigh­bors and solve our prob­lems,” said Ab­dul­rauf Khan, a spokesman for the Florida branch of the Is­lamic Cir­cle of North Amer­ica, the vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tion that spon­sored the signs.

But many en­ter­prises hav­ing noth­ing to do with pol­i­tics — among them a tiki bar in Los An­ge­les (“Make Amer­ica Tiki Again!”), a sa­loon in Wash­ing­ton (“Make Whisk(e)y Great Again!”), a psychedelia web­site (“Make Amer­ica Trip Again!”) — know a good com­mer­cial tiein when they see one.

KBAQ, a Phoenix-area clas­si­cal mu­sic sta­tion, launched a bill­board cam­paign the day af­ter Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion fea­tur­ing the ven­er­a­ble Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach with head­phones clamped over his woolly white mane. The tagline: “Make Your Com­mute Great Again.”

Jim Paluzzi, a vice pres­i­dent at Rio Sal­ado Col­lege in Tempe, Ariz., home of the pub­lic ra­dio sta­tion, said the ad res­onated like no other, with re­mark­able au­di­ence re­call. “We meet mem­bers on a pretty reg­u­lar ba­sis,” Paluzzi said. “Most of the time you’re shocked if they re­mem­ber any­thing you did.”

He cred­its the cam­paign with a rise in the sta­tion’s lis­ten­er­ship, from a 2.2% share of the crowded Phoenix ra­dio mar­ket in Fe­bru­ary to 3.1% in June. “There’s no other ex­pla­na­tion,” Paluzzi said.

Advertising pro­fes­sion­als, though, aren’t par­tic­u­larly im­pressed.

“It’s a lit­tle low-hang­ing,” said Ja­son Sper­ling, chief creative de­vel­oper at RPA, a Santa Mon­ica-based ad agency that has done work for Honda, Farm­ers In­surance and South­west Air­lines, among other clients. There’s a “hol­low­ness” at the core of the ex­pres­sion, Sper­ling sug­gested, which makes it less a sales pitch than a punch line.

Mark Kamin­sky, a part­ner at New York’s SS+K advertising agency, is no fan ei­ther — though it should be noted that, along with such ma­jor brands as GM and Star­bucks, the agency’s clients in­cluded both of Pres­i­dent Obama’s cam­paigns.

“Riffs on MAGA are al­ready so wide­spread that a client could well pause be­fore lock­ing up their prod­uct or im­age with some­thing so com­mon, de­riv­a­tive and po­ten­tially di­vi­sive,” Kamin­sky said. “Be­cause it was this par­tic­u­lar pres­i­dent’s slo­gan, a flood of con­sumers will have a po­lit­i­cal or moral aver­sion to it.”

Favalli, the owner of At­lanta’s La Grotta, ex­pe­ri­enced a bit of that blow­back when the “Make Wed­nes­days great again” pro­mo­tion was emailed to a data­base of about 14,000 cus­tomers. But it wasn’t all that bad, he said, con­sid­er­ing At­lanta is such a Demo­cratic strong­hold.

His re­sponse: Lighten up.

“It was very tongue-incheek,” Favalli said. “In the cur­rent cli­mate in which we are, you need to hope­fully laugh a lit­tle.” Or else, he added, “you’re go­ing to want to shoot your­self.”

Slaven Vla­sic Getty Images

MOD­ELS at New York Fashion Week don attire and caps play­ing off Pres­i­dent Trump’s cam­paign slo­gan.

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