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Clinton's 'Smart Power' Slogan Is Just Plain Dumb, Branding Experts Say

"Smart Power" -- Hillary Clinton's description of her approach to diplomacy -- is just plain dumb, marketing professionals say. 

The catchphrase is unclear and ripe for misinterpretation, a group of experts told FOXNews.com.

Clinton, who was sworn in as secretary of state on Wednesday, defined "smart power" at her Senate confirmation hearing as using the full range of tools available to the United States, including diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural tools.

"With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy," she said.

But the marketing pros know a bad slogan when they hear one.

"Essentially, 'smart power' is just more evidence of how bad the communication coaching Hillary Clinton gets and probably cost her the (presidential) campaign," said Rob Frankel, a branding expert and author of "The Revenge of Brand X." 

Frankel praised the concept but slammed the execution.

"The execution is where Hillary traditionally falls on her face," he said. "And whoever is advising her should be soundly whipped."

Alan Siegel, founder and head of Siegel + Gale, a brand consultancy, described "Smart Power" as an "unfortunate choice of words."

"I don't think it's good to say you're smart," he said. "I think it's smarmy."

He said Clinton should have used words like "intelligent" or "sensitive" instead.

"I think that Hillary Clinton is a really smart, articulate woman and I think she's going to be a good secretary of state," Siegel said. "But I don't think what we need now is more slogans. ...To say 'smart power' is ridiculous."

But Joseph Nye, the Harvard professor who coined the phrase, batted away the criticism.

"To talk about international affairs and not talk about power is like to going to Shakespeare to see Hamlet and not have the prince of Denmark present," said Nye, who authored "Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics."

Others defended the phrase too.

"I think it captures the integration of hard power and soft power," said John A. Quelch, a Harvard professor who studies global marketing and branding in emerging and developed markets. "I think the notion here it's not a either-or, but one plus one can equal three."

Branding experts are divided on whether U.S. foreign policy even needs a catchphrase. Nye said it does, and he cited the Bush Doctrine as evidence. Clinton, he said, has found the right phrase to sum up her approach.

"It's marketable," he said, "because it reminds people that America has soft power."

But Siegel said people are tired of branding.

"I help companies establish a voice," he said. "I think most people can't even identify these slogans or elevator lines with the companies."

Frankel said most people will think the phrase is referring to energy efficiencies.

But Carola McGiffert, co-director of the Smart Power Commission, launched in 2006 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies to examine how to restore America's image around the world, said the clarity of the phrase polled well.

"We've only heard positive things about it," she said.

Frankel pointed to Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal as examples of successful political catchphrases that have survived the test of time.

But "smart power," he said, has the life expectancy of Gerald Ford's WIN buttons, considered one of the biggest government public relations blunders ever. Ford attempted to "Whip Inflation Now" by having millions of red-and-white buttons printed up with the "WIN" slogan on them.

Asked to offer his idea of a stronger U.S. foreign policy catchphrase, Frankel declined. He said if Clinton calls him, "I will give her a really sweet rate."

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