As 2016 approaches, we’re witnessing the emergence of another cycle of well-funded campaign messages. These are tested and re-tested, formed and re-formed, passed through focus group after focus group. The end goal is to find the winning words, those that poll best. But how much do we lose when we try to please everyone, when we alter the substance of our message to ensure it’s palatable to the most people?

In a Huffington Post article published during last year’s midterms, Celinda Lake and recent Communications Hub guest trainer Anat Shenker-Osorio wrote that true progressive messages “test through the roof with our base and persuade that hotly desired middle. Best of all, they alienate the opposition.” In other words, messaging well requires a willingness to tell our truth and upset our opponents.

On a gut level, we instinctively know the power of direct, simple messages that don’t mince words or dither in the mushy middle. We remember Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid.” We gravitate towards frankness and clarity. Politics is about identity, and since we can’t be everything, good messaging defines our values and empowers us to believe that change is possible.

The reproductive rights movement serves as a great example of the need to say what we mean, not what will avoid controversy. One in three women will have an abortion; it’s an incredibly common medical procedure. But we rarely hear the word because messaging on women’s health has avoided it. The stigma and threat of violence is so high that Americans have learned to speak around abortion, to emphasize a strategy of causing the least offense, to walk a middle ground.

For example, the very term “pro-choice” often seems euphemistic. The oft repeated, inoffensive story of abortion as a difficult decision between a woman, her family, and her doctor has created challenges for years. It doesn’t accurately reflect what the movement’s base feels about abortion, which is that it is a woman’s choice alone. It doesn’t represent the lived experiences of those it attempts to represent because women who have had abortions often don’t feel that it was a difficult choice, one that they would need significant assistance in making. Last, it accepts the conservative frame of women as victims who need outside help making decisions, and abortions as huge, life-altering trauma.

These examples don’t alienate the opposition and they don’t energize the base. As NARAL board member Renee Bracey Sherman said in a recent Washington Post article, “I didn’t have a pro-choice. I had an abortion.” They fail Shenker-Osorio’s test of a true progressive message, and they leave our base ambivalent and needing more.

As discouraging as bad messages can be, the principles behind their failures are incredibly empowering. We have an imperative to be clear, to draw specific, values-based lines, to define and to alienate.