Saturday, August 4, 2012

Branding A President - Designing A Candidacy

Source: Obama For America;
Romney For President
The mantra in bare-knuckle politics is to define your opponent before he can define himself. This branding touchstone has taken on a special significance in the simmering months of the 2012 presidential campaign. Of course, the opposite is crucial, too -- define yourself before your adversary cripples you with negative advertising. We spent this past winter and spring with our students exploring the nuances of candidate messaging. Our kids had a field day rating the various logos and slogans (here are their verdicts, and some of our posts).

Convention Logos

The newest logo juxtaposition centers on the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. These conventions can be decisive in delivering enduring speeches and rallying the faithful. In fact, then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama became a national figure and heir-apparent in delivering the keynote address at John Kerry’s 2004 nomination. His poignant words immediately registered among the annals of oratory. Now, in 2012, the parties have crafted logos to epitomize their conventions and messages.

Source: PRNewswire
The Republican National Convention takes place August 27-30, in Tampa Bay, Florida. Released before the end of the primary process, the GOP insignia admittedly was designed without a determined candidate. The Democrats, on the other hand, had the luxury of incumbency and predictability. In the Republican icon, the trumpeting elephant is a potent, active depiction of the mascot. The colors are vivid and clear, and the patriotic impulse is telegraphed. Ultimately, however, the logo is a twitchy puzzle somewhere between a postage stamp and poster.

The heavy serif on the font, the cumbersome all-caps typeface, and the wide kerning between letters all yield a fuzzy, justified headline. The flag emblem is appropriate, but the downward slope leads the eye off the page, rather than looping back to a central focus. Worse still, the flag is obviously and instinctively wrong. It has too few stripes for the area depicted, and the unorthodox three stars in the blue field offer no clear significance. Finally, the convention planners seemed to feel that the host city deserved unusual prominence. “Tampa Bay” dominates the emblem, but the sideways contortion and the bold “Tampa” but thin “Bay” are disjointing to the eye. Florida is a crucial swing state, so the undue city prominence may be warranted, but the thick waves serve no purpose other than drawing focus and evoking strips of bacon. We would expect this seal rarely to see the light of day during prime time convention broadcasts.

Source: RIDemocrats
The Democratic National Convention picks up days later, from September 3-6, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The assembly's logo seeks to trigger an immediate visual connection with the overall Obama brand, mimicking the Carolina-blue oval and the patriotic rising-sun colors. This kindred icon echoes everything about the Obama campaign’s buoyant messaging. The subtle alterations embrace the crowd-sourcing, grassroots designs of the Democratic strategy. The red horizon of celebratory citizens, gathered together in a joyous hand-clasp, all summon the energy of a lively convention. In particular, the insignia places the motivation and impetus on the people themselves as the profiled drivers of continued change. The downside is that it rests all the attention on the single candidate, rather than the political party or its platform. It also pays little homage to the host city, which could backfire in a crucial state that Obama narrowly won four years ago.

Branding The Other Candidate

Source: Obama For America

President Obama’s campaign has worked hard to brand Governor Mitt Romney as a country club candidate. His team has hammered away at Romney's pioneering outsourcing at Bain Capital and his millions of dollars in shadowy off-shore accounts. The goal in this messaging is to amp up the working-class base and to appeal to “undecideds” who fall outside of exclusive beaches and dressage stables. The end result will be a litmus test of negative/positive advertising and a call-to-arms for America's changing census population.

Source: Romney For President
The Romney camp, for its part, is striving to brand Obama as "out of touch" and "anti-business." They’ve seized on stagnating economic indicators as leverage for vague but forceful podium points about failed stimuli and deadly regulations. Recently, the marketers have clipped an Obama phrase that seemingly undercuts small business owners. The “you didn’t build that” slogan quickly became the Romney attack-du-jour, and the Democratic hand-wringing suggests that the barrage is working.

Campaign Designs

A recent article at The Weeklings elucidates key take-aways about the subconscious communication of visual messaging. The feature, for example, freshly points out that John McCain’s 2008 campaign chose Optima, the same font as the Vietnam Memorial. We’ve extolled before the clarion of Obama’s 2008 Gotham design choice. It’s significant, therefore, that during this 2012 reelection gambit, Obama's team requested an updated version of its iconic lettering from its favorite Hoeffler & Frere-Jones shop. This time, his banner features a squared serif, in equal weighting between President and Vice-President. The Weeklings article also points out that Romney’s squad, not accidentally, plucked Mercury and Whitney typefaces created by the exact same Hoeffler & Frere-Jones design firm. If you are unfamiliar with their work, here is a terrific PBS Off Book video highlighting the insights of H&F-J.

Source: Hot Cards
Even the labeling of routine bus tours seems to matter. The Caucus blog at The New York Times offered a recreational retrospective of past candidate bus trips through the American heartland. The best moniker continues to be McCain’s “Straight Talk Express.” The worst wordsmithing falls to 2008 GOP candidate Fred Thompson’s tour, dubbed “The Clear Conservative Choice: Hands Down!

The campaign gift shops also deserve artistic focus as reinforcers of brands. The Obama team organized a "Runway To Win" t-shirt design contest on its official web site. The three winners now can see their creations for sale online.  This popular appeal and non-hierarchical marketing parallels the overall strategy of the Democratic outreach. The Romney site also offers t-shirts with twists on the standard insignia. The governor's team has fashioned a special line of "vintage" shirts in an attempt to bridge the older Republican demographic with the retro-loving younger voters.

Source: Obama For America
Source: Romney For President

For additional reading, we recommend:


  1. Wow! What a well written great piece of information. I remember that I was looking for something like this from a couple of months. I am glad that I found my way here by coincidence! Cheers,

  2. The hype I got after reading your blog was just like back in 2012. I still remember I directly handed my admission form to a college admission essay writing service in US and covered myself in red, blue, and white paint in order to go to the campaign.

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  4. The good news is that there are plenty of resources out there to help you with the branding process, whether you're a candidate or a product. So if you're feeling lost, don't worry – just start doing your research and you'll be on your way to creating a strong, memorable brand in no time.

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  6. Great article regarding the marketing and selection of candidates, reminds me of the time when I had my first branding job at JMU gpa calculator where transparency was the main key factor.

  7. Crafting a presidential brand is akin to designing a candidacy; it's about more than just policies. It involves creating a compelling narrative, strong visual identity, and resonating with the values of the electorate. In the political arena, branding can be the key to capturing hearts and votes.

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