We’re going to talk politics for a hot moment, even if you don’t want to. But before we do, put aside your beliefs on Democrats and Republicans because what we will be examining is the BRANDING behind two very different political campaigns from each of these parties. Both political campaigns were a success resulting in a win for the highest office in the land. But let us understand why and how branding may have played the most important role in determining the future of the country.
So it’s 2008, and an unfamiliar candidate has decided to take his bid at the presidency. We now know him as President Barack Obama. Prior to his run, most political campaign logos and branding were very simple. Stars, stripes, and traditional serif fonts were typically used.
Obama’s logo broke from those traditional norms by creating a visual vision of hope for the future all while using the basic ‘O’ to serve as the foundation of the design. Phonetically, the ‘O’ in Obama is strong which made perfect sense why the designers behind his brand emphasized that letter in the design. Every piece of the design contrasted from Hillary Clinton’s and John McCain’s traditional and more stodgy brand. The difference between the campaign visuals put both Clinton and McCain in the establishment’s corner. Obama’s brand identity served as a disruption to everything there was before. Themes of his logo included:
- ‘O’: represents a sun/hope rising up over the “amber waves of grain”
- Stylized Stripes: symbolizes the American flag and “amber waves of grain”
- Mandala: represents the wholeness and completeness of a cycle amongst a divided world.
By rearranging the expected elements of a flag into a scene resembling a Utopian future, Obama’s logo effectively generated an emotional response of Hope and Optimism. The lighter blue and soft glow brought calm in a time of economic crisis. The accompanying reds and whites reflected on tradition. When Biden’s name was added to the ticket the symmetry and balance of their names in the modified brand evoked Unity, a key campaign vision.
The original font for Obama’ 08 logo was Perpetua which was set in a title case. Eventually the font was changed to Requiem and set in small caps to appear more stable and masculine. But because the logo’s icon could stand on its own, the typography was really secondary. That was, until Gotham was introduced as a headline font as his popularity gained traction. It was a game-changer.
“When the designers for the Obama campaign elected to use Gotham as the primary typeface, something extraordinary happened: its visibility in the public eye skyrocketed. Obama’s campaign had clear messaging and a crisp, clean typeface that was subtly evocative of the past. It contrasted dramatically with the predictable, overused typefaces used by other candidates. Gotham spoke to people’s souls, contributing to the presidential campaign’s recognition as one of the most successful in history.” —– Chris (Senior Graphic Designer)
Beyond the logo, you cannot help to think of Obama’s campaign without recalling the infamous Hope poster. The poster was independently created but later garnered the approval of the official Obama campaign.
Inspired by Social Realism, and a well-known JFK portrait where Kennedy is gazing slightly upward into the distance with confidence, the poster served to inspire. Red, blue and beige represented patriotism, but it’s also been speculated that the use of beige and blue on his face may have been used strategically, as if to say that race doesn’t matter. The poster spread like wildfire and became a key component in the campaign. Other key aspects of the campaign brand included his speeches and books. He was from Chicago, relatable and fresh – and could speak from both sides of the racial divide. Researched and smart – but not an elitist. Obama’s brand countered his lack of experience by framing him as an outsider to Washington – that he was too new and idealistic to be corrupted by politics and money. In regards to channels, his campaign team was the first to use social media in a way no other candidate had used before. Through Facebook, his campaign was able to raise awareness and financial support.
I’ve always followed politics but for the first time in my history I remember people being proud to display campaign swag. He didn’t need to “Get Out the Vote” like the Clinton era because people were willing and inspired. For the first time voters felt they were participating in real change, in history, even. Through branding, Obama had turned a political campaign into a movement.
And that leads me to another equally successful movement that is happening right now. The reelection campaign of President Donald Trump. Much like Obama’s campaign, Trump’s first campaign also came in as a disruption to the status quo. For years prior, Donald Trump was a political talking head and many people aligned with his ideas of his bringing America back to its prime. In 2016, Make America Great Again became the official tagline of the Trump campaign. He took on issues of a silent majority that felt left behind and forgotten. Protecting history, standing up for the flag, patriotic pride and protecting our borders were key points in his campaign. With congress constantly at odds with each other, Trump came in with a mission to disrupt Washington and stop the bullshit. He was a businessman, not a politician. This was the premise of his communication points within his brand.
Already a celebrity, President Trump had a strong start in his bid for presidency. He understood that ANY attention, albeit, negative or positive, WAS attention and all that mattered was getting media time. The 2016 election enlightened many on the impact of earned media. He barely spent any money on traditional advertising compared to his opponents because of this publicity.
“Today’s consumers are influenced greatly by family, friends, and what they read and see online. People no longer share the good, the bad, and the ugly of brands exclusively at the water cooler — they share it with everyone they’re connected with online, which can include hundreds, thousands, or maybe even millions of people.” – Lindsay Kolowich Cox
Trump could literally say anything his heart desired – even if politically incorrect, a gaff, or locker room talk, the media was sharing it and his base was growing more and more each day. To be politically correct was to be elite and part of the establishment, the swamp. And it was Trump’s brand promise to drain it. People couldn’t stop watching. Media was a powerful factor in the Trump campaign’s success.
Like any campaign, Trump’s needed a logo. There were a few reiterations after the first logo was mocked on social media for looking sexually suggestive. The campaign then came out with a new, no-nonsense logo. “You do not need a graphic design house to develop your logo,” quotes Donald Trump. “Ideally, your logo should be unique.”
But the lack of depth communicated more meaning than ever. This is where design matters – even when you undesign; because as much as one might try to show lack of effort – you cannot not communicate. The resulting logo was, well, just fine. Trump and Pence names are locked together in partnership while still eluding to who is the boss by rendering TRUMP in a larger type. Unfortunately, Pence’s name is tracked out to an unpleasant length, making the base appear unstable. To a designer, this logo would be just… meh. But to his growing base, the lack of polish meant everything. Through the Obama years, good design became synonymous with the idea of being disconnected with the hardships of the working class. “Chuck & Nancy…forgot about the Hard-Working American a long time ago,” reads a Trump email. Therefore, a logo that wasn’t too “fancy” communicated strength, and patriotism.
This type of “undesign” rolled right into the Trump campaign’s expanded brand. Unlike Obama’s, there was a lack of consistency as it rolled out. These inconsistencies served as a disruption to the status quo. This time, America was electing a businessman to protect us and stop others from taking advantage of America. To care about design was to be weak. And Trump needed to show he had the strength to stand up for America.
Which leads me to probably the most important asset of the Trump campaign – the MAGA hat. This was a prime example of inconsistency and undesign. The “G”s in the embroidered text don’t match and the use of the Times New Roman font is as basic as you could get. But this was NOT an accident. To-date, the red trucker MAGA hat has been embraced by many. It is loud, it is strong, and reflects the untraditional politics of President Donald Trump. The MAGA hat is probably the most brilliant piece of collateral in any presidential campaign. In terms of design, it’s a graphic designer’s nightmare – from kerning to typography. But that’s the brilliantly hidden point. These were conscience design decisions.
Communication-style is a key component to President Trump’s brand. Notice how he uses simple words in front of a podium. In the age of 15 second TikTok videos, Americans naturally gravitate toward things that are easy to understand. We have a short attention span. So speaking at the same level as Americans helps us feel understood. We have a bias towards shorter words, sentences and paragraphs. People like emotion and drama and don’t want to work to ingest information. By communicating in this style Trump appears more relatable and authentic to his supporters.
The preferred channel President Donald Trump uses for communication is also unconventional to the ways of past presidents. And that is Twitter. By communicating directly to his base via Twitter he is able to bypass the media that helped him to the presidency in the first place. This tactic communicates trust and transparency. By using Twitter as a platform, Trump is always in control of the message and avoids any potentially biased filters from the media. At first, utilizing this channel was deemed very “unpresidential” by the media, but Trump, always being true to himself, doubled-down and stuck with the platform. Twitter has now become synonymous with the Trump brand.
The past four years have seen a following of Trump supporters like no other campaign before it’s time. Whether you love or hate the Trump brand, you cannot deny the power and genius behind it. From boat parades and MAGA rallies to Build the Wall and Lock Her Up chants, Trump’s brand inspires people by communicating its mission both authentically, and unconventionally. America needs to start identifying these characteristics not as flaws but as strengths fueling Trump’s campaign. What he is doing is working and it’s working well.
So there it is. Two successful presidential campaigns from two very different parties that created a movement and following like no other. From simple commodities to political brands, Americans have been buying into design for years – unbeknownst to them. No matter what party you affiliate yourself with – Republican, Democrat, Independent, or even the Birthday Party, you cannot deny the influence of a powerful brand.