January 13, 2012

Branding Politics

How are branding and politics related? Does a political candidate as an individual constitute a brand? Should maintaining a candidate’s brand be at the forefront of campaign strategy? There are mixed reviews from experts in the industry, but in today’s political climate it’s impossible to ignore the importance of a candidate’s logo, slogan and brand identity.

“…getting a politician elected might be the ultimate marketing/branding challenge.” M.B. Moore, Infopop Corporation

Based on the efforts of potential 2012 presidential candidates, it is obvious that branding has become a part of political campaigning, and an important one at that. Political campaigns have all the ingredients necessary to create a brand – every campaign has a name, most have a logo and one would hope that all have a message behind which voters should want to stand. The Obama 2008 campaign may be one of the more successful examples of political branding. Using repetition and simplicity, the iconic logo of the campaign, “really changed the way in which design can be used effectively for a candidate,” says Debbie Millman, president of the design division at Sterling Brands. “He had a really powerful message–that ‘change’ message–and he repeated it over and over and over again. The consistency of that identity was even stronger than the identity itself. He owned the idea of change.”

While Obama’s campaign seems to represent the gold standard of branding strategy, the Republican candidates of the 2012 election fall short of branding success despite their efforts. According to experts in the graphic design industry, “Nobody (in the race for the Republican nomination) is taking the branding seriously,” Millman said in an article published in AdWeek in November. The logos behind the leading candidates lack the inspiring confidence of Obama’s rising sun.

AdWeek ran a piece recently asking creatives to critique the current political logos:

“The ‘R’ is really awkward. It looks like it wants to fall over, without that leg to stand on.” –Karl Gude, graphics editor-in-residence at Michigan State University

“Ron Paul’s identity system rivals Verizon’s for the winner of the busiest logo award. It also looks like a slasher took to the letter ‘A.'” – Debbie Millman, president of the design division at Sterling Brands

“A nice reinterpretation of the Hilton logo. Did they provide him with a swag donation for his campaign?” –DM

“His branding and website look like a banking identity. Is it intentional?” – DM

“It’s sort of nothing. It just looks like a big pill that you take.” – Scott Stowell, founder of the design shop Open

“I’m seeing ‘Rick Sant,’ and then ‘Rum’ on the right. Unless you know Rick Santorum, you wouldn’t know that’s an ‘O.’ You think his name is Rick Sant and he’s into rum.” – KG

In addition to logos, the verbal behind a candidate’s brand is a core part of their campaign success. Mitt Romney has branded himself as the anti-Obama candidate. While this message has gotten him wins in both Iowa and New Hampshire, what happens in November will be the true test of whether this identity proves successful enough to persuade voters to oust a sitting president.

Ron Paul, although not the likely winner of the GOP nomination, provides an interesting case of brand identity. As one of the oldest candidates to ever pursue the presidential office, his message and brand appeal to younger voters for their unorthodox nature and outside-party alignment, proving that with the right message a brand can appeal to unexpected markets.

Contributed by: Christy O’Keefe

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