A New Standard in Campaign Branding
March 7, 2019
As 2020 presidential bids begin heating up and ads fill the airwaves and flood our social feeds, I’ve noticed some new and interesting trends in campaign design. Traditionally fueled by red, white and blue, the principles of design and color have not been a priority for politicians, even those running for the highest office in the land.
The 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign, and it’s ubiquitous branding set a new standard for design-driven campaign marketing. It was seemingly everywhere, from yard signs to online ads to TV spots. It was part of a new way of conducting a political campaign in the digital world.
The branding choices of a recent crop of female candidates are shaking up the status quo. Beyond running (and winning) in record numbers, these women are showing there are possibilities with bold, nontraditional colors. The confidence to deviate from the traditional path sheds light on their character and distinguishes them from often crowded fields. On the trail, women are showing the diversity and sense of power fueling their campaigns through their branding and marketing. They stand for something different. It’s no longer about fitting in but standing out.
It will be interesting to see how this format translates to large-scale presidential campaigns. Currently, I find myself in a Goldilocks predicament – some campaigns have too much pizazz, while some offer too little.Kamala Harris has a notable campaign. The color choices are drastically different. Showing purple, desaturated rust and a milky yellow are far from the red, white and blue we’re accustomed. The yellow is reminiscent of the colors chosen by Shirley Chisholm, who made history in 1972 as the first African American to run for a major party’s nomination for president. These colors celebrate her heritage as a multiracial American. Her tagline “For the People,” is integrated into the logo, eluding to her days as a prosecutor. The clustered bold sans serif font creates a strong seal-like feel: she’s giving her stamp of approval. All credit to being unique, memorable and well designed, I am wondering how this will hold up as a presidential campaign. The color palette is in line with the AOC propaganda-feel, but is it a presidential campaign, or an ad for a movie or a music festival? That said, her communication is authentic and the contrast with her contenders leaves an impression. Elizabeth Warren has come out of the gate using a rich navy blue with pops of mint green and red. On her signage, she also uses a Hilary Clinton-esque blue that interchanges with the navy which supports the red, white and blue tradition. Her digital space is thoughtfully designed with interactive elements that carry her design system across platforms. I find it clever to have the design flexibility of both patriotism and nontraditional elements under one umbrella. Kirsten Gillibrand’s color choices contain hot pink, dark navy and black. Standing out may be an imperative tool while campaigning, but I fear America may not be ready for hot pink in politics. Even though it’s more like Trade Gothic than Franklin Gothic, the colors she chose remind me of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Tulsi Gabbard altered the traditional red, white and blue hues, but they’re still the foundation of her brand. She introduced a radiant orange gradient to symbolize her home state of Hawaii that also supports her slogan of “a bright future.” It gives visual thought that she is rising, the glimmer of hope America needs. Additionally, it builds on patriotism and her career in the military. Compared to her contenders’ vibrant presence, it seems she’s played it safe, but she included thoughtful elements to elevate her campaign and convey the personalized elements that tell her story.
This Fast Company article sums up graphic designer Michael Beirut’s thinking on why they fell short with Hillary campaign: “It wasn’t in the design of the logo or the systematic execution of the branding…it was a fundamental misunderstanding of the political climate of a country for which red trucker hats resonated more deeply than a carefully orchestrated design campaign modeled after corporate identity systems.”
In short, many voters are skeptical of politicians who seem too branded. Self-promotion is important for all candidates but being mindful of the audience is also key. As a graphic designer I can appreciate a well thought out brand system, but it makes me wonder, is America ready for this drastic change? We need brave bold leadership that celebrates diversity as our country evolves. The use of bold and innovative design by the campaigns will be a clear sign of that evolution.
March 7, 2019