Friday, May 16, 2008

Branding the Candidate

A good e-friend of mine, and fine progressive writer/blogger, Nancy Scola put together a few pieces some time back about the branding of the Obama campaign and the sophisticated understanding of graphic art, fonts, and even the employment of folk art in building a movement. The pieces are excellent and show precisely how tight the Obama campaign is when compared to the Clinton and McCain efforts.

In the spirit of her work, I thought I'd put a few examples of the campaign art that's been out there this cycle and offer a few comments.

Mike Huckabee

It almost looks like the person who designed this sign had no sense of graphic arts at all. You get the vague Coca-Cola symbolism of the red and white flourish through the center of the sign, but the jumbled up letters that spell out "Huckabee" couldn't look worse. With all those different heights and crooks in the letters you have to kern out the font a bit more and let it breathe. Also, the yellow makes you feel like this sign has coffee and tobacco stained teeth or something. It's not clean, it doesn't evoke anything except local goober, and fails in almost every measurable way. He probably should have just put up a cross with the word "Mike" in the horizontal and "Huckabee" in the vertical and done away with the charade that he had a chance with anyone except Evangelicals.

Mitt Romney

This is actually a fairly well designed layout. It works on signs and it translates well to goods. The color scheme is standard, but the clever merging of the eagle and the banner in white and red make for a good flourish element that catches the eye without dominating the name. Romney definitely benefits from having a Roman looking name with large, wide letters that balance out nicely while projecting strength. The overall look of his signage is probably just what he wanted, corporate. He ran as a CEO-type candidate with the background to boldly fix the economy and the corporate branding style that he chose is bold, but safe. I guess it didn't work out for him in the end, but we might just see some variation on this theme again in 2012 after McCain is defeated.

Ron Paul

Wow. That's a lot of words in a small space. Too many, in fact. The main problem, as I see it, is the "PRESIDENT '08" line. All caps, smashed into a subordinate position between the only pertinent information you need. The brilliance of this sign, and perhaps the biggest reason Paul has remained in the race raising money and drawing votes is the website. He gets it. There was no chance for Paul to overcome the big name rivals in the campaign, or their money, but he found a way by using the internet. He understood the direction this whole act of democracy has taken and embraced it. The sign itself does nothing for me. It's mundane, uninspiring, and has no message save the internet....which is the key to it's genius. Too bad that's all he's had going for him as he's been largely drowned out. One interesting note, the star graphic in the middle is the same one the McCain campaign is using in their sign. See below:

Rudy Giuliani

This is one variation on the Rudy campaign's signage. The design actually fits the man. His first name in GIGANTIC letters with little space for anything else. I'm shocked that 9/11 isn't visible on the sign somewhere, although it might be subliminal. Despite the boring design and lack of elements other than his name, it accomplishes two things. It brands him as a familiar person (on a first name basis) and it gets the website out there. At least he understood that much. The problem is, no one saw this except Floridians since his people conveniently thought he could camp out down there and wait for something to happen.

John McCain

This is a bumper sticker for the McCain campaign. Oddly unpatriotic color scheme for a guy who is going to have to win this thing by making Obama look unpatriotic in contrast to his military service. I suppose this does evoke some kind of regal, naval imagery, but it also looks very slapped together. It looks like it took a couple of interns a day or two to settle on a font and a piece of clip art to throw in. It works if you hope to play up your Navy pilot background, but this election is about a lot more than that. This is a dynamic election and this says "status quo". In defense of the design, it's clean and the font is a very corporate, proud looking design. It has the requisite website URL, although it's unclear that any of McCain's supporters actually know how to use the "internets" since he is lagging FAR behind his Democratic rivals in cash on hand.

Joe Biden
I actually like this design a little. It's very traditional in the sense that the name is on top in big letters and the office and year are below. There's a little star for effect to punctuate the point of the campaign, but it stays simple. In the small format you see above, it's less effective since it doesn't have the opportunity to dominate anything in context. It fails in that it's a white background on a white field here. It looks fragile. In a different context, on a bolder, darker background it pops and brightens up the atmosphere. It's not a great piece of branding, but it can work. It has no URL though, and I'm not exactly sure what it says about Biden, who is an outspoken and tough nosed candidate.

Bill Richardson

Here's the Bill Richardson candidacy announcement photo. There are several strikes going against the man from the very start. His name is very long and it has to fit in this limited space. The design team does a good job of working the space issue out and finds room for both a flourish element and the URL. The problem is, the URL is ridiculously long and junks up the entire lower portion of the sign. The flourish is clip artish and makes the effort look amateurish. The blue field is probably an accurate account of the US flag, but looks a bit 1970s. He could have gone with a more updated look in the font choice, the artwork, and the branding via URL. Also worthy of mention is that his chin looks stronger with the goatee he wore after dropping out and added a kind of Washington outsider edge that would have worked to his benefit in the large field of candidates he faced.

Dennis Kucinich

Rather than put up a Kucinich sign here, I thought this piece of folk art would do better. It's an example of the new trend among Democratic voters and their candidates where individuals with skills in design put out artwork in support of their favored pol. It ALWAYS works better than the corporate looking stuff and appeals to a new breed of American accustomed to marketing trends and target advertising. I like this effort from PJ Chmiel a lot. Check out more of his Kucinich work at his website.

John Edwards
Oh John. Where to begin? I was a supporter at one time and I can appreciate the effort here. Modern font. Gradated star flourish. Simple layout. Then again, no URL, washed out colors, ambiguous white background. Grey? This is boring, uninspiring, uninspired, and just plain awful. You were running for the highest office in the land. You were running to be the leader of the free world. I know this is a departure and a bold step away from the controlled, corporate design of the other candidates, but it is blah. The Kucinich folk art is a bold move. This is a mess.

Hillary Clinton

Hmmm... Good use of the first name (see: Giuliani). Good flag flourish. URL is visible. Not bad. The serif font is a bit hokey, but it can be forgiven. It looks much worse for it's juxtaposition with the URL font, which is cleaner and more professional looking. This is a good, safe sign. It's corporate. It's establishment. It's patriotic. It's experience. Too bad this election is about change. It's about moving to the future. This sign says neither of those things. It's the sign of an establishment person, albeit it a competent and safe bet. It would seem that among the three main Democratic contenders, Clinton's is more expressive and effective regarding her message than John Edwards, but is far too "been there, done that" in comparison to Obama's design. Not to jump the gun, but the Obama signage and folk art are so inspiring and provide such a sense of newness, that this good sign loses its impact. In an attempt to jazz up the image, the Clinton people just released a piece of folk art.

I think this is a little sad actually. After mismanaging a campaign and its branding for 95% of the primary season, the Clinton people are rolling out a piece of folk art this contrived well beyond its expiration date. Folk art has to feel grassroots and it has to feel rebellious. Che Guevara art is the prime example of this. The Obama folk art has a kind of grassroots appeal that works with his message of "Yes. We. Can." The "we" aspect of the Obama campaign is what makes it amenable to a folk art element. This is just a lame attempt to show that "she can do it too" and smacks of regret. The red radials in this piece have been compared to Maoist layouts, something I'm sure the Clinton people aren't looking to do. The high contrast two-tone photo of Hillary is nice, but she looks nothing like that in 2008. Her hair hasn't been done that way in years. She's looking back to the left, which signifies the past. It's just a mess.

Barack Obama

This just feels right. I'm biased as a supporter, but the logo is original, patriotic, and serves to brand the entire campaign. It can be repeated in millions of iterations while maintaining its identity via the O and the flag. The font is light, but bold and the URL is visible without dominating the lower part of the sign. Great balance. It also works with a blue background in reverse.

This bit of signage, in addition to the "O" logo, is brilliant. The gotham font is forward looking and says "GQ" (since that's who commissioned it in the first place). It generates a message without using his name. It looks great in a crowd and reinforces the slogan of the campaign en masse. The URL is still visible.

To my knowledge, this is the first piece of folk art that was created for the campaign. It was put together by the "Obey" people of Andre the Giant fame. Sleek, clean, patriotic, and highly effective as a mural.

I like this one a lot too. It plays with contour the same way the first piece does, but in a much crisper way. The "Obey" people went soft, while this piece by The Mac goes a bit more sharp. He's looking forward to the future again in this piece, while you remember that Clinton was looking left to the past.

I found this piece by artist Rob Kelly while I was looking for the "Obey" piece and I like it a lot. Kelly's style eliminates contours and favors primary shapes and colors a lot.

I love that someone made Nike Air Obamas. That's folk art at its best. There are a lot of other less well known Obama pieces out there that are either local or less mass produced, but it's interesting how this phenomenon plays out alongside the very grassroots fundraising that has marked the Obama campaign. If you know of any other folk art pieces from any of the candidates above, pass them along. I love this stuff.

1 comment:

mike's spot said...

The Rob Kelly piece looks washed out. needed something else to break up the face I think.