The Roots of Political Branding


The Roots of Political Branding

Wednesday November 18th, 2015 by Extensis

Our candidates are living in the wake of a political branding revolution. Most everyone is attempting to emulate the powerful simplicity of Obama’s brand strategy after he changed the game forever. Sadly, it seems like no one really hit the mark this time around.

The Roots of Political Branding
Most everyone is attempting to emulate the powerful simplicity of Obama’s brand strategy after he changed the game forever.


The Bipartisan Problem

“’Better never works in marketing.” Claims the author of an article published by AdAge back in 2008. “The only thing that works in marketing is ‘different.’ When you’re different, you can pre-empt the concept in consumers’ minds so your competitors can never take it away from you.”

And thus we circle back to the real problem. Contemporary politico branding is a whole slew of me-too and one-uppers. What departed from rich roots, hand lettering, and frontier-pushing uses of tintype and metal stamping has evolved into system fonts and unnecessary exclamation points.

The Roots of Political Branding
George Washington’s campaign materials included brass stamped buttons. Abe Lincoln used tintype medals with a presidential portrait.


A Long, Long Time Ago

Did you know that political buttons can be found as far back as the time of George Washington? His campaign was full of brass stamped buttons and hand-painted portraits meant to be sewn into clothing. That’s dedication.

Truthfully though, political campaigning was just the icing on the cake until 1828 when popular vote finally overrode the small group of rich, land-owning men that had decided who stayed and who got the boot before then.


And Then Abe Said,…

…Let there be wearable campaign memorabilia!

The seed of design-conscious campaign material was planted during Abe Lincoln’s 1860 race against Stephen Douglas, John C. Breckinridge and John Bell in the form of ribbons and tintype medals. The true roots of campaign branding emerged here with slogans, crests, and consciously crafted materials aimed at evoking specific sentiments.

The Roots of Political Branding; Ike dress
We finally arrive to true typographical decision making in political campaigning in the mid-1950s with advances in lithographic printing (cue Eisenhower plastering the entire country with “I Like Ike” in the form of kerchiefs, buttons, dresses, and even body art).

Eisenhower won in a landslide, and some attest that it was due to his superior branding. Either way, being the first candidate to have a television presence was monumental. It helped that Irving Berlin wrote his campaign song and Walt Disney Studios produced it.


If it’s Not on the Internet, We Won’t Vote For It

Flash-forward to Obama and his campaign brand elements that rocked the electorates’ perceptions and allowed the larger design community a sigh of relief.

Strong, unfussy, trustworthy Gotham entered the scene. Paired with the now iconic “HOPE” poster designed by Shepard Fairey, and punctuated with a solid logo, Obama elevated his self-branding leagues above his opponents.

While the road to developing his logo was no easy feat, explains Sol Sender of VSA Partners who led a design team for the ’08 logo project, it proved to be another unshakable and game-changing brand attribute that left all of his opponents eager to hop on the ‘me-too’ bandwagon.

The Roots of Political Branding; Unseleted Obama logos
Obama logo ideas that weren’t chosen


Hillz, Rubio, and the Flatline

Recently, we published an article entitled Political Campaign Logos & the Designers Who Hate Them. The title speaks for itself. The exciting thing here, aside from the fact that we have a wealth of new design blunders to talk crap about on Twitter, is that the discussion has been opened up.

Politicians are becoming much more attune to the importance of self-branding and of maintaining is across all platforms. Is it trending in the right direction? What say you?

Drop us a comment below or join in the conversation on Twitter (#PoliticalBranding). We’d love to hear from you.