It was the fall of my senior year in high school when our marching band was requested to perform at a very important event. On short notice, we loaded all our gear on to buses and took off for a nearby regional airport. Upon arrival, our buses and the members of the band were searched thoroughly by security personnel and our instruments and their cases were laid out on the asphalt while bomb-sniffing dogs and their human partners scanned each one. Given the final “all clear,” we were allowed to get our instruments and move into a hangar where we settled on to a rickety grandstand with seemingly thousands of spectators to await the arrival of the special guest… then President of the United States of America, George Bush. It was 1992 and the day before President Bush would lose the election to Bill Clinton. My memory tells me it was his absolute last campaign stop before returning to the White House, but I’ve never confirmed it. Before Air Force One landed and the President shook hands and gave his speech, campaign representatives patrolled the crowds and made sure everyone had a campaign sign that wanted one. I took one and somehow managed to hold it while I played when the President finally arrived (he was rather late) and when he gave his speech and got everyone excited for “four more years,” I made sure to wave my sign vigorously when appropriate. After the President was safely back aboard Air Force One and I was putting away my instrument, I rolled up my sign and stuck it in the bell of my saxophone before putting it in the case.
Why did I keep it when most of my friends just left theirs on their seats? I guess it was because, even then, I noticed how groups, organizations and companies present themselves to their clients and the public. I also felt the importance of this classic piece of American history. While Presidential branding has certainly become more “corporate” in recent years, it’s always had great importance. Posters have been used to promote candidates since the beginning and, while buttons were popularized more recently – the classic “I Like Ike” buttons in the 1950s – they date back to George Washington as well. Presidential hopefuls have also realized the importance of promotional products. According the 2012 book Presidential Campaign Posters, Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson gave away hickory brooms and canes during the 1828 election, while attaching hickory sticks to wagons, steamboats, and houses—all links to his campaign brand and identity. Hmm… I wonder which vendors he used for those.
Which brings us to this year’s election; how are this year’s candidates promoting themselves? How are they representing themselves visually and how do they want to be perceived by the voters? I’m not a very political person, so I’m going to attempt to present these from a design standpoint and offer my comments on how each candidate’s campaign is using branding to suggest how they want the voters to perceive them, not necessarily how they are actually perceived.
By now, you’ve probably all seen the block “H” with the arrow. This is perhaps one of the most polarizing logos (from a design perspective) of this year’s campaign. Some say it’s simple and clean while others condemn it for being too basic. As a designer, I recognize the simplicity as a good thing as it allows the logo to be easily reproduced at any size. Whether used on a billboard or a favicon (the tiny logo that appears next the web address in your browser) the logo is crisp, clean and doesn’t lose much detail. The colors are red and blue, just like every other candidate’s logo of recent years, and for obvious reasons, but the blue is a shade or two brighter than what you usually see. This could signify her campaign’s wishes to present her as a fresher, brighter alternative to the voting public. The arrow pointing from left to right is a fairly obvious representation of moving forward, but note how the tip of the arrow actually breaks free of the box formed by the “H.” This seems to be the designer’s way of saying that not only will we move forward, but we will break down the traditional boundaries and limits that usually prevent us from doing so.
With a campaign slogan that may become as iconic as the previously-mentioned “I Like Ike,” regardless of the outcome of the election, Mr. Trump’s logo is bold and up-front. He has long been in the public eye and his name is his brand. The TRUMP text in all caps in a bold, sans-serif font speaks to the bold and unabashed image he wants to portray. Also note the lack of any embellishment – no arrow, star or American flag element in sight. This could speak to his campaign’s desire to represent Mr. Trump as a candidate where “what you see is what you get.” There’s nothing hidden or added. He’s Trump so you know what you’re going to get. His brand colors are also red and blue, but the blue is a bit more standard, darker blue which could be seen as representing the boldness and strength of the candidate. Lastly, the slogan – “Make American Great Again!” His campaign has so closely integrated the slogan to the logo, that I can’t think of a time where I’ve seen the two of them apart. Oh wait, yes I can – the hat. The red ball cap with the embroidered slogan has become a true icon of his campaign that may have impact beyond the election.
So, there it is; my comments on the branding for the remaining candidates in this year’s American Presidential election. As an example of the lasting impression Presidential branding can have, I still have that “Bush/Quayle ‘92” sign and know exactly where it is. It’s in a box under my bed with my authentic Batman (1989) movie poster and original art Lord of the Rings posters.