US Political Branding

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Everyone has been watching the elections, but no one so much as logo designers. That is because this year brings not one or two, but three completely new political party logos. Clearly politicians are pulling out all of the stops when it comes to influencing voter behavior, but which logo design will win?

The first new logo is that of the Republican Party. It is red in keeping with traditional colors used to represent the parties. Instead of using the word ‘Republican’, this logo uses the traditional nickname ‘GOP’. The elephant that has represented the party for decades is an integral part of the logo, formed from negative space in the middle letter. This is a simple, memorable logo design, but what does it say about the Republicans?

First, the logo is highly traditional. In fact, it is impossible to explain the logo—or the party—without using that word. However, this sense of tradition and continuity may be a drawback. Does anyone really remember how the party came to be called the Grand Old Party? Do they really want people to think of them as the geriatric choice? And what’s up with the elephant? This logo design emphasizes aspects of the party reputation that they should be leaving in the past where they belong.

The Democratic Party has a simpler image, although no less meaningful. A thick D sits inside a circle, which is a shape that usually gives a sense of unity and inclusiveness. Blue is the Democratic Party’s traditional color, so no other scheme would do. However, instead of a traditional blue, we see two different modern blues, both of which are calming and relaxing. This logo design has undergone a certain amount of criticism—the image looks a lot like the ‘Overdrive’ icon in a car and also could be taken as a poor grade in school. It could even be taken as a target, a symbol that may feel a little close to home right now. On the other hand, this is a progressive symbol that appropriately expresses one of the most important values of the party. The circle further gives an impression of tolerance, another important value.

Last, we have a relative newcomer to the political scene: The Tea Party. Like any successful political party, they have a logo design that expresses their unique position. First, the logo is in the shape of a shield, which is significant as this party aims to protect traditional values. The stars and stripes are evident here as well, while they were conspicuously absent from the other two major parties’ logo. The flag is draped around the shield in a way that communicates movement. This logo is a little cliché, but it’s a good first logo for a brand new party that hasn’t quite developed the image or the clear direction that the other two have had the time to create. We’ll look forward to seeing how this and other political parties change over the next few years and how their logos and visual identities reflect this.

Sarah Palin Running for President… of Alaska?

Didn’t we just have a Presidential election? It seems like just yesterday, and yet candidates are already revving up for the 2012 battle. This means extreme marketing and publicity—you can’t turn on the television anymore without seeing a Presidential hopeful—and it also means we get to write about political logo design once again.

The latest political logo to hit the public is that of Republican/Tea Party hopeful Sarah Palin. We are going to leave our political beliefs on the sidelines and look purely at the design. It features the background of a flag, overlaid with somber blue tones, and the shape of the United States overlaid with the silhouette of the candidate’s home state, Alaska.

Instead of something direct like “Sarah Palin for President 2012”, the logo uses the shorthand term SarahPAC. The letters are pointy and authoritarian with the PAC letters bolder than the first name of the candidate. This is a diversion from the usual serif-laden, official-feeling fonts seen in other campaigns. It is a little friendlier and less formal, which is likely the image that Palin is trying to project.

The flag image is a little… obvious. However, the shape of Alaska is more unexpected. We suppose that this is an attempt at showing how vast the state of Alaska is; remember that Palin’s ability to govern on a national level was questioned in the last election. However, it may be too regional for a national audience. After all, she is not running for President of Alaska. It seems silly to put the United States in the background, which is where the darker colors place it in the eye of the beholder.

This is not the logo design of a candidate running for a national office. It says nothing about Sarah Palin, except the informal message given by the lettering. If this is representative of Palin’s 2012 campaign, she just may get stomped by another Republican hopeful, one that purports to represent the entire country and not just a sparsely populated home state.

Compare this to the logo of fellow Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Again, leave your politics aside, and leave the fact that the R looks like Aquafresh toothpaste aside as well. With serifs and general American themes, Romney’s logo design feels more Presidential. It is serious and gray, without any reference to the candidate’s smaller but more politically significant home state of Massachusetts.

No one votes based solely on a logo—at least we hope not. Even the most design-oriented among us base our political selections on more than a single image. However, the moderate swing vote is a major part of every Presidential election. Palin needs to start gathering support from this critical group with marketing. Her SarahPAC logo design will not stand up to this lofty purpose. It is distinctly local and seems to cry out that she wants to stay in Alaska.

If Palin does not get a new logo that proclaims her intentions to represent the entire country, that wish just might be granted.

Can Politics Kill a Brand?

Business owners are people first and foremost. You are more than your logo design and branding, more than your profit and loss sheets. You have a personal life, and you probably have strong religious and political beliefs as part of that life. You bring these beliefs with you into the workplace. However, at what point can politics in business be too much? Can politics kill a brand?

We are asking this question now because a major corporation, Dole, is attaching their company publically to the far right of the political spectrum. Dole recently attended the RightOnline conference and was one of the major sponsors. In addition, one of the company’s executives gave a talk that identified her as a representative of the Dole brand and criticized some of the President’s policies. To give you an idea of the ideology of the event, speakers included Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann.

So, can politics kill a brand? Last summer, superstore Target almost was the subject of a huge boycott after funding an anti-gay rights candidate. The left wing organizations HRC and MoveOn.org publically criticized the retailer, and the publicity came very inauspiciously at a time when the retailer was planning to expand their presence in gay rights friendly San Francisco, CA. While it did not kill Target, it certainly was not the type of publicity that the Target corporation wanted during their busy Back-to-School season. It probably cost the business in profits and compromised their expansion plans.

Dole is not merely sponsoring a few pet causes; they seem to be embracing a right wing identity for their brand. They were the only ‘consumer products’ sponsor of the conference. In addition, they are a sponsor of the Christian groupFocus on the Family and even have been a corporate partner in contest run by the nonprofit group. There is also a libertarian slant to certain areas of the website dealing with the economics of food.

You don’t cease to be human just because you are the head of a brand. You are still entitled to have political opinions and to make political donations. However, you have to be cognizant of the fact that many of your customers, about half of them in most cases, will disagree with you. In a nation that is more polarized than ever, many people will in fact avoid doing business with a corporation that gives money to causes they find distasteful. In fact, you have probably made similar consumer decisions.

Polarizing groups are, well, polarizing. You may gain some new brand fans, but you will likely lose just as many. Also, even people who agree with your political beliefs may find politics a personal and uncomfortable subject and avoid your business as a result. In general, mixing politics with business is not a wise decision when it comes to branding or profit. You will lose more than you gain from the situation. Don’t let your brand develop unpleasant connotations in the eyes of your customers; instead, keep polarizing subjects as far away from your business as possible.

US Department of the Interior Trend

Government logos are rarely impressive, or even adequate, but the logo for the United States Department of the Interior is downright atrocious. Designed to look like a seal, the logo design features the date that the department was begun (we already knew it was old!) and a buffalo standing in front of blue mountains and a glowing sunset. Could it get any worse?

The US Department of the Interior seems to be betting that the logo truly could not get worse. From the colors to the image, every element seems almost randomly chosen. The department obviously needs a new logo. However, instead of turning to a design professional, the bureaucracy is instead crowdsourcing the design.

Crowdsourcing is somewhat of a trend right now, an unfortunate trend that is lowering the standards of logo design by the hour. It is even more unfortunate when you consider that a good, professional logo design could usually be bought for even less money. In this case, the government agency plans to award a large sum of money to the winner. This money would be better spent in actually purchasing a professional logo. It could only get worse if the government decided to let citizens vote for their favorite from a number of finalists, which is fortunately not happening.

This logo may be no worse than its predecessor, but we predict that it will come and go quickly. While the old logo is not a beautiful specimen, it is similar to the old seal-type logos that are often seen in government agency logos. The buffalo makes little sense, but it is not completely random; most of us associate the animal with Midwestern America, which is certainly the ‘interior’. The new logo? Who knows what it will represent. If it is like many logos created in the same manner, it will be hastily created by someone will little experience in the field.

Not only does crowdsourcing add to the total design bill while lowering the quality of the product, it asks designers that are not winners (the majority, that is) to work for free. In a democratic nation that is currently in the midst of a recession, this is a bad choice—almost unforgivable. When you add in the fact that many designers in crowdsourcing sites are from third world countries, the political situation gets even more precarious. Crowdsourcing was, plain and simple, a bad choice for this logo, even more so than usual.

The end logo design will probably not be a good representative of this government agency, and that is truly unfortunate. Unfortunately, the real tragedy will be the numerous designers who are exploited in the making of the logo. Hopefully, awareness of the dangers of crowdsourcing will increase so we don’t see more government agencies turning to underpaid amateurs for the logo designs and images designed to represent them. There is no reason that the prize could not have been used to pay a qualified designer, with a better product and a less exploitative process.

New Democratic Party Logo Gets Mixed Reviews

What is an organization to do when they are failing to connect with their customer base? The choice is clear: to change the way they do business or change the way they present themselves. Often a rebrand and a fresh new logo is all it takes for a business to achieve success. The Democratic Party is hoping that this is all it takes to maintain control of the United States government, but their new logo may not fit the bill.

Getting rid of the donkey was a good idea, and almost any design would be an improvement. With ‘ass’ a popular synonym for donkey, this stubborn and contrary image was not doing this political party any favors. However, it would be easy to see the new logo as a big fat zero—literally.

It’s easy to see where they are coming from. Blue is a calming, trustworthy, and traditional color, one seen notably in the American flag. The predominance of blue in this logo seems to suggest that the party is looking for a traditional image. It also is a color that has been associated with the party for quite some time, as seen in the phrase ‘blue state’. There is no reason to get rid of elements that work especially if they, like this color, are an indelible part of the party brand. The use of a circle creates a friendly and inclusive image that is likely just what the party leaders want as well. We can all agree that the elements of this logo design are good, but there are a few issues with the execution.

First, the circle looks suspiciously like a zero. Does that represent their score? The amount they have done to stop or slow the growing economic woes of the nation? Indeed, this aspect of the logo design looks like it was designed by a Republican to represent complaints against the Democratic Party. Not exactly the logo they were looking for, we think.

Second, the way the O wraps around the D could be seen as the initials ‘OD’. We’re sure they didn’t intend to suggest that Americans are overdosing on party ideals… again, this looks almost like it was designed by a political enemy and not a paid consultant who is on their side.

There are a few elements of this logo that work. The wording uses the more familiar ‘Democrats’ instead of ‘Democratic Party’, which is friendlier and more familiar. This is likely the feeling that the party wants to communicate. The logo also includes the use of a tagline, which helps to set the party apart from its competition. The leaders and designers did an excellent job of choosing a phrase that expresses their ideals and intentions. If the image did a better job of doing so, we would have no trouble declaring this logo design a resounding winner.

This logo design may not be what the Democrats need to tip the increasingly even scales this November. Can the party rally around this design and turn into something of its own? Or will this logo always feel like a mishmash of symbols that don’t quite fit? Only the next few months will tell.