Monday, February 18, 2008

Who Has the Most Presidential Logo?

Why is corporate America quick to embrace corporate identity as a brand builder? Because they know a strong identity helps build and maintain a strong brand, and brands means money. Political campaigns aren't corporations, but they are ALL about branding. The best candidate will likely win in spite of whatever logo identity has been cooked up for them. But what if the presidential race were based on the candidate's logos?

When I was thinking about this, I was sure that Obama would lead the pack as the candidate most likely to be elected because of their logo. But after looking at and thinking about the four frontrunners; Clinton, Huckabee, McCain and Obama, I have come to a different conclusion. I'll start with the worst:

4. ) Mike Huckabee has by far the weakest identity of the four remaining candidates. The logo doesn't display confidence. It has too many elements and colors that make it appear to be trying too hard. He's the only candidate who has to remind us of his first name and that he is running for PRESIDENT. It looks as though he is running for Little Rock School Board, and not President of the United States.

3.) John McCain's logo is very strong. If George Patton were running for president this is what his logo would look like. It screams military. Not that military is bad, but it's a reminder of McCain's persona as a war hero and strong war supporter. The font is even the same one used to engrave the names on the Vietnam Veteran Memorial wall. It makes me think of big business--specifically defense contractor.

2.) Obama's identity is refreshing. For a presidential campaign, this one goes out on a limb and creates the impression of something new on the horizon (though the stripes are slightly reminiscent of the Bank of America logo). It stays safe with the conservative serif typeface and red and blue colors. It seems silly that they have included "08" as though people wouldn't know which presidential election he is running in. One could easily describe it as idealistic. This is not a bad thing, but unfortunately, it's too light to be seen as presidential.

1.) Hillary Clinton's logo is simple, strong and the most universally appealing. While not groundbreaking in its design, it uses proven elements: stars and stripes. Interesting use of three stars; a third term for the Clintons? It has a no-nonsense appeal shouting "Hillary" in a traditional, bold serif typeface. I would rate this identity as the "most presidential."

A Warning From the Past

Let's hope that the nominees don't make the mistake John Kerry made in 2004. The Kerry campaign started with one of the strongest logos seen in any race. But for some reason--probably a rush decision by a campaign aide--it was changed to a very generic treatment at the announcement of John Edwards joining the ticket. One story is that the campaign plane had to be repainted overnight--without letting anyone know about the Edwards announcement. Did it matter?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Branding? You Don't Know Jack!

Jack was an executive in an organization for whom I once worked early in my career. Jack was extremely busy, but there was something he always found time for. Every piece of print collateral -- from note cards to full page New York Times ads had to be approved by him. This was in the days before art was prepared digitally, so carefully marked up mechanical boards had to be taken to his office before they went to the printer. Jack read every word. No deviation from the organization's logo, tagline and colors escaped his red pen. In those days, changes weren't as easy, or as fast to make as they are now, but Jack would make them and he never compromised.

Jack wasn't a public affairs or communications guy, but what he understood deeply about his organization's message and its face to the world can be summed up in one word: consistency. I didn't fully appreciate his value at the time, but Jack with his obsession with details and consistency, was a brand steward. This is a rare thing to find in a Washington organization today -- and even more rare then.

One of the comments we hear from clients a lot is that "our materials don't look like they came from the same place." When you lay all of their publications and communications on the table, it's true. Typically you're looking at a lot of very nicely designed pieces but with little cohesion among them. Decisions have been made by department heads, short sighted communications directors, and worst of all, designers. I say this not to disparage the profession I have built a business on, but because designers are trained to make design decisions, not brand decisions. The scenario starts with "we need a brochure, get us a designer." There may be a graphics standards, but its usually pulled out at the last minute and handed over with a "see-what-we-can-get-away-with" wink. So a piece gets designed, printed and distributed -- independent of whatever else is going on in the organization. The result may be pleasing and a beautiful design, but often not the right design.

Unfortunately, many organizations identities are subject to the whims of whomever happens to be working on them at the moment. This can be an ego boost for the individual who wants to put his/her stamp on the organization, and fun for the designer who needs a cool piece for their portfolio. But it's deadly to the organization's brand because it usually sends disconnected, conflicting, or just plain wrong messages.

Imagine new staff at Starbucks' corporate office deciding to do "something different." Change the corporate colors, add a photo behind that plain logo, change "grande" to "large" ... just because. How long would they last? About as long as it takes to slip that sleeve on your mocha latte. Is this because Starbucks doesn't value design? No. It's because they do value design. But it has to be the RIGHT design -- and design aligned with their message. It's amazing that something that would never happen in corporate America happens daily at hundreds of Washington organizations run by very smart people.

Things are getting better. People are in general more savvy about the value of branding for their organizations, and the role that design plays. Change has to come from those with the biggest stake -- the people at the top. They're the ones who'll be left to look at the table of stuff that "doesn't look like it came from the same place" long after the staff have moved on.

Copyright 2008, Bremmer & Goris Communications, Inc.