Logo Politics and the 2016 US Presidential Election

With the Obama administration having entered the winter of its mandate, the 2016 presidential election now looms large over the political landscape of the United States. And so each party’s nomination machinery has been put in motion with what appears to be an anointing on the Democratic side, while with the Republican nomination up for grabs, we are beginning to witness the now customary mad scramble and parade of hopefuls, from the credible and serious to the fringe to the downright ridiculous.

 With only a few people having declared – many more engaged in exploratory committees – the race has yet to start in earnest. It is not until all the pieces are in place that the real and substantive political discourse will begin. As the declared candidates have yet to lay out their individual platform, the news media and political pundits a playing a waiting game to see who will enter the fray. Media, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and so has found it useful to focus part of their idling time weighing in on the candidates newly minted brand image.

 Ever since a visibly perspiring Richard Nixon lost a nationally televised debate to a relaxed and dashing John F. Kennedy, image-making has been an important aspect of presidential politics. An facet of this “branding” that has received more attention than ever before is the candidates’ campaign logos.

The benchmark in this regard was set by the Obama campaign in 2008. A simple “O” symbolizing hope and “a new day,” and a sun on the horizon as a powerful metaphor for ‘O’bama.

Hillary Clinton’s Campaign logo

In contrast to the Obama campaign logo, Hillary’s 2016 logo dispenses with idealism in favour of a much more pragmatic narrative. The better America the Obama campaign had people “HOPE” for has been largely achieved, no matter the right-wing/Fox News’-fueled rhetoric to the contrary. Forward motion and keeping the momentum is the order of the day and Hillary’s campaign logo speaks of continuity and progress. Whatever you think of the mark, it does not pander to the typical patriotic/bordering on jingoistic sentiments you are likely to see on the right. It is perhaps an unfortunate bi-product of our western cultural bias that progress is symbolized by a left to right motion. This is one potential weakness of the logo but one the campaign should easily overcome.

It is well established that campaign logos follow certain conventions rooted in American patriotic iconography and Hillary’s logo was criticized for its generic-looking, sans-serif plain and uninspiring aesthetic. It’s even been likened to a directional hospital logo.

 The first important choice made by the Clinton campaign team is the use of Hillary’s first name as the primary brand banner. This is a no-brainer in retrospect. For sheer recognition, it is nearly unbeatable. She has figured prominently at or near the top of American consciousness for nearly 25 years. This has the added advantage of softening her image and renders her more accessible and sympathetic, while helping make her distinct from Bill’s legacy. These advantages may soon be rendered somewhat moot however, once the campaign chooses a running mate. Anyone lesser known entering the ticket will likely have to resort to surname recognition, leading to a potentially awkward juxtaposition of first name and surname. But one thing at a time. Suffice to say that no one on the Republican side, not even Rand Paul who made a similar decision for his campaign logo enjoys this type of first name equity except maybe, in a derogatory sense, the “Donald” should he choose to regale us again with his blow hard puffery and tiresome conspiracy rhetoric.  

Now for the Republican hopefuls

 As of the time of this posting three candidates have declared, but many more are expected to follow suite in the next month or so.

 The junior senator from Texas and tea-partier Ted Cruz was the first out off the gates. He chose to wrap his image in the flag, albeit one that seems to be ablaze. Perhaps this is intentional, as the flag of the United States has sometimes symbolically been burned in protest of the policies of the American government, a major ideological platform of the Tea Party, and an act still protected by the 1st amendment pertaining to freedom of speech. Cruz’s logo has been criticized for the reason that it may infer an inappropriate and unpatriotic message. I don’t see it that way. The flame is a symbol of hope and courage and the juxtaposition of the flag and flame is an innocent rather than nefarious one, albeit surely intended to ignite the frenzied passions of Tea Party activists. 

Online, the logo has been likened to the identities of the US Natural Gas Industry, Al-Jezeera and the Onion.

Keeping with the flame theme, Rand Paul, a libertarian who’s views may be more coloured than those of the rest of the Republican field, also chose a flame as his symbol, this time without the accompanying patriotic iconography of stars, stripes, eagles or the likes. The flame is presented as a torch to be carried by any “liberty-loving/government-hating” American citizen; a rather clever approach as the campaign encourages people to “express” their views by leveraging the torch/flame symbol. 

The Rand campaign logo, has been ridiculed online for its similarity to the Tinder.com mark.

Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida carries the hopes and dreams of a disenfranchised Latino population. He sought to turn a potential limitation into an opportunity and broaden his appeal by using a silhouette of the map of the continental United States, dotting the “i” in “Rubio” as the key element of his identity. Also a potentially clever ploy, but one that presents challenges in implementation. Once reduced to the size barely larger than a dot, the outline of the US begins to look like a whale to me. Time to pause for a sip of water Mr. Rubio. It will be interesting to see how this one is played out further along in the campaign, as the contour of the country is a rather unwieldy graphical shape to carry through as a symbol and lacks the simplicity that icons require to be effective.

It is interesting to begin to speculate what the chosen images for Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or Scott Walker will be, should they decide to run, a fact hardly in question at this time. Jeb will have the challenge of distancing himself form his brother’s contentious legacy, while Christie will need to cast a much more sympathetic personality and distance himself form the scandals that have plague his governorship of New Jersey. One thing is for sure, he will stay away from anything having to do with bridge metaphors.

There will be plenty more to see as the 2016 presidential campaign logo race continues. Look out for updates on this in future posts.