In Taking Our Country Back, Daniel Kreiss points out that while various aspects of graphic design and strategy are still neglected by political campaigns, a candidate’s logo design is given a great deal more attention. And while logos have certainly been an important part of nearly every presidential campaign in the United States, the logo developed and utilized by the Obama campaign in 2008 changed the visual game.
The Obama logo grew from a methodical effort to make the logo synonymous with the campaign messages of hope, change, and a new America. Kreiss details the creation of the Obama campaign’s New Media Division, and how the department’s staffers overhauled the candidate’s web presence to build a central, all-encompassing branding strategy. The logo was meant to be one component of greater, comprehensive marketing strategy to sell the Obama brand to voters. Logos, according to an Adweek article that takes a closer look at political branding, should be “instantly recognizable, elegant and simple.” The Obama logo passed with flying colors.
One strength of the ‘O’ was its minimalist design. Several advertisers and marketers have pointed to the Obama logo as a victory in simplicity. Everything about the logo was deliberate, but never overdone. The blue O that recalled Obama’s name and a rising sun and the red flag stripes that formed the base horizon contributed to Obama’s dream of the new America he hoped to usher in. The campaign, approaching the logo from a marketing perspective, knew what a graphic designer critiquing the ‘O’ logo pointed out in Adweek: a key to successful advertising is borrowing from past successes to build new successes. They borrowed from tried and true campaign branding, the stars and the stripes, and the red, blue and white, to build their own logo.
The ‘O’ logo became so popular, in fact, that Obama’s name wasn’t even required on the bottom of campaign stickers or other visuals. In a 2008 Newsweek article, graphic designer Andrew Romano compared the success of the Obama logo to the Nike swoosh – the image didn’t need accompanying words. And it was everywhere. In campaign ads, on signs, bumper stickers and podiums, the logo was universally and overwhelmingly consistent. No other political campaign has come close to achieving that kind of visual branding power, though Romano points out that the Bush Campaign’s “W” might run a distant second. The Obama ‘O’ succeeded in recalling Obama’s themes of hope and change without using words or even the candidate’s name, and neither the McCain campaign in 2008 nor the Romney campaign in 2012 has been able to come up with anything as visually evocative. It’s no surprise that the president’s campaign simply reused his 2008 logo for the 2012 presidential campaign.
It could be argued that the Obama logo didn’t bring anything new to the table. Pulling it apart, it’s hard to find something about the logo that’s unique to the Obama campaign It wasn’t groundbreaking or shockingly innovative. But it also didn’t need to be. What the campaign needed to do was find a logo that sold its brand to voters, that inspired recall, was minimalist in design and grand in evocation. And on all those fronts, the ‘O’ succeeded.