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Branding Presidential Candidates — the McCain and Obama Campaigns

Friday, October 31st 2008 4:18pm

With the 2008 American President election day being around the corner, I thought I would take the time to study the design around both major party nominees.

Whoops. Mmmmmmm.... salty tater chips.....

Greeted by a running video and that "Stand up and fight with me" red box on the top right, I suddenly realize how blue this Republican candidate is. This is just a splash page but it does what splash pages do : getting content that matters most to the viewer efficiently and setting the tone for following pages. In the Boston Globe article" What Font Says Change", Sam Berlow and Cyrus Highsmith had this to say —

McCain uses type that is a perfect compromise between a sans and a serif, what type geeks call a "flared sans." Not quite sans and not quite serif, sort of in between, moderate, not too far in either direction. The strokes have contrast between the thick and thin, creating the feeling that the ends are going to have cute little serifs, but they just flare out a little, not forming actual serifs but wanting to. The military star centered and shadowed is a not-so-subtle touch. And McCain just says "President," as if to say he's already been elected. Everything about this logo says you can buy a car from this man. From the perfectly centered star to the perfectly spaced type, the entire design looks like a high-end real estate company. McCain has done something no other candidate has done, he uses all blue, no red - not even a dash.

The McCain typeface is Optima, designed by German typeface designer Hermann Zapf in 1958. It was also used for the 58,256 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The McCain logo itself uses a heavy variation.

Moving on to the main page, we will see an advanced use of screen real estate, white & blue as well as another video. Scrolling down, you'll find the Photos of the Week, an elegant javascript pop-out script.

And by visiting you can create your own custom John McCain logo banner —'s splash page manages to make blue both warm and welcoming. It features the Obama family rather than the candidate by himself. The emphasis is on joining the mailing list with the 'skip signup' button a mere watermark on the bottom right. Can you see the alignment issues the page has with a couple boxes? They are both off by a single pixel horizontally. The screenshot was made using Firefox 3, I didn't check it out on Internet Explorer or them other WebKit browsers.

The Obama brand utilizes two separate fonts. The "Obama '08" and "Obama Biden" monikers are done with Requiem, an old style serif typeface designed by Jonathan Hoefler in 1992 inspired from a set of inscriptional capitals found in Ludovico Vicentino degli Arrighi's 1523 writing manual, Il Modo de Temperare le Penne. The rest of the campaign's messages come in all-caps Gotham. Originally commissioned for GQ Magazine, Gotham was developed by Tobias Frere-Jones in 2000 inspired by building signage designed by engineers and architects of New York City in the 1930's. It was used on the cornerstone of the Freedom Tower and there is an outtake from Gary Hustwit's 2007 documentary "Helvetica" about it.

But the strongest element of the Obama brand is a logo transcending type all together. This simple emblem interweaves both primal human and American symbolism. The circle represents the cycles of time, stripes of the flag create a horizon for a passing celestial body : signs of competent marketing. Some even say genius. Sol Sender, President of Sender LLC, stated "...we had the whole team over here on the logo [..] Also, it’s the Obama campaign team that has done some wonderful work rolling it out and developing new iterations."

Patrick Ruffini wrote

The logo itself is a good jumping off point. The typical Presidential campaign logo usually features some variant of the stars and stripes. Beyond patriotism, they have no message. They are pretty much interchangeable between Republicans and Democrats.

Obama’s logo rearranges these patriotic elements into an emblem that distills his message to the core: the hope of the sun rising [or, Republicans, is it setting?] over amber waves of grain, with the novelty of the candidate’s unusual last name reinforced in an “O”. Unlike virtually every political logo in history, this one doesn’t shy away from the glows and gradients meant to give modern corporate logos realism and depth. And like good corporate logos, this logomark can be disaggregated from the candidate’s name, in the same way that the swoosh instantly screams “Nike” or the circular logos of BMW and Mercedes spark instant associations with affluence and prestige.

The logo shown below was short-lived, criticized for being too alike the actual Presidential Seal. It features a bald eagle with talons holding nine arrows and a 13-leaved laurel, and 'vero possumus' written between it's wings which is Latin for 'yes we can'.

And now, hold on to your seats for the gigantic monster that is's main page —

Yeah, that's a tall one. I understand that Blog, News & Events are all separate elements but somehow I think they could be displayed more efficiently on this page. Also, the Obama Map is not self-explanatory, simply asking "Where do you live?" to which I ask "What do you care?" But for those who just scroll straight to the bottom, getting a feel for the whole thing, will find more examples of Obama campaign branding in the Obama Store preview. Most of the other pages are much shorter and their purpose is clear.

And, by visiting you can make your own custom obama logo —

In closing, I think it is important to note any campaign's choice in how it brands itself. Typefaces and symbols have strong relations with both the conscious and subconscious understanding of branding as a whole. Even for those who fail to find non-literal meaning in these type of elements, there is an effect akin to previous experience wherein these elements were present. Looks like memorial fonts and blue are in for '08!

posted by Langel

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