Bringing Branding to Political Campaigns
August 12, 2008 ‐ 0 comments

images-3When thinking about identity I often reflect on a 1999 trip to Barcelona, and my first exposure to a highly branded political campaign. As an avid brand enthusiast, it was especially engaging to take in Pasqual Maragall’s artistically designed campaign for the regional presidency.

Since seeing Campanya Maragall, I often wonder, why haven’t U.S. campaigns performed better in designing and delivering their message in a more branded way?

But finally, Barack Obama seems to be getting it just right.

Hope. Change. As passionate advocates of simplicity, the single-word ideas core to the Obama brand couldn’t be clearer or more compelling. The ingredient brand message, “Powered by Hope” makes “Intel Inside” seem dated and stale. You even have ObamaNews, ObamaBlog, ObamaEvents, and ObamaEverywhere. The identity and visual language surrounding the Obama brand are nothing less than world class – not just as examples of political communications, but as paradigms of pure design.

It’s perfect. Starbucks-like. Nike-like. Nearly Target-like. After his Berlin appearance, one reporter even mused that the hand of Hollywood’s Dreamwork’s team must have been active behind the scenes.

And yet, the perfection begs the question, why are the famously anti-brand Millennials – who demand authenticity and eschew canned communications – so broadly mesmerized by the Obama brand?

Christopher Benfey’s New York Times review of Steven Heller’s new book, “Iron Fists,” explores Heller’s comparison of branding to the propaganda machines of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Lenin’s and Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Mao’s China. Heller’s argument unsettles Benfey to the point of prompting him to ask, “How did a practice as vile as branding become so valued, indeed, the very mark of value?”

He admits the differences between product marketing and totalitarian communications but argues that “the design and marketing methods used to inculcate doctrine and guarantee consumption are fundamentally similar.” By that rationale, being knifed in a bar fight and undergoing open-heart surgery belong on the same spectrum. I don’t find that the most incisive of analyses, but it’s worth entertaining. And it’s something the entire electorate–not just Millennials–should mull this autumn as they heed Walter Mondale's borrowed admonition and ask both campaigns, "Where's the beef?"

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