How a Brand is Built During Elections
In honor of President’s Day yesterday, we’d like to take a moment and look at presidential branding and how candidates use the same strategies and designs suggested of small businesses to sell themselves to the general public. In fact, creating a political brand hinges on taking the time to sell the politician to the audience with the intent of creating an identity with the candidate, the party they are associated with, and the politics that the party stands for. The candidate is their persona, which becomes their brand- it’s all interchangeable and the brand must be communicated through the actions and statements of the candidate.
The message of a presidential candidate is one that is weaved throughout their brand. Consider some mottos of candidates throughout history:
- Henry Clay: Who is James K. Polk? As a Democratic candidate, James K. Polk was basically unknown to the general public as a politician. Henry Clay, running for the Whigs, played off of how unknown and seemingly inexperienced Polk was to garner support on his side. Ultimately, this approach failed as Polk won the election in 1844.
- Abraham Lincoln: Don’t Swap Horses in the Middle of the Stream When seeking reelection, Lincoln garnered support based on his role as a president during the Civil War and what it would mean to switch presidents during such an important moment in the nation’s history. Unfortunately, Lincoln was assassinated only six weeks after inauguration for his second term.
- Grover Cleveland: Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine Cleveland was the Democratic nominee in 1884, and the party decided negative campaigning was the way to go. James Blaine was accused of being a corrupt politician, leading to this diddy making its way around the campaign trail.
- William McKinley: Good Money Never Made Times Hard One of the pressing issues of the times during McKinley’s run for Presidency was believing in the gold standard versus the idea that the gold standard contributed to economic difficulties. This slogan highlighted McKinley’s dedication to the gold standard.
- Dwight Eisenhower: I Like Ike Eisenhower came to presidency as the Cold War was a looming concern in the minds of Americans, in combination with the concern of communists infiltrating the United States government. Supporters exclaimed “I Like Ike” as a means to show support for an older candidate that would make a strong stand against communism.
- Jimmy Carter: Not Just Peanuts Playing off of the idea that “peanuts” refers to barely anything at all, Carter’s slogan illustrated that he was more qualified for the presidency than people may think. In dual meaning, Carter was also a peanut farmer.
- Ronald Reagan: Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago? Running against Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Carter’s low approval rating due to high inflation and low economic growth, this slogan was aimed at encouraging American voters to switch parties and give this new candidate a shot. With over 50% of the popular vote going to Reagan, it seems like many people did not feel as though they were better off than four years prior.
- Bill Clinton: It’s The Economy, Stupid A bold move on the part of Clinton, this phrase was meant to divert the attention of voters back onto the issue of the economy following George H.W. Bush’s presidency. Originally intended as an internal campaign document, this took off in a way that resonates in pop culture to this day.
- George W. Bush: A Safer World and a More Hopeful America In the 2004 election, American voters were still reeling from the 9/11 attacks on New York City and the subsequent Iraq War. Bush, seeking re-election at this time, promised that his election would continue to make the world a safer place from terrorism and inspire American workers in a changing world.
- Barack Obama: Yes We Can! Running for office following Bush’s two terms, many American voters were feeling discouraged with the political atmosphere, economic status, and foreign relations. Bring up feelings of hope and change, Obama ultimately ended up winning the vote based on this well-known slogan.
These messages spoke to a specific agenda that each of these candidates wanted to tackle during their time in office. Speaking to the times or directly to their candidate, these messages are what the campaign was built around.
While a candidate is able to rebrand themselves as needed to speak to the population, it is shown that repetition and consistency have a large effect on the overall way that branding works. A candidate should be able to stick to their message. One small example of repetition is the colors used by each party’s candidates. Republicans tend to use red while Democrats use blues, and this is intentional! Since these colors are associated with each political party’s specific values, weaving these colors through their campaign helps to reinforce their values. If the colors were not consistent, the voter may have a difficult time getting behind their message, especially if they normally voted along a certain party’s lines.
A logo is a visual aimed at creating a reaction about a brand simply by looking at the tool meant to represent it. More than ever, political candidates are using the power of the icon, colors, and fonts to visually catch their audience and develop a logo that their supporters can rally behind. However, it’s not enough to simply have a beautiful design. Importantly, there also needs to be a strategy behind the visual the communicates the candidate’s position.
Presidential candidates of any political party garner relationships and support through the development of their brand. That being said, branding is deliberate. While some candidates may fall into some aspects of their brand, overall it is a deliberate and conscious process. What does this say for you? It means that you should not hesitate to self-brand and build our your meaning based on the things that are important to you and your business.