Eagles in flight and trailing green stars
A presidential candidate’s campaign logo may not reveal their upbringing, education, stances on issues, or what number spouse they’re on, but they do offer a glimpse into their artistic and propagandistic portrayal of themselves. How do they want to be seen on someone’s back bumper or front yard? Is a bold Arial typeface more effective than a proper-looking Times New Roman? How can one distort familiar patriotic symbols in a splattering convulsion of red, white, and blue while integrating them with the carefully selected typeface, which then must work with the logo as a whole, while also reflecting the candidate as a person, while sending subliminal messages to the voter — all while keeping with the American standard of looking good while doing it?
It’s a lot to think about, and the 2008 candidates offer a delectable selection of logos to overanalyze.
Let’s focus on the all-important campaign sign theme by theme.
First and foremost, let’s look at how the candidates’ names are presented on their signs. The name certainly matters. It breaks it down into nice, simple terms for the average American voter, who collectively vote more often for their favorites on American Idol than the presidency, and who collectively are more likely to know their NFL team’s running back than their senator. The name on the sign tells you who’s running, and hopefully convinces you, come November 2008 when you’re standing in the voting booth, to pick the corresponding candidate whose catchy name covers the lawn of signs in that one politically charged neighbor’s front yard.
Hillary Clinton has to win this one. Her name makes it seem like she’s inviting you in for tea — her typeface tells you you are on a first name basis with her. The typeface is bold, yet sophisticated. If you go for tea at Hillary’s place, you’ll expect bold and sophisticated tea. And according to The New York Times’s Ward Sutton in the recent article “Reading Tea Leaves and Campaign Logos,” the “i” and “l”s all look like the number one. It’s as though, amid your biscotti and lemon crackers, she somehow works in that she’s on top — always was, always will be. You’ll walk away remembering her not as a member of the Clinton dynasty, not the wronged wife during the Lewinsky incident, and not even former first lady. You remember Hillary.
Let’s move onto candidates’ use of well-known patriotic symbols, those high emblems of American values. The generally accepted purpose of this artistic embellishment is for you, the voter, to naturally associate the candidate with a patriotic symbol in a fuzzy glow of America-love.
Mitt Romney seems to do this well. Mitt, in an attempt to present his Michigan-cultivated, hard-working Mormon background to the general voting public in an accessible way, incorporates what looks like an eagle in flight above his name. The head and beak are easily discernible, and the spirited red stripes following it suggest motion. Does it imply that a Romney administration will set the country in motion? According to Sutton, it’s ambiguous. The eagle/banner/object/whatever is more like a “mash up of the logo for the New England Patriots and... the Post Office?”
I suppose this is a step in the right direction if we’re going for accessibility in a candidate. Americans love football! Americans love the Post Office! Mitt’s got the football vote and the postal workers’ vote! Well, unless you are a Colts fan. Based on this theory, Mitt is semi-consciously repulsing the good people of Indianapolis.
Sometimes, symbols can oh-so-subtly suggest a candidate’s views. Take John Edwards’s shooting star: a radical departure from the expected visual conglomerate of red, white and blue, Edwards’ star has a tail of... green! Edwards’s green practices and passion for environmental conservation have won him the hearts of the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, and so on and so forth. But is it reminiscent of the 2000 Gore-Lieberman campaign, which had a similar shooting star, and where parodies of signs proclaiming “Sore-Loserman” were abundant? Foreshadowing eight years later, perhaps the promising little star of hope, the shooting star leaving behind a legacy of environmentalism, whatever our friends John, Al, and Joe were shooting for — pun intended — will unfortunately be lost in a big black hole, a venomous entity of dead-star oblivion.
Lastly, Barack Obama would like you to see his sign as an emotionally impactful whole. He achieves this in a variety of ways. First, note his one-name correspondence. He’s not serving you tea like Hillary; he’s Obama — he’s assertive and putting his foot down. Note the “o” vowel sound interspersed throughout. Obama ’08. The open-to-interpretation “O” sunrise logo. Playing off of such a basic human sound, Obama manages to reach a variety of groups: the “Oooohhhhhhh”-chanting football fans Mitt would be clamoring to have, to the “oooohhhs” in hymns sung by church congregations, to the lightbulb in the pondering voter’s head going off: “Oh! I think I’ll vote for Obama!” And how effective would that be?