The Barack Obama logo, unveiled in 2008, is synonymous with the president. In American politics, the red, white and blue are expected in political campaign logos as they represent the American flag. There is not much space to be unique in political logos because there are elements that are expected in the logo, like party affiliation. Many political consultants believe in true-and-tested design elements. For example, Democratic Party candidates tend to emphasize blue as that is their party’s color and limit red as that is the Republican Party’s primary color. The GOP limits blue and emphasizes red. This does not leave much room for pushing the envelope in branding a candidate.
When Obama was first shown his logo, he considered it too “corporate” for him. He believed it looked too much like Pepsi’s logo. Coincidently, Pepsi’s logo was also criticized for looking too similar to Obama’s logo. For Obama, his slogan “Yes We Can” also did not convince him as he considered it too simplistic for his candidacy. However, Obama was convinced to adopt his now famous brand and, according to his chief strategist, David Axelrod, Obama’s logo became “more iconic than the Apple” logo.
The Obama logo was designed by Sol Sender around 2006. The logo was inspired by Obama’s description of America in his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, where he said the country is “one people, not divided into red and blue states.” Sender and his team, rather than looking at time-tested political logos from the past, chose to seek a new political logo style led from a corporate look-and-feel. Sender created an effective brand that did not include the candidate’s name, something that political strategists normally shy away from. The “o” represented Obama effectively without having to include his name.
Obama’s logo in 2008 did something other national political candidates had not done before. Not only did it not include the obligatory candidate’s name, but the logo was optimized for the web.
Today, political logos need to not only be optimized for the web, but also for all social media platforms. Optimized for the web means that the logo must be readable as a small element and must stand out against any background. A political brand identity that must set the campaign’s identity is limited in space on the web. Often the logo must be fitted into a small circle. Red, white and blue remain important elements of a political candidate’s logo in America, but the result must stand apart from the competitors.
Simple and minimalist political logos are the paradigm in the digital age.
Political candidates are under a news media microscope and opponents are always looking to expand their reach at the expense of the other candidates. A candidate’s logo must not only strive to put the candidate before the minds of the voters, but must also defend itself from abuse by their opponents. The simpler the logo the harder it is to abuse it.
During the 2020 presidential elections, two leading candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both took some lessons from Obama’s logo. However, Bernie Sanders’ logo forgot about the digital age and focused on his name, Bernie. Joe Biden, who would go on to become the president, used Obama’s “o” style, simplified his brand around his name, “Joe” but left open his logo design to branding abuse by political operatives opposed to his candidacy. Biden’s “e” in his logo became a talking point after pictures of Biden seemingly embracing women without their consent circulated. The “e” was described by political operatives as grabbing the “o” without its consent. The controversy was not enough to derail the Biden campaign, but it demonstrates how a logo can be abused by opponents.
The Biden logo was intended to convey continuity by borrowing from Obama’s and Hillary Clinton elements. Biden’s “e” borrowed the three bands from Hillary Clinton’s logo and the “o” from Obama’s iconic logo.
Kamala Harris chose to move away from the red, white and blue primary color conventions to emphasize her Black heritage. Harris’ four-color pallet kept, although in a lower tint than normal, the blue and red adding yellow and black to the pallet. As the designers explained, the color pallet was an attempt to connect the past with the future by adding the yellow representing Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 run as the first female African American presidential candidate.
Without an explanation, the choice of the yellow color did not add meaning to Harris’ campaign in the average voter because Chisholm isn’t known to the average American voter.
As a candidate in the digital age, it is important to understand that your logo must fit in a circle and be simple enough to comprehend as a tiny element on a smartphone screen. Although red, white and blue remain important, consider changing it up a bit to stand out in a crowd of red-white-and-blue signs.