The Crusader Online

November 07, 2008
Vol. 50 No. 9

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Graphic design aided Obama campaign

Barack Obama had been lauded from the onset of his campaign for his ability to mobilize young voters. His youth, his message of hope and his charisma are undoubtedly what made this possible.

But it is my belief that a large part of Obama's success can be attributed to the fact that he seems to have understood the full impact of what many of his opponents have not: the power of graphic design and the Internet.

For starters, there's the iconic "O" logo. Obama seems to be the first presidential (or political, for that matter) candidate to deviate from traditional campaign logos. Most often, these logos are large, square and made up primarily of the candidate's last name and some iteration of a waving American flag.

What Obama seems to have done is looked at George W. Bush's simple 2004 "W" with an attached waving flag and taken it one step further. The "O" logo, unlike the plain, black "W," is unique and incorporates both the American flag and extensive symbolism.
Obama's designers took advantage of the simplicity of the letter, put it in blue and combined it with a few red stripes to evoke the American flag. But the symbol goes beyond basic patriotism. The negative space inside the "O" over the vertical stripes is also extremely evocative of a rising sun over a stretch of farmland. The rising sun echoes Obama's rhetoric of hope for a new America.

But with all of that aside, the logo does one thing very well: it is distinctive. Like McDonald's, Apple, Windows and Disney's Mickey Mouse head, the Obama "O" can stand alone without any attendant text and be easily recognized. Whether you like it or not, Obama, more than any other candidate, seems to have made himself into a brand.
The logo, finally, is easily customizable and was altered to symbolize various groups to which the campaign wished to appeal, like Latinos, veterans, students and even Republicans.

John McCain's campaign seems to have tried to follow this by using a simple 3D-looking star as a common logo, but it lacked the distinctive qualities and ease of recognition of Obama's logo.

And while both Obama and McCain maintained a presence on Facebook and MySpace and both had interactive Web sites, certain things point to the Obama campaign's superior understanding of modern advertising tactics, specifically viral advertising.
Obama was the sole candidate to run commercials on the popular TV show site, hulu.com.

Thanks most likely to Obama's unusually large campaign coffers, Obama's Web site was flashy, featuring complex gradients, stylized text and pleasing and unique images.

A comparison of Obama's Web site and McCain's reveals several similarities, suggesting the McCain campaign recognized the success of Obama's design team. For example, both sites used a background of blue for a header, which contained the presidential and vice-presidential candidates in front of a ghost-blue background of cheering supporters.

Finally, Obama's Web site included many elements that might be more attractive and useful to a younger crowd, elements absent from McCain's site. Under the downloads section specifically, Obama's site offered downloadable PDF files about each issue that could be printed as fliers. Also under downloads were many variations of the "O" logotype for general use.

Perhaps the most striking attempt at gaining young people's attention was in the cell phone department. Obama's Web site offered ring tones, many of them comical. One was a hip hop chant: "Go, go, go, go Obama, Obama, Oh!" Another was a sound bite of the candidate saying, "This is Barack Obama. It's time to change America. Answer the call!"

Obama was also the only candidate to publish an "app" for Apple's iPhone, which allowed the user to get news, have Obama's stance on issues at the ready, phone friends in battleground states, find local campaign events and, of course, donate.

All of these efforts were made possible by the fact that Obama did not limit himself to public funding, as he originally claimed he would.

Nevertheless, these various advertising strategies seem to have reached out successfully to a younger voting community, and any future candidate who wishes to do so better take note.
-- Rob Schick '09

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