Within the last election the Conservative party took the approach to brand Theresa May rather than the party as a whole. An approach that ensures the messages retain clarity – focussing on the behaviour of one person is simpler than looking into the conduct of all MP’s – and controlling the message.
Largely due to the structure of their political system, but as much to do with their national psyche, the Americans take an approach to branding that places the politicians ability to relate to people or to drive change at the heart of any campaigning. Whilst we Brit’s think of our politicians as ‘the best of a bad bunch’ Americans seem to attach a considerably larger amount of hope to what a political figurehead can achieve.
One of the best articles I’ve read recently about how to brand a political figurehead came from Michael Bierut – the designer of Hillary Clinton’s #ImWithHer campaign. He speaks about the brand strategy, and utilising Raymond Loewy’s design maxim: ‘If something was familiar, make it surprising. If something was surprising, make it familiar.’ Clinton was a household name, so they needed to create a brand that surprised; flexible enough to be used by everyone and simple enough that it could be copied.
Bierut created a very solid brand – the sort that designers could admire and pundits could (eventually!) celebrate. But she lost, and not only did she loose – she lost to this:
So, is design not important? Or worst still (for a design agency at least) does it hinder the main message – with the message becoming too polished and uniformed?
Unfortunately, I sometimes think the power of hindsight is the only way we know whether branding has been successful. The same strategy Clinton used, worked with Obama. The next US presidential nominee who replicates Trump’s approach will likely be unsuccessful.
The political branding that was called for during the Campaign was the grass roots design – user generated, passionate, individual responses to the corporate machine.