The battle for the next presidency is taking shape as the usual suspects make official announcements that they are joining the fray. Political races, of course, have branding and rebranding as core elements of their strategy to win votes on a state-by-state basis in the primaries, and then on a national basis in the general election. It’s a high stakes tournament. From the dozen or so candidates with even a possibility of winning there will emerge only one victor with 10 times as many losers wondering what they could have done better.
The first tangible branding step for all candidates is to settle on a logo that will become the symbol of their campaign. About six weeks ago, Republican Ted Cruz introduced his candidacy with a logo that is shaped like a teardrop or a flame, with the stars and stripes of the American flag. It took only minutes for the criticism to hit the blogosphere.
“Looks like the Aljazeera logo.”
“Looks like an upside down burning American flag.”
“…a red, white and blue tear?”
And those were the nice ones.
A couple of weeks ago it was Democrat Hillary Clinton’s turn to throw her hat in the ring and post a new logo, also predominantly blue and red, which is shaped like a Capital H with an arrow pointing to the right. (Note to political candidates anywhere in the U.S.: If you don’t use copious amounts of red, white, and blue in your campaign’s graphic identity, good luck with Plan B.) The tweets and snipes were just as immediate:
“Hillary for America’s logo sort of looks like Iceland’s flag backwards.”
“Looks like the ‘H’ in a hospital sign.”
“Does the arrow pointing right mean she’s more conservative?
I hope I’m not startling anyone when I say there are a lot of haters out there. The idiocracy is full of people who only express criticism and who enjoying anonymously trashing most of what flows across their digital landscape.
Of course, the logos for Hillary and Cruz are locked in, having been tested and tweaked for months before being released to the public. And, certainly, many of the attacks on their designs have political motivations behind them. Design professionals have complimented both logos for their simplicity and adaptability to various uses, including critically-important social media.
But the attacks on both logos demonstrate the challenges that any new logo design faces, especially when there is a known quantity associated with them. In 2010, GAP surprised their customers and everyone else by dropping a new logo into their website with little fanfare. It was so different and surprising that the vocal minority actually intimidated the retailer into changing back to their old logo after only four days. Olive Garden introduced a new logo last year amid criticism, but has stuck with it, though it is taking some time to replace the versions that are cast into the sides of their restaurants.
Here are a few words of advice to any brand seeking to introduce a new logo.
A new logo should be part of a larger plan—Olive Garden’s new logo was part of a sweeping rebranding of its menu and customer experience. A new logo makes sense for that. GAP just ran it up the proverbial flagpole for no apparent reason and, therefore, had no basis for defending the change. Both Clinton and Cruz have massive campaigns planned for which the new logo is just the tip of the iceberg.
Test the logo among people who matter—this includes internal audiences who have a thorough background on the broader purpose of the logo and your brand. But, testing among your customer base is also valuable and can turn up legitimate issues that should be addressed, as well as dispel fears of negative connotations that don’t materialize. This research can be done through an interview process with a limited number of people. Quantitative surveys may help, but given as few as two or three choices, they will often split about evenly and, if conducted anonymously, invite pot shots.
Expect irresponsible criticism after the launch—it’s likely to happen, even when seemingly well intentioned. “I think it looks like…[something negative]” is just about inevitable and every logo is susceptible. Be ready to defend the reasoning behind the change, especially in social media, but with the right preparation and process you should have the confidence to whether the storm. Remember, a new logo is the beginning of a new brand, the rest of the journey will follow.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.