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October 09, 2004

Dissecting the Presidential Logos


In an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, Scott Dadich (Texas Monthly magazine creative director) dissects the 2004 Bush/Cheney logo and the 2004 Kerry/Edwards logo. [Click to read the article and to review the comparison graphic. (registration req'd)]

Interesting stuff.

Dadrich is forthright is disclosing his Democratic political bent but he sets aside his political leanings to declare, “… President Bush as the frontrunner in the competition for best logo.” His in-depth analysis of the Kerry/Edwards logo reveals how its graphic design, “… displays the same inconsistency that his opponents accuse him of.”

Below is a scalpel/suture of Scott Dadrich’s Presidential logo autopsy from his NY Times Op-Ed piece. (Enjoy.)


Logos can be powerful, and they're all about subliminal messages. Perhaps because of my Texas roots, I have a weakness for the big and the bold, and the main 2004 Bush-Cheney logo, basically a holdover from the 2000 presidential race, fulfills my expectations. It's brash and snazzy: a field of powerful, militaristic navy blue punctuated with the four letters of his surname spelled out in white in what appears to be Folio Extra-Bold Italic letters. (Even the name of the font sounds forceful, doesn't it?)

The effect is striking, simple and progressive. The rightward lilt of the wide, capital letters reinforces Mr. Bush's ideology while at the same time portraying a buoyant sense of forward movement, energy and positive change. The type is strong without being oppressive, nimble without being fanciful - a successful construction reminiscent of the 1992 Clinton-Gore logo. Add a simplification of the American flag - 20 stars and seven stripes - and a supportive "Cheney" in a smaller font underneath, and you've got a strong visual hierarchy that reinforces the candidate's spoken message that he is a firm and resolute leader.

One outgrowth of the Bush logo is even better: the graphic sound bite "W," which appears on bumper stickers. Americans are conditioned to equate visual brevity with success and power. One need only look at the landscape of corporate America for confirmation: the Nike swoosh, the CBS eye, Target's bull's-eye and McDonald's golden arches. It's appropriate that Mr. Bush allowed his middle initial to work for him, and a testament to the letter's power that the opposition has co-opted it for its own use, though it is circled with a slash through it.


A typical Kerry logo displays the same inconsistency that his opponents accuse him of. A steady visual message requires the consistent use of the same font over and over again. On a typical drive to work, I encounter no fewer than five typefaces used in as many different Kerry-Edwards logos. One is stretched out; another is condensed. One looks masculine; one looks feminine. In contrast to Mr. Bush's aggressive sans-serif font, Senator John Kerry's multitudinous font choices center on the use of thin, delicate-looking, "girlie-man" type. No wonder some voters think he's a vacillating wimp.

Some of my quibbles would be obvious only to typography gurus. But Mr. Kerry makes other, more noticeable mistakes. Rather than distinguish his candidacy, his logo's Reflex blue background serves only as a weak echo of the president's bolder navy. Mr. Kerry's flag is free-floating and leans backward, while Mr. Bush's flag is anchored to his name and leans forward. Add to this a claustrophobic red border that prevents the eye from moving upward and onward and you're starting to see the visual poverty of this campaign.

The American flag in the Kerry-Edwards logo is the biggest gaffe of all. Although it has the requisite 50 stars, there are five rows of 10 stars, rather than the correct arrangement of five rows of six stars and four rows of five stars. It looks like a mistake - not a stylized interpretation, like the flag in the Bush logo.

Now, close your eyes and count to three. Look at the Kerry-Edwards logo above. What word do you see first? That's right: "Edwards." This is because the name of the vice-presidential nominee is placed beneath the "Kerry" in the same type and size, causing it to occupy more space. (And it's not just because Edwards is a longer name than Kerry; though Cheney is longer than Bush, their logo doesn't have that problem.) Talk about message confusion! The inelegant stacked Helvetica Iteration of the Mondale-Ferraro ticket of 20 years ago was almost as bad - and we know how that race ended.

Further Reading:
  • Brand Autopsy posting | Brand Mapping the Presidential Candidates
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    Interesting read AND irrelevant as hell. And if perhaps it IS relevant, now I'm really worried about our country.

    Hmmm, I have never been a fan of logo-centric branding and I find this analysis a bit daft. It seems full of bold assertions that I'm not sure are true.

    For me the line "Americans are conditioned to equate visual brevity with success and power." is highly questionable. And in any case, if there is a correlation, the causality may be the other way round - successful things, that get talked about a lot, are likely to foster shorthand.

    I'm with Tom Asacker on this!

    Bush's primary challenge is to shake off his image of being "arrogant" and "stubborn" (while appearing strong). Most people (as polls confirm) acknowledge that Bush is strong on national security, so the logo does not have to work hard to reinforce that. But logo should work to soften the "arrogance" and "stubborn" dimension, which is the key branding challenge for the target of "swing voters". The logo doesn't deliver on that front, in my opinion.

    I do agree that Kerry-Edwards logo does not emphasize "strength" to the degree they need to. However, it does create the impression of being inclusive and friendly (which is what the country needs in Iraq - friends).

    I think both logos are working more towards the base rather than swing voters. Both could have been better...having worked on many a logos, I know it is easier said than done.

    I would have to disagree with the comments here about logos and branding not being important. As he said in his article, most of this is subliminal, but none the less effective. All people have a reaction to visual stimulus. You can't help it. As someone who works with brands and logos, you want your logo to stimulate specific things when people see it. Now obviously no one should base their vote for president on a logo or for that matter, anything other than the fact of who will better lead this country. But you can't dismiss branding as an important way to spread the word.
    This may be my own personal bias, but I would never use a serif font for something like this. To me it says; old school, not with it, fragile, and unsure.

    This is a very interesting piece.

    I mostly agree with the observations: Bush logo looks better than Kerry logo.

    But I would still give more points to the Kerry logo. Why? Because it states what Kerry stands for: A stronger America.

    The little tag line works as Kerry's USP (unique selling proposition). It gives a reason to people as to why they should vote for Kerry instead of for Bush. It reminds people that Kerry stands for a stronger America. It implies "If you want a stronger America, vote for Kerry."

    Kerry may stand "For A Stronger America", but he definitely has the weaker logo.

    Great post -- I enjoy your blog immensely.

    Wow, what a great post. The best part is reading some of the comments above. Like it or not, the design of the campaign logos is nothing BUT relevant, and just because Kerry's logo looks like it was designed by his wife and Bush's logo could be the product of a NYC ad agency doesn't mean that one candidate is better than the other. However... the entire purpose of a brand is to let someone have confidence in whatever it is your "company" is selling. If it looks like an established company, you will trust it more. If it looks like a mom & pop store, you may not want to buy your stereo system there. Campaigning is ALL about advertising. The debates and the commercials are all about selling. The logos put a daily face to the messages. As a designer and typographer, I agree 100% with brand autopsy's analysis of the two logos. From font choice, to color, to flag illustration the Bush logo is simply stronger. And, honestly, if the Kerry logo was even in the same ballpark this whole discussion would hold much less relevance, but since they are so polar it becomes a relevant point of discussion.

    With the 2000 election controversy about alleged subliminal advertising in mind (remember 'RATS'), I took a look at this year's campaign logos.

    In Bush-Cheney I note that 'US' is found in the middle of BUSH (very patriotic), with 'HEN' right below that, perhaps suggesting a mother hen role for VP Cheney?

    In Kerry-Edwards, even more interestingly (and I have yet to hear anyone take notice of this), I find in Kerry the word 'err' and in Edwards the word 'war.'

    That's right. In my completely unprofessional opinion, you can make a case the Kerry-Edwards logo was (intentionally or not) suggesting -- on a subliminal level -- the message that the war in Iraq was a mistake.

    Funny how no one else noticed this.

    Very interesting observations Tom. You got some pair of eyes coupled with an interesting perspective.

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