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What if… We Ran the Show?

8:02 PST. The polls just closed in California… I’m scrolling through the news online. The phone rings — I put my beer down. On the line is John Kerry’s campaign manager.

“I know you wanted Dean…” he says, “but it’s Kerry now… so what would your strategy be to beat George W.? You know, as of today, George W. has a war chest of over $110 million. We have $32…” he goes on… “Do we have any chance? How would you do it? Maybe your peers at Speak Up have some ideas? After all, you claim that there is some power to your design-thing. Are you willing to share?”

I scratch my head and respond: “Well, let’s ask them — you know where to check.”

I pick my beer back-up and wonder… what would Brady say? How would Armin react? Does the Canadian front care? What about Design Maven, will he reveal his identity and provide more than a rant? Is Heller pondering the chances? And would Debbie Millman forget about “whopper” and get political?… hmmmm

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PUBLISHED ON Mar.02.2004 BY Peter Scherrer
marian’s comment is:

Does the Canadian front care?

The Canadian front cares, but this piece of Canadiana is not well informed enough to be of much help. Furthermore, I think our cultural differences in this case (Politics+Branding) might be too extreme for any suggestions that would make sense -- do you think Americans would elect a slouching, unattractive balding guy with partial facial paralysis who can barely speak English? How about a former coroner and ex-cop who runs on a platform of safe injection sites for drug addicts? Yeah, I thought not.

Carry on, act naturally.

On Mar.03.2004 at 12:16 AM
JLee’s comment is:

Why isn't this topic about helping Nader out? He needs more of our help more than any other presidential candidate!

On Mar.03.2004 at 02:59 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Why isn't this topic about helping Nader out?

Right. But maybe we should talk about that with whoever helped him in.

On Mar.03.2004 at 06:16 AM
Amanda’s comment is:

As a (former?) Republican who finds Geo. Bush disgusting and John Kerry a wishy-washy "Catholic," my only choice is Nat Hentoff.

Too bad he's not running.

On Mar.03.2004 at 07:17 AM
Brook’s comment is:

is there any shred of hope this discussion can stay-or even begin to be-relevant to graphic design? let's hope so.

i've always liked the little letter-sized pdf posters to download and put in your window. i already have a plan for some very big posters when election time comes closer. i have access to a thermal printer that can go really big, and essentially not cost anything besides paper. humor is key, i think. i wish people would try to make politics a little more fun. it's sad when one of the goals of a campaign is to make people not want to vote.

On Mar.03.2004 at 07:28 AM
Peter Scherrer (ps)’s comment is:

is there any shred of hope this discussion can stay-or even begin to be-relevant to graphic design? let's hope so.

yeah, i hope so.

If you would get such assignment offered would you take it. or refuse because its politics? (but then would you not work for Absolut beacuse you like Smirnoff better?). Are just dealing with brands or is it differerent with politics?

If you'd take it, what way would you go to get the message accross? (can you compete with TV ads?)

For those wanting to promote a different canditate than mentioned in the post -- feel free to substitute.

On Mar.03.2004 at 08:02 AM
Brook’s comment is:

If you would get such assignment offered would you take it

only if i could support that person for whatever office they are seeking. i could only see someone not caring if they didn't have any interest or understanding of politics. but from my experience, designers tend to be both aware and involved. so they'd have no excuse!

On Mar.03.2004 at 08:11 AM
Brook’s comment is:

here is an organization whose mission is to make politics fun and funny.

On Mar.03.2004 at 08:13 AM
surts’s comment is:

People need to be compelled and motivated to actually vote. Part of the political message should work on getting people out of their homes and into the voting booths. Both parties may play off of fear, however the one that gives people more hope will get the undecided vote that gets off the couch.

On Mar.03.2004 at 08:17 AM
Armin’s comment is:

This is a really good thread Peter.

So How would Armin react?

Well, I would first have to say that I would not pursue a presidential candidate as my client, but if they came knocking on my door asking for my services I would probably do it for the right amount of money — yup, money (and perhaps the de-sitting of Bush) would be my motivation for this case.

Regardless of the medium (TV, Web, billboards, whatever). I would put a higher emphasis on emotion. None of the messages I would highlight would have anything to do with lowering taxes or getting funding for public schools or all those lame promises candidates like to make — leave that stuff for speeches and PR stunts, but most importantly do that stuff, not just talk about it.

Anyway, the emotional approach… If I were to do a campaign for a presidential candidate I would want to show the voters what this candidate can do to make them feel better as people and human beings, not as tax-payers or voters. Do TV ads that speak to the people by understanding what they are going through, by showing the emotional side (and I don't mean holding a crying baby for the cameras) which is what people will most likely respond to, and if they can somehow identify themselves with the message of the candidate there is better chances of them voting in his favor. The problem with all these candidates is that they are so far removed from the everyday Joe that it is almost impossible to relate to them in any way that is not politics. Candidates need to get the message across that, they too, are human beings with emotions, hardships, family, etc.

That would be more philosophically, I guess. Graphically… I would definitely stick with some red, white and blue as complementary colors, no stars at all. Photos of the candidate would be in the hues of the movie Amelie (colorful, deep, high contrast). Copywriting would be very important too. I would probably stay away from clever ideas like these, not because they are wrong but there has to be a deeper message.

I'll think more about this.

On Mar.03.2004 at 08:53 AM
Mark P.’s comment is:

I know that it's a day late for this idea, but... I was driving home last night and passed a supporter with a sign encouraging people to go to their caucus. She had a the campaign's professionally printed board on a stick with a hand written "Vote March 2nd" that looked really crappy beneath the nice sign.

I would provide easily customizable signs that local supporters could change to meet the needs at hand. It would be white (originally) with black covering most of the board and digital "8" left white showing through the black. Then you take a black marker to cover up sections to make words & numbers. (I stole it from gas station cig. price cards)

So it starts as: (Caution ASCII Art follows in a proportional face)




and you color in parts to say

_ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

| | | | | |_ | | | |_| |_| | |_| _|

|_| |_| | |_ | | | | | | |_ | | |_


Then you could do things like "CAUCUS HERE" etc.

On Mar.03.2004 at 09:09 AM
Mark P.’s comment is:

Shoot, stupid non-multiple spaces.

Use your imagniation

On Mar.03.2004 at 09:15 AM
Neil’s comment is:

Does the Canadian Front care?

Heh. I know who Marian would vote for. :)

Yes, the Canadian front cares, absolutely. I think Canadians care more than some Americans do, frankly; how many Americans could you find that know the names of even just the leaders of the three major Canadian parties?

This is a really tough (but excellent) question. The problem as I see it is that the majority tends to vote based on immediate concerns. As someone who has been involved in the political process (albeit it from a distance), I see this over and over here, and I'm sure it's the same in the US.

I'll have to think on this one and report back.

On Mar.03.2004 at 10:00 AM
Christopher Johnston’s comment is:

"You know, as of today, George W. has a war chest of over $110 million. We have $32..." he goes on... "Do we have any chance?

This one is easy. I would just tell ol' Kerry to fly over every major city and drop cash with "Vote for Kerry" fliers paperclipped to them. I know it would be costly, but with all of the tax cuts that GWB has been giving the richest 1% over the past 3+ years I think he and Theresa can swing it.

On Mar.03.2004 at 10:15 AM
timmy’s comment is:

I agree with Armin that the message should be emotional. Take for example take "the ad." The ad never comes out and says "Bush is a tyrant." It does, however, use the sense of emotion and color that Armin touched on.

Recently for the Minnesota Governor election Green Party canindate Ken Pentel ran a very different looking campaign. Whether you agree with the design style, it was a very memorable campaign because he left the traditional design campaign. This is probably a drastic example, but Kerry could promote a "working class friendly" campaign through a manner different from conservative politics.

On Mar.03.2004 at 11:29 AM
Greg’s comment is:

Maybe, just maybe it's the circles I tend to run in, but it seems like most people I've talked to can't stand the way the country's been run. Most of my friends are Democrats or moderate Rupublicans, like me, so that might not say much. But to my point...Does it matter that Bush has 110 million to spend? Public opinion seems to have turned against him, and he's got little to none of the moderate support that he had last time. Seems like the better campaign he puts out, the worse he's gonna do.

On Mar.03.2004 at 11:44 AM
Brook’s comment is:

pentel's campaign was great. i have one of his lawn banners on my wall still. this majority plurality of liberals in minnesota can be an issue. the strong showing from the green and independence parties left a minority of conservative voters able to elect a republican.

former governor ventura won his election almost entirely on his television ads. i'll see if i can track them down. but they were great.

On Mar.03.2004 at 11:48 AM
Brook’s comment is:

here's one of the ventura ads. action figures!

On Mar.03.2004 at 11:55 AM
Rick’s comment is:

I think all of the political ads play to the emotions. They certainly don't speak to the intellect...


On Mar.03.2004 at 11:59 AM
urbansub’s comment is:

Pentel used the same firm that Ventura used for his ads. Pentel had an enormous grassroots following, but like Ventura, his demographic was much younger and hipper than any other politician - allowing him more freedom.

Kerry will have a huge grassroots following also but can't scare off the older, more moderate, relatively conservative population. Remember, he needs to appeal to people who actually kind of like Bush right now.

Anyway, Bush's approval rating will no doubt improve.. and it will get very ugly. Kerry will need to pull out some big guns.

On Mar.03.2004 at 12:09 PM
Jen’s comment is:

Armin's comment brings up an interesting idea followed up closely by Mark P's desire to bring in the citizen power. I agree that emotion is the key. As a self discribing synic when it comes to politics (I basically believe NOTHING that they tell me and wonder about all of the real secrets that we will never know.), I am personally moved by the faces, stories, and people who have listen to the politicians found their own grain of truth and share it with me.

I would develop a campaign that is based on the people who have been reached by the candidate. Try to capture the sincerity of the young lady on the side of the road holding up her sign, telling the country that she cares enough to share her time and the message, added to the bottom in black marker. Have them tell their stories, graphically, remove the cold corporate nature of government and replace it with faces.

I was recently captivated by the AT&T commercial were the screen is divided in half and two faces meet in the middle. Emotion meets message.

On Mar.03.2004 at 12:16 PM
Brook’s comment is:

i think it's these emotional ads that generate the most cynicism. if i see some guy on tv talking about how a certain allergy medication changed his life, i immediately think bullshit! young people are very media savvy. they know how to read the garbage that is pushed on them. there needs to be some substance.

but the general idea of appealing to emotion is the right one. i hate to say this, but the general population isn't all that bright when it comes to politics. or reality for that matter!

On Mar.03.2004 at 12:41 PM
marian’s comment is:

Heh. I know who Marian would vote for. :)

If you know, maybe you could let me know.

On Mar.03.2004 at 12:43 PM
Patrick’s comment is:

Here's an idea for candidates. Put out a brochure with your stance on each of the top 20 issues facing the nation, including frank talk about how you feel about it. No, how you really feel about it inside, backed up by how you have acted on them in the past. Explain to me why I should care about it the same way you do. Write it in first-person. Include a bio. Be friendly. Design it in a clean, easy-to-read way (2 colors would be plenty) with some nice headlines, callouts for skimmability, a few pictures. Distribute it freely everywhere you go. Post the information on your webpage, including a printable PDF, and tell everyone where to find it. Maybe take out a full spread in the national papers with the highlights.

Seems simple, so maybe this type of thing has been done before and I haven't seen it. I don't really follow the ins and outs of politics. Kerry has a pretty decent issues section of his website, but it seems a bit dry. I just always find myself on election day wondering where the candidate I'm voting for really stands. With the blur of press coverage spinning the simplest of comments every which way and digging up useless information that clouds the issue, not to mention candidates themselves flip-flopping on issues depending on who they're talking to, I never have any real confidence that I know what's going to happen over the next four years if this person gets elected. I'd like one source for all information from the horse's mouth.

On Mar.03.2004 at 12:59 PM
James’s comment is:

Sadly, Armin is right about campaign propoganda being strongest when it is emotional.

Unfortionately, the national presidential election is the same polularity contest as high school presidential elections. It goes without saying that the majority of the populace lacks the ability to think logically and are suckers for emotional exploitation. The republicans understand this. Why don't the democrats?

But I digress. From a design standpoint, the graphic language of Kerry's campaign must exploit the emotions.

On Mar.03.2004 at 01:02 PM
ps’s comment is:

What if all the Heinz Ketchup bottles could have a "Kerry-Slogan." I could see it evolve onto milk cartons, Starbucks cups and other everyday necessities. I'm actually surprised that products are not used more as mini-billboards to support causes. For political campaigns I have to assume it would not be allowed by some campaign law, but can you imagine....

On Mar.03.2004 at 01:10 PM
Brook’s comment is:

What if all the Heinz Ketchup bottles could have a "Kerry-Slogan."

brilliant. but i dont think kerry's wife and the rest of the heinz family are willing to lose 45% of their market.

On Mar.03.2004 at 01:28 PM
ps’s comment is:

...i dont think kerry's wife and the rest of the heinz family are willing to lose 45% of their market.

maybe the Heinz brand loyalty would be strong enough that customers would tolerate it? So if you chose your products wisely...

On Mar.03.2004 at 01:35 PM
urbansub’s comment is:

The Bush ads start tomorrow. Supposedly they have lots of 9/11 imagery and use the tagline "Steady Leadership in Times of Change" -- talk about exploiting emotions.

On Mar.03.2004 at 01:55 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Just to clear up a bit. By emotions, I don't mean making people weep gratuitly — like the Bush ad's urbansub is talking about. It's more about making a connection on a level deeper than the vote for me approach most candidates take. For example, if you paired the look (or cinematography for a more professional term) of the kids ad that Tim linked to with Jen's idea, you could have a killer ad.

And to fully embrace the Power of Design and bring in experts from other fields I would hire the Queer Eye guys as consultants to give Kerry a new look — starting with that awful hairdo.

On Mar.03.2004 at 02:05 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

former governor ventura won his election almost entirely on his television ads. i'll see if i can track them down. but they were great.

Bill Hillsman's firm was in charge of them. You can view them on their site: http://www.northwoodsadvertising.com/our_work/index.html

What would I do if I were in charge?

From most serious to least serious:

  • Redesign our election system. Namely, bring in something like instant run-off voting so third parties stand a chance
  • Consider proportional representation ala England
  • Force the president to actually address and answer congress ala England
  • Restrict voting rights to only 8-12 year olds. After the age of 12, you become too corrupted by society. ;o)
On Mar.03.2004 at 03:25 PM
Brady’s comment is:

What would Brady say?

Simply, if they called, I would say yes and then wish I said no. Why? Because politics - especially on a national scale - is more driven by celebrity, the media and the blood-thirsty public who devour it than Hollywood is.


From a pragmatic, conscientious brand strategy perspective I would feel as though we were helping promote beer as a healthy alternative to liquor. In small, occasional doses each is not that bad for you, but over an extended period of consumption, neither are really that good for you are they?

An overwhelming majority of Super Tuesday voters said they voted for Kerry because they wanted to unseat Bush. Is that the best way to elect a president? While I would personally back the moving truck up to the loading dock at the White House, it is difficult to believe that Kerry is our best answer for the next president. I don't mean as a Democratic Nominee answer, but is there anyone at all? A Republican that makes a genuine attempt to connect with me and has a REALISTIC, yet promising, vision for the future of our country could sway my vote.

I know this is not an original statement, but the person who sits in the big chair in the Oval Office is the CEO of USA, Inc. As concumer/citizens, we are increasingly aware, critical and more closely observant of the CEO's in corporate America; the CEO is more presently attached to the brand today - not just to financial performance or market share. With our current foreign policy, it seems as if most of the world views it that way as well.

What's missing from today's politics is the ability of candidates to reveal a part of themselves for fear of revealing too much - "I tried it once… but, ah, I didn't inhale." There's no distinguishing positive characteristic that defines our political leaders. We are forced to rely solely on a socio-philosophical match game. Where is the individuality of our leaders. What happened to the self-deprecating honesty of Harry Truman? The "like"-ability of Ike? The youthful vigor of JFK? Or, going way back - the oratory prowess of Lincoln?

The problem is that most presidential candidates have no soul - in their brand. I mean dear God! Look at their websites. They all look the same. There's no differentiation. If nostalgia is so hot in consumer brands why has no one gone that route? I'd sub the work out to Tim Hale at Fossil and Kerry would be a shoe in with the 25-55 year-old demographic.

The Democrats are so boring Lieberman, Kucinich, and Kerry all make growing grass want to watch paint dry. Dean had a compelling brand, but then he mistakenly slapped on a "Now with more FERVOR!" violator and then he diluted his brand by completely abandoning his core attributes. Bad PR and a non-existent strategy to shift with the market made him instantly undesirable. Edwards, while having a compelling story to tell and making a fairly strong showing, was a victim of being the new player with his lack of experience; the cool looking new soda that may be around for a season. And, God love Al Sharpton. His brand of politics may not play in Peoria and despite his lack of delegates, his voice is always heard come late July.

Then, we have Bush; the only product from RepubilCorp. Is this the best they have to offer? Can he not be pulled from the shelves, retooled and reintroduce? Is there not a more proven market leader lurking around R&D? The one thing Bush has going for him is his uncanny ability to mangle the English language and still remain - seemingly - unnerved if not flippant about the whole thing. I think he is more likable when he slips from the script than when he reads the scene word for word. He comes across as familiar as you and me - human. Which was the problem with Gore's brand. He had all the answers and was less tolerable of his own faults than we were.

Disjointed as my comments might be, they sum up how I feel about the whole thing from a strategic perspective. As a citizen, political firecracker, and casual historian I will participate in and watch the coming election, but I know I will be so disappointed by imagining what it could have been.

On Mar.03.2004 at 04:35 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

general population isn't all that bright when it comes to politics.

Two ways to look at this. First, the Men in Black Way: "A person? A person is intelligent. People...people are stupid."

The second, is that most individuals are stupid.

I lean towards the first--the more shit you throw into a pot, the more homogenized it gets, and homogenizing stuff means cutting out the extremes on both ends. I don't think most individuals are morons, we are, after all, the product of millions of years of evolution and have sensory capabilities that are pretty unreal.

No one is going to respond to straight data in regards to Bush, because it doesn't necessarily mean anything. So far the only thing I saw of any value against Bush has been that TV spot, which creatively expresses a message that resonates with most anyone. I've been trying to gather lots of information on the damage Bush has done, working with my dad to get some pieces together, but the fact is...none of it really...matters. I mean, it does, obviously, but who's going to remember it. Or who's going to care.

Is that the best way to elect a president? While I would personally back the moving truck up to the loading dock at the White House, it is difficult to believe that Kerry is our best answer for the next president.

It's not necessarily a question worth considering--he's the guy, we need him to win. When Ralph "I'm Not an Egomaniac" Nader ran in 2000, it was because of talk like this, that Gore may not be "the best" choice. We need our president to stay out of people's way, not get in it--Kerry will stay out, Bush has proven that he's a fucking road-block. I know what you're saying, I'm inclined to agree, but the fact is...Bush is no better than tobacco. There might be something with celebrating the "Anti-Bush" brand, or running another generation of "The Truth" campaign.

On Mar.03.2004 at 09:11 PM
Brady’s comment is:


I completely agree that Kerry - like it or not - is the guy and, until November 2nd, our only chance for regime change.

While I believe you grasped my point, I want to clarify that it is disappointing to think that Kerry, Bush, et. al. are our best options. Where are the leaders in this country? When Clinton came along it was overwhelming how much different he was than Diddy Bush. While I think Kerry will stay out of our lives, protect our liberties, and mend international relations, I am not excited as about the man as I am about him merely being a way to unseat Bush.

There might be something with.. running another generation of "The Truth" campaign.

That would be interesting. I think it could work on some levels but the trepidations are these;

While tobacco has been, is and will be a very political issue, the facts supporting the campaign are rarely sound bites and massaged facts. Modern political campaigns point to "facts" like "he vetoed the education bill" where the whole truth is he vetoed it because it had an amendment that would provide an additional 80 gazillion dollars in corporate tax breaks.

That was the one weak side to the winning MoveOn.org ad. While making an effective emotional plea, it used projections based on fact. Therefore, it is a fine line you must walk in producing something that presents "fact" in a political arena without looking like "opinion".

For instance, how do you use Bush's economic advisor Greg Mankiw's statement supporting the outsourcing of jobs against him? While there are many people out of work because of outsourcing, there are numerous corportations that are benefiting from such practices.

No matter how you slice it, politics is nothing but spinning the facts to support an argument. Hence, both sides of the issues could utilize a "The Truth" campaign.

Not to be misunderstood, I think a "The Truth" campaign would be effective because it would not fit the typical political ad genre. It would just take a lot of dedicated work to pull it off.

On Mar.04.2004 at 08:18 AM