If politics is an industry, then politicians are its products. While public servants have grown more comfortable with the slow-burn of viral marketing and endless news cycles, there’s still nothing quite like solid logo design for making that all-important first impression. It’s the logo, more than anything, that adheres most easily to bumpers and billboards. And presidential campaigns have seen their fair share of unorthodox logos and slogans.
Some of the logos below are legitimately excellent. Others are memorable for, well, other reasons entirely. No matter what, though, each one is remarkable in its own way.
1904: Theodore Roosevelt vs. Alton Parker
Still respected today as one of America’s most quintessentially “manly” presidents, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was a truly consequential president who will forever be remembered as one of the greats.
His main presidential campaign iconography for 1904 feels quaint and perhaps even silly by today’s standards, but it still holds up fairly well as a good piece of messaging. Teddy ran as, among other things, a war hero — and this primitive photo of him plays up that distinction.
But it also does something else: It sums up his platform in an almost breathtakingly simple phrase. That phrase is “Equal rights for all.” There’s no equivocation there, no lame posturing and no room for misunderstanding. If you want a president who stands up for everybody, it seems to say, I’m your man.
The ‘60s: John F. Kennedy vs. Richard M. Nixon
If there’s one thing you can say for presidential campaign logos over the years, it’s that lessons have been learned. Lesson one might be this: Don’t put your candidate’s face on the logo.
In his first campaign in 1960, Nixon mostly excluded his face from his campaign materials, going with a simple “Nixon Now!” message with the familiar red and blue palette we know so well. But in 1968, he went in a different direction. It’s neither a good logo nor a bad one — but it does get our nod for being bold. In 1960, a presidential debate was televised for the first time, and spelled near-disaster for Nixon, who, in comparison with Kennedy, appeared just a little less photogenic.
Eight years later, Nixon threw caution to the wind and plastered his face just about everywhere. Is it an objectively good choice for a logo? No — not really. But Nixon here taps into the very real human desire to swim against the current.
1976: Jimmy Carter & Walter Mondale
It’s extremely rare that a presidential candidate in the U.S. will break from the traditional red, white and blue when they set about commissioning a logo for their campaign. For this reason and more, Jimmy Carter’s and Walter Mondale’s 1976 campaign is remarkable.
The choice of green for the logo’s main color is noteworthy on its own. By breaking from convention, it sends the unmistakable message that these candidates stand apart from the political mainstream. But it doesn’t stop there — the logo is also a master of snark.
Note the placement of the comma in “Leaders, for a change.” If the color green left anything to interpretation, the catchphrase does not. It says, loudly and clearly: We are not members of the political Establishment — real change starts here.
2008: Barack Obama vs. John McCain
In 2008, Americans had a choice between virtual unknown Barack Obama and John McCain, an established figure within the political Establishment. As if in answer to this clear contrast, these two candidates’ logos took rather different approaches.
Featuring a single white star and an unremarkable typeface, this simple logo screams “status quo.” Symbolism aside, the understated design actually did the campaign a few favors. To begin with, it did away with the bright blue and red Americans had been used to, while the white star and gold bars give the whole thing a fresh and clean look.
The logo isn’t great because of the design choices it makes — it’s great because it plays it safe. McCain and Palin styled themselves as “mavericks” throughout the campaign, but when push came to shove, they still courted the Conservative vote pretty hard.
In comparison, Obama’s 2008 logo provided a bit of freshness. The stylized “O” with flag-like stripes, doubling as rolling hillsides, provided an appropriate theme for a man who campaigned on “hope” and “change.” The logo is still being imitated today, by the likes of Pepsi and others, with mixed results.
2016: Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump
In a presidential campaign cycle where the two main parties have fielded historically unpopular candidates, the average voter might be unsurprised to find that these campaign logos haven’t been met with much more acclaim than the politicians they represent.
Greatness can take many forms. In the case of the Trump campaign, greatness means being un-self-conscious to an absolutely breathtaking degree. In short, the Trump-Pence campaign stumbled as badly over their logo design as they’ve stumbled over other matters. The first iteration, seen here, was short-lived, since the internet answered it with an outpouring of well-deserved scorn. Observers pointed out that the suggestiveness of the interlocking initials, among other things, brings to mind the GOP’s plans for the middle class.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, offered up a logo that was blessedly free of controversy, even if it somewhat failed to think outside the box. The only curious thing about the logo is that the arrow points conspicuously to the Right, rather than to the Left. Was it a conscious design choice? Maybe, maybe not — but the fact remains: even die-hard Right-wingers are turning out to vote for Clinton version 2.0.
So there you have it. These campaign logos are to entice voters into believing that their candidate is the right person for the job. Are you convinced? Setting all of this aside, I urge you to go out and vote tomorrow. Your voice matters.