Political campaigns have long been pioneers on new marketing tactics and tools, from the campaign button to grassroots social media fundraising. But sometimes they also set sad examples of bad marketing.
The Trump campaign compounded a bungled rollout of Gov. Mike Pence as the GOP vice presidential choice by hurriedly throwing together a logo for the new Trump-Pence team. It turned out to be a digital disaster, which people mocked because of its unintended sexual overtones. The logo was just as hurriedly modified before the Republic National Convention opened on Monday.
If there is good news for the Trump campaign, it’s that it isn’t alone in mucking up a logo by trying to design one on the fly and on the cheap. Organizations do it more often than you might imagine, often with awkward, embarrassing results.
Logos are not marketing afterthoughts. They are the visual face of a brand and should reflect the brand’s values and personality. Logos and their tagline also can show what a brand makes or does.
Corporations, nonprofits and public agencies with consumer-facing services are well advised to spend time on their logos to ensure they tell your story and are fresh to the eye. And you shouldn’t get to a final logo until lots of eyeballs have looked at it.
Designing and tweaking a logo and accompanying tagline can be agonizing, but the agony is worth it when the end product crystallizes a brand story and imprints the brand in people’s minds.
The last thing you want is a logo that elicits laughter, unless it is for a comedy show. That’s why you should work with people who design logos for a living. They can summon graphic imagery you may never have imagined, but love instantly when you see it. They also can avoid creating imagery that can be misinterpreted or unintentionally offend.
Context is important in logo design. In the Trump campaign’s case, the mockery centered on a “T” penetrating a “P.” Overlapping letters in logos are common (in fact, I saw a “T” on top of a “P” in a trucking company logo the same day just as the Trump-Pence logo flap occurred). The difference is that the Trump-Pence relationship, as high-profile political candidates, allowed for a snarky interpretation of the juxtaposition, creating fodder for social media gadflies.
A professional logo designer most likely would have been sensitive to that potential and chosen different symbology for the GOP presidential-vice presidential ticket. By throwing together the logo at the last minute, the campaign committed another unforced error and was reduced to chopping off the symbol, leaving a plain “Trump” over “Pence” as a serviceable, but hardly awe-inspiring logo for the national nominating convention.
The campaign appeared to spend more time engineering a Michael Jackson-inspired entrance for Trump on opening night than on the more enduring impression of his quest for the White House borne by his logo. People pay attention to logos. Organizations should pay close attention, too.
Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.