Sunday, March 08, 2009

Obama's Logo Failure

One of the topics I get into with clients and audiences is the list of elements that go into a solid brand. Invariably, they list the wrong things: Awareness. Identity. And the most dreaded of all, the logo. Don't get me wrong, logos are a big part of brand identity. But they're hardly the main component of a brand.

For a brand to be really effective, it has to engender trust and credibility. That means people have to do more than just know who you are. They have to know why they should care about who you are. That means your brand has to do more than just announce itself. It has to set the public's expectations about what they're getting and what you're offering. Once you have all that stuff down, you can begin to craft your brand strategy.

And once you have your brand strategy, then you can get started on a logo.

The misunderstanding of logos was continued recently, with the Obama administration's unveiling of its graphic emblem representing its recovery efforts. The mark is, to put it plainly, an absolute failure, for a few reasons:

First, just as with any failed brand strategy, the emblem merely describes the entity, instead of depicting how it's the only solution to the prospect's problem. This is bad. Really bad. If all your logo does is communicate what you are, you're permitting everyone who views it to set their own expectations of you. That's hugely dangerous, because in a heartbeat, everyone viewing the logo applies it to their own, personal agenda. With 300 million people looking at one emblem, you can see how that might cause more than a little disappointment.

Second, the logo depicts the wrong information. Sure, it shows symbols of economic sectors, but so what? It leaves out more than it includes. More to the point, it's actually a graphical list of problems instead of solutions. I don't care how well you draw, that's the wrong message to send to a nation that voted for sea change.

Third, because of the first two points, the mark comes across as just another government office here to serve you. It simply doesn't inspire anyone to get up off his couch and be part of the solution. Recall the only phrase anyone remembers from John F. Kennedy's administration: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." JFK had it right: get people involved. This mark - and the strategy behind it - is far more comfortable on the side of a government service vehicle than on the front of a banner at a public rally.

Look at Franklin Delano Roosevelt's programs if you want a taste of inspiration. Every one of his programs were just as "socialistic" as they come, but they inspired a country to get back to work.

Of course, what you're really seeing here is the same lack of true brand understanding in Obama's administration as you do say, at General Motors. Before Obama's election, hack, frauds and pundits were bandying bits about "brand Obama" as if there really was something to it. Surprise: There never was. "Brand Obama" was actually a half-baked message of change. The big question was always "Change to what?" And that question was never answered.

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for changing course from where America was headed. And I kind of like the new captain of the ship. What concerns me is that even if everyone gets on board with this new logo, we're setting sail without a map.


Blogger itGOESWOAR said...


Your critique of the logo isn't making any sense to me based on your own criteria. You seem to be arguing against the brand based on the aesthetic implications of its logo. The logo isn't the brand strategy, rather it is but a mere portion of the brand, as you have astutely observed.

The "brand" in this case is the new Presidential Administration. An Administration that HAS engendered trust and credibility as evidenced by the election victory and high approval ratings. The Recovery effort, and it's logo, is an extension of that brand. Having established that, for you to try and state that people don't know who this represents (The US Government) and why they should care about this issue (The Economic Recovery) is an extremely myopic pint of view.

You further undermine your argument by comparing the effectiveness of the logo as a communicator vs. a poster from an FDR program. Two different mediums with wholly different communication opportunities. A poster is not a logo.

Now you may be right, but before you pronounce this brand DOA, let's maybe consider a little more than the logo, bud.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

You might be cramming all the issues together, which happens. There are two issues here. The first is a critique of the logo itself. I think it stinks, for the reasons I outlined above.

The second issue drives the first, in that a logo has to be driven by a brand strategy. And a brand strategy has to be an articulation as to why the brand should be perceived as "the only solution to the prospects' problem."

If you can articulate Obama's brand strategy, that would be way cool. He can't. And neither can anyone else working for him.

When a brand can't articulate itself, it leaves itself open to people setting their own expectations of it. And if Obama leaves himself open - and this kind of logo is just the tip of the iceberg - he's going to have a heck of a time fulfilling everyone's expectations -- including Republicans.

That's why it sucks. IMHO, of course.

2:57 PM  
Blogger elo said...

I like the look of the Tiger logo (although I won't go so far as to say it's a success, because I'm not sure what they're wanting to communicate at all...) - But the stimulus logo I don't like...I don't hate it, aesthetically, but I think the designer probably had a hard time trying to make something look clean-and-simple and also full of meaning... Your point about the underlying confusion behind the administration's brand strategy is a good one--although I would say that the logo doesn't need to carry the message ('brand') of the whole Obama administration--just the recovery portion...related, intertwined, but still two different brands (like Apple and Steve Jobs?)

Dr. Tantillo, who also has a branding blog, did a post back in November about the difficulty--and importance--of Obama staying true to his brand.

I think this logo might have been an opportunity to reinforce the Obama brand by more clearly articulating the recovery plan, but instead things seem even more muddled...

12:06 AM  

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