Midterm candidates are ditching red, white, and blue logos

New colors, unique designs set candidates apart

By HUNTER SCHWARZ, CNN'S COVER/LINE
Copyright 2018 CNN

Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke is running against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race.

(CNN) - When Beto O'Rourke met with his designer to talk about what he wanted in a Senate campaign logo, he said he didn't want anything ordinary. No red, white, and blue, and no flames or eagles.

"I want it to be straightforward, bold, I want people to know who I am know what I stand for," designer Tony Casas recalled the Texas Democrat telling him.

They looked at retro examples, which O'Rourke liked, including from Robert Kennedy's campaign. Casas, who worked as a freelance designer doing posters and other work for punk rock bands before working for O'Rourke, came up with a few options, in red, blue, green, and brown. But it was his black and white design, one he wasn't planning on pitching, that O'Rourke liked most.

"Right away he said yes, this is what I want," Casas told Cover/Line.

Today, the logo is everywhere. Casas was surprised to see how many products were available on Amazon playing off the logo or color scheme, both for or against O'Rourke.

"There are so many eyes on your work," he said. "I'll be driving down the street and you can spot his signs right away because they're not like everybody else's."

The standard colors of politics in America are, of course, red, white, and blue. But to set themselves apart this year, some candidates have chosen other colors to represent their campaigns.

There's purple and gold in Arizona for Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema, and pink and turquoise in Washington for Rep. Pramila Jayapal. Candidates bucking the usual color scheme tend to be Democrats, like Sinema and Jayapal, but not all. Republican Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada went with blue and green.

"There's a lot of tradition and a pretty well-established codification in politics," said designer Scott Starrett, whose firm Tandem did Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' campaign design. But, "when you start to talk about outsiders or insurgency candidates ... you start looking at how do we communicate that this person is not your run-of-the-mill career politician."

Ocasio-Cortez wanted to use purple in her campaign "because it represented a blend between red and blue," Starrett said. "She liked that fresh idea of thinking about a new party emerging, a party with everyone's interests in mind."

And adding yellow, which is used in her most popular campaign poster, meant using a color that's "not too far from the Americana color palette," since it often shows up in places like official seals."We needed to communicate that Alexandria was not of the establishment, she was running against the establishment with new ideas and a fresh perspective, so a fresh color palette went hand-in-hand with that," he said.

The same went for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, said Ben Ostrower, founder and creative director of Wide Eye, the creative agency behind Abrams' and other Democratic candidates' design.

Abrams uses dark bluish purple and periwinkle -- a more creative take on traditional blue Democratic tones -- along with peach -- a nod to Georgia -- and aqua green. If the colors seem to compliment her clothes, that's intentional. Ostrower said they sometimes look at what candidates wear to see how potential color schemes would play against their wardrobe. "A good political logo has to look like the candidate," he said.

After the 2016 election, "the instinct on our ends as a creative agency was completely break out of the typical conventions," Ostrower said. Black and white captured a sense of resistance, a "moral clarity of the moment," while bold colors felt broad and inclusive, a visual they saw captured in the rainbow of post-it notes left at Union Square in New York City after then-candidate Trump won.

Color was an element of the Trump campaign's digital strategy. Campaign manager Brad Parscale told CBS they ran an average of 50,000 to 60,000 different Facebook ads a day, testing things like different colors for donation buttons to see what got the most clicks.

"Different colors. What it is is: what can make people react? What catches their attention?" Parscale said. "Remember, there's so much noise on your phone. You know, or on your desktop. What is it that makes it go: Poof! 'I'm gonna stop and look.'"

For Anjelica Triola, a designer with a background in brand strategy, the election was a wake-up call.

"What happened with the election wasn't hacking, it was just really good digital marketing," she said. "The industry I've been participating for so long and the tools we built to eventually sell laptops, sneakers, and makeup, and it's being used to sell false ideologies to the masses."

She sees design as one element in building political brands that reach new voters and build a new electorate.

"There's a knowledge gap for what needs to happen in order to develop a compelling brand, whether it's for a product, like I'm used to, or for a political candidate," she said.

The most successful modern candidate to use non-traditional colors was Jimmy Carter, who used green in his winning 1976 presidential campaign. News reports at the time note how supporters wore dresses by Diane von Furstenberg in "Carter green" and that there were green phones at the Democratic National Convention.

Analysts thought it represented Carter's farm background, or that it was perhaps an environmental message, but that wasn't the case, said Gerald Rafshoon, a former White House communications director for Carter.

"We always had to be different since we didn't have a lot of money and TV was our medium," Rafshoon said in an email. "Starting with his successful campaign for governor and through his presidential campaigns I decided to use green. Why? I liked green because it stood out from the traditional red, white and blue."

Carter green didn't stick in 1980, when he lost his bid for reelection, but some campaign color trends do. The shade of blue that Barack Obama used in his presidential campaigns was lighter than the deep "corporate" blue used in the '00s by candidates like George W. Bush and John Kerry. Today, that "Obama blue," along with a sans-serif font like Gotham, which Obama's campaign used, are seen in campaigns not just in the US, but internationally, like by British Prime Minister Theresa May. Walmart made a similar change to its logo from dark blue to light in 2008, the same year Obama first ran.

Whether any color trends today show up in future campaigns may well depend on Election Day. If candidates who used non-traditional colors win, campaigns in two years or four might draw inspiration from their trend-setting design.

Ostrower, the Wide Eye founder, thinks the increased diversity in generation, race, religion, and gender among candidates will drive campaign design trends.

"The more candidates change," he said, "then I think the more political branding will reflect that diversity."

Copyright 2018 by CNN NewSource. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.