And you thought the sexism wasn’t intentional?

Monday, January 26th, 2009 · 21 Comments »

The audacity of branding.

The audacity of branding.

Back in February 2008, Andrew Romano of Newsweek wrote about the Obama campaign’s extraordinary attention to detail. And I do mean detail: we’re talking logos, typefonts, even kerning, for pete’s sake — pretty much everything you’d expect from a top-drawer corporate marketing effort. Which, of course, is what the Obama campaign actually was. As Romano put it: “Reinforced with a coherent, comprehensive program of fonts, logos, slogans and web design, Obama is the first presidential candidate to be marketed like a high-end consumer brand.”

Romano talked to Michael Bierut, a graphic designer, to understand how the Obama brand worked. Bierut was full of wide-eyed admiration:

The thing that sort of flabbergasts me as a professional graphic designer is that, somewhere along the way, they decided that all their graphics would basically be done in the same typeface, which is this typeface called Gotham. If you look at one of his rallies, every single non-handmade sign is in that font. Every single one of them. And they’re all perfectly spaced and perfectly arranged. Trust me. I’ve done graphics for events –and I know what it takes to have rally after rally without someone saying, “Oh, we ran out of signs, let’s do a batch in Arial.” It just doesn’t seem to happen. There’s an absolute level of control that I have trouble achieving with my corporate clients.

It’s extraordinary: a campaign so relentlessly on-message and attentive to detail that they never even used Arial font when it was supposed to Gotham, not once, not even for a last-minute extra batch of signs.

And we’re supposed to believe that the sexism was an accident?

I want you to think about that while you’re reading this brilliant post by Sheryl Robinson: Framing the Cunt: the use of sexist stereotypes in the 2008 election – Part 1. And when you get to the point where you start saying to yourself, “oh, it wasn’t intentional, he didn’t really mean that, it was just a slip,” remember: Arial font.

Arial font, people. Arial font.

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21 Responses to “And you thought the sexism wasn’t intentional?”

  1. Sis says:

    Absolutely right. This was a public relations/marketing department effort. Recognizable to anyone who’s ever worked in the field; straight out of the school of communications. Makes you wonder. Who’s really backing Obama? Sure, major decision of your Democrat party, but who with them? Who’s got that kind of money? Obama couldn’t have. The only products that have been marketed with such high octane are prescription drugs, and the Iraqi war. And instead of blowing whistle on this, the media took the wank.

  2. Sis says:

    And the other major “font” they used was religion. He evoked the evangelical hallelujah services. That would not have worked in any other country in the world.

  3. yttik says:

    That post by Sheryl Robinson was brilliant. She laid it all out perfectly.

    Obama was marketed to people like a sugary cereal or the latest pharmaceutical. It wasn’t an accident and neither was the sexism. He deliberately played on sexist stereotypes and also used right wing talking points against hillary clinton.

    It is absolutely chilling to me how easily people’s opinions can be manipulated.

  4. Alwaysthinking says:

    The sexism was no mistake. Obama set the tone with his own patronizing and belittling statements. They had to know their followers would take the cue.

    Those of us who have been even partially involved in corporate identity/marketing/PR/branding/planning programs know that a comprehensive effort does involve everything down to the precise font, logo, and even the kerning. Of course, the Obama campaign had enough money to carry this out in the extreme. What bothered me was that everything seemed so blatantly evident and concocted (although things such as the logo and Obama’s speeches seemed terribly infantile). I kept thinking surely the people would catch on. Never happened. Sigh…

  5. Alwaysthinking says:

    Although, on second thought, I do have to say that I think many people in the primaries did catch on and at least some of them showed it with their votes for Hillary and other parties. It actually took the DNC manipulation of the caucuses and the Democratic convention to put Obama on top.

  6. tdraicer says:

    >Although, on second thought, I do have to say that I think many people in the primaries did catch on and at least some of them showed it with their votes for Hillary and other parties. It actually took the DNC manipulation of the caucuses and the Democratic convention to put Obama on top.

    Just so. Even if Obama somehow morphs into the second coming of FDR (I’m not holding my breath) he won the nomination in the way W. “won” the 2000 election. I never considered W. legitimate, and the same goes for the Big O.

  7. Anna Belle says:

    This was my very first criticism of Obama, btw: He’s too “marketed.”

    I disdain marketing so much, mostly because I was born during the lowest birth rate period for Americans ever and we NEVER get marketed to…not enough of us to matter.

    But also because I value truth above all else, and marketing is just a modern, technological way to lie and have people respect you anyway.

    I’m trying to put a brave face on, to try to come to terms with the next four years, and then Robinson and Socks come along with the double-whammy of truth…fuck.

  8. Anna Belle says:

    Modded for my mouth…

  9. sister of ye says:

    Well, I’m a boomer, the first generation excessively marketed to. But even we had time free from the blitz, when our parents pushed us outside. We didn’t have videos in the car and had to learn to keep our own minds occupied on long trips (no easy task shoved with six siblings in the backseat of a sedan).

    Maybe that’s why some of us, at least, recognized the campaign for what it was – sheer manipulation.

    Last month I had a huge project and worked several Saturdays. I took CDs of several musicals to play to keep myself awake. One was Evita. And it was eerie how the cries of “Peron” resonated with this year’s cries of “Obama” – and the rhetoric about a leader being the savior of the people.

    Though in this case it’s the candidate himself who has the pretty face.

  10. Davidson says:

    Reagan exploited racism by using dogwhistles, but Obama incited misogyny overtly. With regards to taking advantage of ugly bigotry, he’s worse than Reagan, but praised as a savior. I fear misogyny has not only been legitimized, but sanctified with Obama.

  11. Lisa says:

    Did anyone else ever see that show on cable 2 summers ago with an Englishman named Darren Brown who is a hypnotist? It was amazing how he could manipulate people. Even sometimes without ever talking to them. I keep thinking about him and his show when I think of Obama.

    Total manipulation of the public in every way. What kind of Machiavellian would agree to be marketed in such a way? Not one I would want for president.

  12. julia says:

    And intelligent people are still buying it! In Counterspin, the media watch radio show. they kiss his feet. And every day I meet another woman
    swooning. Well, as a friend of mine in Eugene says ‘give it 6 months’. This is only the first week…

  13. m Andrea says:

    This is long, and some of it is inflammatory redundancy (which is why I didn’t link to it earlier) but the latter parts delineate the hyponosis techniques Obama used during his speeches.

    http://www.oilforimmigration.org/facts/?page_id=290

    And I would just like to plead that feminists not use these kinds of techniques, if anyone is tempted to fight fire with fire. They are underhanded, and we lose the high moral ground if we sink to the same level.

    Great post, Violet!!

  14. Sis says:

    That’s an aluminum hat website if ever I’ve seen one, and among other things I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, is their anti-birth control and anti-choice stance.

    I think we can all agree Obama used techniques common in persuasive speaking (and writing), such as teachers, evangelical ministers, politicians and essayists do, but that website does not have a purpose of discussion of rhetorical technique, but dissemination of racism, women hatred and paranoia.

    Not having any, thanks.

  15. Kiuku says:

    Yes persuasion is not always forgivable in politics. Persuasion, for instance, can be a bad thing when it incites prejudice toward a group of people, to reflect upon the status of the opponent. It’s poor persuasion, indicative of low morals and poor persuasion abilities; a good player, persuader, should not have to resort to those tactics. The good player displays sportsmanship and does not resort to unsavory tactics; he doesn’t have to.

    Obama had to.

  16. Sis says:

    Well, seems that’s the point of Sheryl and Vi’s posts: Obama really sunk low, and did it deliberately knowing what he was doing and what the effect would be. And not long into the campaign of shaming, ridicule and milking simmering resentment and hatred, they got the message it was not only working but the audience wanted more. They could skirt the edge of pornographic sugestiveness and get away with it, with the audience they were appealing to: middle class white boys who more than anything else, love a circle jerk.

  17. Cyn says:

    What does it say about us as a nation when “marketing” becomes a subject you can major in in college?

  18. m Andrea says:

    Well, I did include a warning, lol. I couldn’t relocate the first page I found, that one was easier to just scroll down to the juicy bits. One of my interests is marketing manipulation, and even I missed most of Obamas gestures that the guy mentioned. The way that Obama made the sign of the “L” for loser only when he mentioned McCain’s name, for instance.

    I’d like to see more analysis of Obama’s campaign speeches from the same perspective, without the hyperbole.

  19. Sis says:

    I too am interested in this aspect, and as I commented in another post “Marshall McLuhan is going to be so pissed he missed this.”

  20. julia says:

    So Amy Goodman invites Eleanor Smeal on her show to defend Obama on the Ms. Magazine cover. She could have invited Violet and had a debate; she could have invited Sonia Johnson, or any real feminist. Instead she protects Ms and protects Obama and protects patriarchy.

  21. Lisa says:

    m Andrea, I found that link fascinating. I have read quite a bit about NLP over the years, and it really rang true.