The Politics of Design or Seeing Red

MAGA cap

Politics aside… what do design, branding and political experts really think of President Trump’s “Make America Great Again!” red trucker hat? Some call it the worst design of 2016, while others say it was the most hated and most loved symbol of the 2016 election. But most industry designers and branding experts agree that the hat was horrifically designed but terrifically effective.

Here is a sampling of thoughts and comments from industry experts and political players on the topic of President Trump’s red trucker hat:

Lindsay Ballant,  Adjunct Professor – Maryland College of Art
“In a way, the fluke success of that hat was a rejection of ‘design thinking’ and ‘design strategy’ as a whole.” She added, “Designers should really think about that, because we’ve built a whole economy around that as a practice. We’ve sold ourselves on the premise that this is how things should be done.”

Ballant concluded, “It should be something that designers think about. Good design doesn’t necessarily mean effective design but most of all, it’s a lesson about the limitations of “good” design.”

Diana Budds – FastCodeDesign
“It was a poorly designed product that turned out to be very strong branding.” Budds added, “It’s a basic product, more likely than not, someone picked red since it’s the color for the Republican party, and basic Times New Roman lettering in white so it would stand out against the cap.”

Forest Young, Head of Design – Wolff Olins San Francisco
“While the hat is not good design, it is good branding and ten years from now, the winning charades team assigned the phrase ‘Presidential Election 2016’ would have simply mimed the motion of someone putting on a baseball cap.”

Make America Great Again Hat David Axelrod, Democratic Chief Political Strategist for President Obama
“What they were up against was nothing short of “a marketing genius.” Axelrod said, “Trump understood the market that he was trying to reach. You can’t deny him that. He was very focused from the start on who he was talking to.” He concluded, “In terms of galvanizing the market that he was talking to he did it single-mindedly and ingeniously.”

George Lois, Advertiser and Graphic Designer
George Lois, the renowned New York advertiser and graphic designer who conceived the “I Want My MTV” campaign in the early ’80s, said, “It’s very strong on a red cap. The red baseball cap implies that it’s kind of an American staple. It’s worn by real people.”

Philip Wegmann, Commentary Blogger – Washington Examiner
“An appropriate icon for his failing campaign.” Weggman added, “The millions of hats will make excellent keepsakes for those who thought his populist bravado could overcome Clinton’s unimaginative and conventional but well-oiled political machine.”

Charles P. Pierce, Political Writer – Esquire Magazine
“The hats may well go down as the Trump campaign’s only lasting contribution to the political history of the Republic. Laugh, clown, laugh.”

Dana Bash, CNN – Chief Political Correspondent
“He came around the corner and we all went, ‘Oh!’ – I really remember it vividly because it was like, ‘Oh, of course, he’s the master marketer. Why wouldn’t he put it on a hat?'”

Zachary Petit, Editor of Print Magazine
“In terms of aesthetics, I believe the hat fails spectacularly, but if the objective of design is to communicate and sell — it works wonders.”

Marshal Cohen, Chief Industry Analyst – NPD Market Research Group
“Selling branded apparel and accessories has another advantage that some say is more valuable than any profit made — marketing.” he added, “When a supporter buys and wears a candidate’s t-shirt, it’s a walking billboard. It’s better than people putting signs on somebody’s yard.” Cohen concluded, “A real life person who is endorsing you…it increases your power to politically market yourself ten-fold.”

Presidential Props
Here are dollar figures on what some of the most recent front-running presidential candidates spent on political marketing swag:

  • Barack Obama
    $1.3 million for t-shirts, posters and bumper stickers.
  • Bernie Sanders
    By May 2016: $8.5 million on merchandise. A “Baby for Bernie” bib sold for $15.
  • Hillary Clinton
    By May 2016: $1.4 million on merchandise. Hillary’s “Everyday Pantsuit Tee” sold for $30.
  • Donald Trump
    Between July 2015 and September 2016: $3.2 million on just hats. A “Make America Great Again!” hat sold for $25.

*Federal Election Commission Statistics via Business of Fashion.

Prominent Presidential Campaign Logos and Slogans

For other views on brand, design and politics please visit these Aha and The Emarketing Blog posts:

Obama & Romney Reach Agreement!
The Brand Management of Hate
Our Willingness To Believe