Red State, Blue State, Bad Signs and Branding

Last night yours truly and She Who Must be Obeyed had a rare chance to go out to dinner. As we drove down Va. 29 toward Fairfax Corner, She noted how similiar the Davis and Hurst signs were (both have blue backgrounds, white lettering, and I believe some red trim for accent), and how the Davis signs so outnumbered the Hurst signs that combined it seemed as if there were only Davis signs.

It struck me that this is the inadvertent result of the MSM map switch of 1992-1996.

Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, the national networks regularly used blue to denote GOP candidates and states that had voted republican. Red was the province of the Democrats. I recall clearly in the Jack Germond/Jules Whitecover book of the 1984 campaign compared the spreadin blue on the map of the Reagan landslide as resembling a suburban swimming pool.

Candidates of each party often used these assigned colors in creating their candidate signs. The primary example-Ronald Reagan’s 1980/1984 signs had a navy blue background with white lettering.

Then-I guess in the Presidential 3-way of 1992-colors got switched around and by 1996 the MSM had reassigned red to the GOP and blue to the democrats…and this assignment of color is now embraced by both parties. Democratic states are “blue states”, GOP states are “red states”, and competitive states are assigned some shade of Purple.

Here is where the challenge begins…

Signs for any going concern are part of of developing a brand. McDonalds, Target, Starbuck’s and others are readily recognized by a visual symbol they have developed as their brand. Candidates do the same thing.

The GOP never gave up on using blue, and have refused to adopt red as the dominant color for their campaign posters. Republicans like Frank Wolf and Tom Davis, who were first elected to congress when blue was very much the GOP color, have used it as the background in their signs for years.

The thing is that now you have Democratic candidates who have decided that they will use the blue background for their posters, also. That list includes James Webb and Andrew Hurst in 2006 and James Socas and Ken Longmeyer in 2004. They try using different fonts and colors for the letters on the posters, but the background remains blue and blends in with the colors of their established opposition, making it difficult to pick out at a distance and not as eye catching even up close.

I don’t know why challengers select campaign colors that are so much like their opponents…I presume there is some psychological reason that blue is so prevalent, plus the visual clarity of white on blue.

Still, I keep hoping someone will adopt and bring back some of my favorite campaign sign colors:

Chuck Robb: red background, black lettering, with white trim around the letters to help them stand out. (I have read that the red+black+white combo is the most effective for catching the eye)

Herb Bateman: Yellow background, black lettering, white trim

Lynwood Holton: Lime green (sort of) background, blue letters

GOP General Assembly candidates in the 1975-85 time frame: White background, Candidate name in black, office running for in red (see r/b/w observation above.

All time least favorite-a gentleman who shall remain nameless was running in a primary for the Virginia HOD down in Richmond circa 1981. He had a brown background, tan lettering, and used a font that made it look like his name had been spelled out using a rope.

This guy definitely should have gone for the blue.


4 thoughts on “Red State, Blue State, Bad Signs and Branding

  1. Actually, Bwanna, the selection of campaign colors for signs and bumper strips has always had far more to do with psychological and visual studies than with “Republican or Democratic Party” colors. White on blue (particulary dark blue) are seen better from a distance and blue, in any shade, is considered a relaxing color whereas red raises/promotes negative feelings. This is what I was taught back in the days when I was getting my political feet wet.

  2. Understood.

    Nonetheless, when you are running against an established who has used color combo “X” for years, doesn’t it make sense to use something different so your signs are not confused?

  3. Actually, most of our guys have been using the blues forever, so I’d say the Dems have the disadvantage there. For the rest of it, that’s where creativity comes in.

  4. Of course, it doesn’t help that the Democratic Party, thanks to the media, have co-opted “blue” as their designation, as you mentioned in their post. That really stinks.

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