Do Voters Love the Candidates… or their Fonts?

FACT:  John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama have chosen distinctively different typeface fonts for their campaign posters, bumper stickers, and TV-ad logos. 

font-gotham-obama.jpgObama uses sans serif Gotham.  McCain uses sans serif Optima. Only Clinton uses a serif, New Baskerville.  According to the Los Angeles Times yesterday, many typographers are following the usage choices closely, and now some political analysts are finding message in the medium; Obama’s choice is “the hot font of 2008,” Clinton’s font flourishes “conjure trustworthiness,” while McCain’s communicates an “old-fashioned yet quirky vibe.”

ANALYSIS:  Anyone who remembers their first experience with a personal computer’s word-processing program recalls that initial thrill when the realization hit: I can choose any font? I can choose any font!!!

Billions of funky emails, resumes, and yard-sale posters later, we’re all perhaps jaded by the profusion of font styles, and tend to have built up biases and defenses regarding certain looks.

font-new-baskerville-clinton.jpgCareful publishers, bloggers, and marketers know that font choice can be very, very important. In my old days in politics, I didn’t pay much attention to typeface; my focus was on the words themselves (I was primarily a speechwriter).  But political campaigns sweat over those choices, and with the 2008 presidential campaigns spending hundreds of millions of dollars in media placements, it’s no wonder. Political campaigns try to unify their overall marketing themes using common messages, issue positions, and “collateral” ephemera, and they certainly labor to distinguish their candidates’ images, all overseen by the highly paid political consultants running the campaigns.

I won’t comment on the analyses cited in the L.A. Times article, ranging from typographer Tobias Frere-Jones (“We see type as the clothes that words wear”), to British psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman (whose 2001 study The Psychology of Fonts argues that typefaces with round O’s are seen as friendly while linear fonts connote “rigidity, technology and coldness”).

font-optima-mccain.jpgI did note that the best quote in the story came from Simon Daniels, lead program manager of fonts for Microsoft’s typography team, who described the McCain campaign’s chosen Optima as “classic, quirky, elite and just a bit old-fashioned.” Sums up and reinforces their overall campaign messaging pretty well…

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Photos are credited by the Los Angeles Times to Jessica Meyer / Associated Press (Obama), Robert Durell / LAT (Clinton), and Don Emmert / AFP / Getty Images (McCain).

2 Responses

  1. If you ask me what all the candidates’ fonts have in common is legibility and blandness.

    None of them are cool enough to use any of these . . .


  2. I was curious if you ever considered changing the layout of your site?

    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But
    maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect
    with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2 pictures.

    Maybe you could space it out better?


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