Friday, November 7, 2008

Red vs. Blue

One of my favourite blogs is Paul Lukas' UniWatch, which documents the ever-changing branding of sports teams, with an emphasis on logo changes and new uniform designs and styles. I enjoy reading it not only as a sports fan, but because it also provides some interesting insight into the marketing of professional sports (and it can be a pretty amusing read, too).

Now and then, Lukas will branch out and look at how other brands and logos came about, and given the rather significant event that took place this week in the United States, he dared to ask the question -- why are Republicans "red" and Democrats "blue"? He argued that since red is usually associated with leftists and communists, why is it so closely linked to the far right in the United States?

He got his answer from Josh Starr, a polling analyst for the 1996 Clinton campaign:

"When you sit down to develop an electoral map, you have to actively decide which colors to use ... I found that the networks were inconsistent in their assignment of colors to the different parties, so that wasn’t helpful. And the parties themselves tended to use red, white, and blue — again, no help. So I decided to assign the Democrats blue and Republicans red."

Yes, you read that correctly. A single polling analyst working for the Clinton campaign arbitrarily came up with the entire "red state" and "blue state" craze that now powers CNN and other news outlets. But why those colours? Why not the other way around?

"... We were centrist Democrats and I never liked the association of our party with red communism. So I wanted to symbolically throw the red back at the Republicans. I also saw the Republicans as more angry/red in the face/out of control. In addition, I associated red with a “red light” and stopping, while blue connotes something more positive and forward-thinking. All of these were reasons that went into my decision.

The funny thing is, I am a public opinion researcher and we never tested the branding impact of the colors red and blue — yet this is one decision that (unintentionally) has had long-lasting brand implications."

Interesting stuff. The whole site is filled with neat tidbits of information like this -- and since it's updated every day, there's always something new.

Just this week he interviewed the original designer of the Major League Baseball logo. The iconic logo was actually created in just a couple hours, and the original concept (drawn in magic marker!) was sent to MLB's office for approval -- and there were no changes to be made.

Much like the electoral college map, it's often the simplest elements that can have the longest lasting implications.