H Is for Hillary

Last week, the Democratic presidential candidate unveiled her campaign logo. Though controversial, it has the potential to become a powerful brand in its own right.

Brendan McDermid / Reuters

The growing slate of 2016 presidential candidates had barely had a chance to announce their campaigns before a new contender entered the fray, only to prove immediately divisive. The guilty party? Hillary Clinton’s new logo, a blue and red “H” with a bold arrow as the crossbar.

Hillary Clinton Campaign / Twitter

Since anything to do with Hillary raises red (and blue) flags, critics assumed that the logo must be packed with symbolism. So, left-wingers were displeased that the arrow is red and points to the right, while right-wingers were annoyed that, when reversed, the arrow points left. Not since the Soviets ideologically censored art for geographical orientation—things facing West were forbidden—has the mere direction of anything been so disparaged. But that doesn’t mean Hillary’s logo should be given a free pass. The folks at FedEx, Tag Heuer, Amazon, and at least a dozen other corporations are justifiably upset because they have arrows in their logos, too—and how many arrows can the market bear? (Incidentally, the Nazi Stormtroopers' (SA) logo contained an “S” that turned into an arrow, but don't judge all arrows on a few rotten applications.)


As far as visual tropes go, the “H” owes its issues partly to its dubious alphabetic predecessors. Napoleon was one of the first autocrats to use a single initial, an “N," as a monogram. Benito Mussolini’s “M” was monumentalized through sculpture and distributed to his followers on badges of allegiance. The single initial implies a noblesse oblige—or as Superman’s “S” implies, a kind of omniscient superpower. However, leaders in the United States of America are neither absolute rulers nor deities when referred to by initials: The shorthand names of FDR, JFK, and LBJ weren’t imposed from the top so much as they were democratically adopted by their constituents.

Then came “W”: George W. Bush had a problem with his dynastic last name and needed to distinguish father from son without resorting to lineage numerals (apart from the number of the presidency itself). As it happened, “W” evolved into a popular nickname, but I can't imagine Hillary wanting people calling her “H,” or even “HRC," which sounds too much like a bank.

While a candidate, Barack Obama’s logo signaled a paradigm shift in the single-initial trope. The mnemonic “O” was consistent with the overall modernity of his entire branding style. Or maybe his image-makers realized Obama had a unique problem being the first foreign-sounding name on a major party’s ticket. Using the “O” was one way to avoid spelling out Barack Hussein Obama ad infinitum. Not to mention, the “O” is the comfort food of letters; it suggests openness, opportunity and [h]onesty. Its use during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns allowed for thematic versatility and inclusion, since various policy-centric symbolic graphic elements could fit neatly within the open letter.

Hillary’s “H” is not Obama’s “O." Her arrow is not as subtle, for instance,  as the arrow hidden in the negative space embedded in the FedEx logo. Rather, it's heavy-handed, which is perhaps the point. The “H” implies power. Just using the name "Hillary" is friendly, but much too informal for a presidential candidate. Hillary’s “H” bridges the gap with its heft.

Ted Cruz Campaign / Twitter
Rand Paul Campaign / Twitter

So let’s look at this logo with perspective. It’s already getting more attention than the bland Ted Cruz and Rand Paul logos because “H-Arrow” is the mark of a real brand. A brand conveys a story, while a label simply identifies. If the “H-Arrow” lasts through the post-convention period, it may grow on people like the Verizon logo, which survives being fundamentally ugly because nobody cares as long as they get proper customer service. If Hillary’s policies live up to her promise, then the logo will follow suit. At this point, it’s too early to tell, given that the campaign will last another year and a half and bring forth many other logos, signs, and slogans. The “H” may be just a placeholder, but if not, remember: Logos don’t win elections.