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Yes We Can / Si Se Puede

“Because words and ideas are powerful…”

It was a busy weekend for print design and advertising. I could kick off this Monday by talking about the Superbowl ads, or about those scandal-inducing Abercrombie and Fitch billboards, but I think I'll save those for later in the week, because something else seriously, seriously cool happened this weekend.

More and more, professional artists from all fields are coming out to show support for their favorite candidates, and the latest and greatest example of this comes from Will.i.am, the dude from the Black Eyed Peas. Will.i.am put together this wicked song and video based on the now-famous speech made by Barack Obama after the primary in New Hampshire.

Check it out:

The original posting of the video, along with a little meditation on its inspiration, can be found here.

As you may have noticed, quite a bit of Obama's print collateral shows up in the video, including both signs and screen-printed t-shirts. But the real star of the show here is the copy, most notably the slogan, “Yes we can.”

Although it only really caught on in English after New Hampshire, Spanish supporters of Obama have been using the phrase “Si se puede” since the get-go. The words are actually an old Spanish labor union slogan from the 70s, originally penned by Ceasar Chavez and United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta. Yet another example of amazing design ideas coming for the ranks of union organizers!

So, to me, the cool thing that happens here, with this video, is that advertising design actually becomes art. Since most of us start as artists, then get into advertising to pay the bills, it's a cool example of the cycle of inspiration and motivation coming full circle.

The question of the day is: What happens to a brand when it becomes bigger than itself? Has it achieved a state of brand Nirvana, or is it a train racing out of control?

On the one hand, political advertising is supposed to be bigger than itself, not just a marketing strategy, but a genuine attempt to connect with and inspire voters. From this perspective, the expansion of a Presidential candidate's brand beyond the realm of his or her campaign is a great thing.

On the other hand, a brand that grows beyond the control of its creators and managers can become a liability, especially in a situation where brand control is so important. Because again, it's not just about the brand, it's about who, exactly, a candidate is, and if the disputes between Clinton and Obama, and between McCain and Romney, are any indication, there's nothing a campaign hates worse than having its candidate misrepresented.

In the case of the Will.i.am video, I believe that the Obama brand is positively reinforced, and made bigger than itself in an amazing way. And I think that's the case with most independent candidate support. But as Will.i.am himself points out several times in his manifesto, “words and ideas are powerful.” And the truth of this is that they are sometimes dangerously so.

In a world where branding and marketing can change the tides of history, words and ideas may be as close to magic as we get. When a good idea sweeps the nation, we are all the richer for it, but when a bad idea catches the collective imagination, there's no telling where the fallout will end.

So far so good, friends, but this campaign to end all campaigns is far from over.


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