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Bloomberg’s branding is a con

If you or someone you know actually calls Michael Bloomberg “Mike,” please contact me immediately.

Bloomberg’s branding is a con
[Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post/Getty Images]

Michael Bloomberg was the mayor of New York, owns a company that did $10 billion in revenue in 2018, and has a net worth equal to that of 660,000 American households. But you know what? Don’t worry about it. Just call him Mike. He’s really a salt of the earth kind of guy.

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Well, that’s the case Democratic candidate for president Michael Bloomberg’s campaign brand identity is trying to make. Bloomberg appeared on the national stage with his fellow primary candidates for the first time last Wednesday, and though he’s sitting out the first four states in the primary, he’s spending like crazy to gain favor in the states that vote on Super Tuesday, March 3. The time is right to take a closer look at the branding that made Michael Bloomberg “Mike.”

[Image: Bloomberg 2020]

The campaign’s logo lockup is based in a cute sans serif, with an emphasis on the candidate’s abbreviated first name in lowercase above a smaller, uppercase tagline: BLOOMBERG2020. The friendly type treatment is carried throughout the brand, and with a little digging into the CSS on the Bloomberg campaign page, appears to be a Bloomberg-specific variant from the Avenir Next type family called “AvenirNextPForBBG.” The vaguely approachable warm fuzzy feeling you get from those slightly askew lowercase e’s might remind you of the typeface another establishment campaign seeking a friendly look and feel used: Hillary Clinton‘s, which used Sharp Sans.

[Image: Bloomberg 2020]

In addition to a sense of approachability that the Clinton campaign tried (and failed) to establish, that geometric sans serif type choice creates an association with progressive values and modernity. A recent Virginia Tech study showed that sans serifs are perceived as more liberal and forward-looking. That’s across party lines, by the way; even Marco Rubio used a sans serif for his 2016 campaign, along with the slogan “A New American Century.”

It’s clearly a deliberate choice for the Bloomberg campaign. Bloomberg ran for mayor of New York City as a Republican, and he’s had several policies over the years that are right of center, like reduced work benefits. An approachable, forward-looking brand is no doubt designed to soften any associations voters might have with Bloomberg’s Republican past and problematic policies.

[Image: Bloomberg 2020]

In this sense, Bloomberg’s branding may be the most tactical of his competitors. Pete Buttigieg’s brand emphasizes his “heartland” roots; Amy Klobuchar recently joked that her brand colorway was cribbed from ranch dressing; Elizabeth Warren’s is rooted in FDR-era visuals and type. But by using a friendly lowercase sans serif, along with punctuations of cobalt against a more traditional navy, the Bloomberg campaign is strategically creating value associations that wouldn’t be there otherwise (he’s Mike, a working guy!).

[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

Okay, so the branding is kind of a con. But is it effective? Bloomberg is currently polling among top candidates in three national polls. Surely that owes more to the $450 million he has spent on ads than to his branding. But the Bloomberg campaign is unique in that the branding could be seen as part of his strategy to build some sort of progressive coalition; whereas campaigns like Warren or Buttigieg use brand to reflect who the candidate is, the Bloomberg campaign is using its brand to fill in the gaps for who he is not.

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We’ve reached out to the Mike Bloomberg 2020 campaign and they have not yet responded to request for comment.

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About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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