Posts Tagged ‘2012’



Thursday, November 29th, 2012

The latest visual essay from Debbie is now up on Imprint!

Layout 1

>>click here for the full essay.


Election Reflection- Through a Brand Lens

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Wow! It’s as if the air suddenly got cleaner as the huge cloud of election messaging disappeared, literally overnight. And for the first time in weeks, it felt that the moment was right to reflect on what we had all just experienced.

Now, do not expect a politically based reflection – that would be wholly inappropriate from a green card-holding Brit and there have been hundreds of those anyway!! Rather, I want to share my thoughts from a brand perspective on lessons learned from the election. In the process of decision-making, it is inevitable that I end up favoring one brand over the other…but this is based on brand reasons, not political reasons.

Generally I always try to avoid evaluating people as brands as it feels somewhat hokey and over simplistic, but I have to make an exception for Obama and Romney. Over the past 6 months, they have become mega-brands in their own right and not just they but their brand plans, strategies and programs have been laid out for each of us to experience and evaluate.

So here, in my opinion, are the seven major branding lessons learned from the election campaign:


1. Getting the targeting strategy correct is fundamental to successful brand building

In this regard, the Obama camp nailed it. They appeared to have defined exactly who they wanted to appeal to and had done their homework in slicing and dicing the demographic dynamics of the nation. The Romney brand seemed to be tied to historical targeting and look to have paid the price.

2. No amount of marketing money spent can compensate for a poorly positioned brand

And no-one can dispute the ridiculous amount of money spent by these two brands. The fact is that the Obama brand was more consistent and flip-flopped less than the Romney brand but both of these brands should be ashamed at the wastage factor, given the dollars involved.


3. Brands must always display a united front with a single and distinctive brand voice

And even with this in place, building enduring brand equity is a hazardous business. In the election campaign, the Romney brand suffered because it was consistently derailed by colleagues within the brand team making controversial statements on complex philosophical issues – the result was increased brand blur and confusion within the audience. On this point the Obama brand was more clear and consistent and made less mistakes.

4. To be successful, brands need a clear and inspiring vision together with a roadmap for the future

And conversely, brands that dwell on the past often end up…in the past. Consumers respect brands that share their purpose and tell them where they are going and not just where they’ve been. Sadly, both election brands lacked clarity of vision and focused conversation disproportionately in the past. Mistake, big time, for both brands.

5. Brand leaders instinctively think multi-platform and deploy all the tools in their communication toolbox

Now this could be a case of perception rather than reality but it just seemed to me that the Obama brand was smarter, quicker and more effective in integrating their media and messaging plans. The resulting impression was of a modern ‘social’ brand communicating in a thoroughly modern ‘social’ way. I have met no-one who has echoed these sentiments for the Romney brand.

6. Negative energy is probably the least effective messaging platform on which to build a brand

In any political campaign of this magnitude, one has to expect a degree of negativity but this was extreme and it was often personal. Consumers understand competitive advantage and why one brand can benefit directly at another brands expense. But both brands suffered because they failed to ring-fence the negative energy component and it was allowed to run riot – shame on them both.

7. Brands need to display humanity in order to build a meaningful relationship with their audience

And it took the wives and families of both brands to deliver on this important dimension. The kind of gladiatorial behavior shown, for example, by both the Obama and Romney brands in the second presidential debate created a chasm for some that was never repaired and for others, it took Michelle and Ann to step in and deliver the compassion needed in order to bridge that gap.

In summary, I also have absolutely no doubt that future campaigns need more hands-on professional brand help – not just on the activation side where many agencies are involved but more on the strategic branding side where both brands were often exposed. It is true that brand Romney appeared to need more help but I can assure you that brand Obama would also have benefited from some serious professional branding assistance.

So onwards and upwards to 2016 – I just wonder how much will really change!!

Simon Williams


Up NEXT on Design Matters…

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012


This week Debbie welcomes Sterling Brand’s President of Strategy, Austin McGhie as he talks about the importance of positioning your brand and his new book: Brand is a Four Letter Word.

Tune in to the podcast at 3pm this Friday on Design Observer!

Click here for more episodes of design matters


Design Matters is Back!

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012



The first two episodes are with Chris Ware and Scott Stowell! And, this new season includes special guest star and Sterling’s head of Strategy- Austin McGhie! So stay tuned for upcoming episodes as we announce them and tune-in every Friday afternoon at Design Observer.

Click here for more details


Things People Are Talking About This Very Minute

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

(Or: Things I Learned While Watching the 2012 Olympics)

The latest visual essay from Debbie Millman is UP!

See and read the Whole thing here.



Sterling Buzz…

Monday, July 16th, 2012

This past Friday, First Lady Michelle Obama honored Debbie and fellow winners of the 2012 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards, lending big support from the White House to the design community.

“If you put the time and effort in… if you dream big and truly believe in yourselves, then one day you too can create the designs that can change our lives. You can do this…”


HOW Design Live: Redux

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

The 2012 HOW Design Live conference was a truly amazing experience and we are fortunate enough to give everyone a front row seat through the lens of Debbie Millman!

HOWbadgeBadge on – Let’s go!

Of course there was the fun:


Debbie kicking some RDQLUS1 gear (with the lovely Steve Gordon)

Jessie Kuhn and Donovan BeeryHanging with Friends: Jessie Kuhn, Online Editor of HOW (masquerading as Debbie) and Donovan Berry, Founder and Creative Director, Eleven19 (masquerading as Paul Revere)

booksigningAnd some book signing…

Debbie+JiheeYa-With Jihee Ya!

And then there was the emotional - Debbie held a retrospective for Hillman Curtis, who passed away this year. The filmmaker and Debbie worked very closely together for years on a number of beautiful interviews. One piece that was not shown at the retrospective is this gem, with Massimo Vignelli:

Then there was the custom designed- Debbie collaborated with Bigstock and created a special design for their Designer series notebook.


Then there was the brilliant- Brought to you by designer and attendee, Carolyn Sewell; bright young student, Donovan Brien; and illustrator and creative mind, Aaron Draplin:

carolynsewellDesigner Carolyn Sewell takes notes during Debbie’s ‘Why We Brand, Why We Buy’ session.

DonovanBrienThe portfolio work of Donovan Brien.

aaron draplin sketch 2

An incredible, live-drawn illustration…

Debbie+Brian+Aaron…of Debbie interviewing Brian Collins (Aaron Draplin on the right).

Thanks to everyone for a fabulous week, and we’re looking forward to next year!

RainbowOverBostonRainbow over Boston, taken by DeeDee Gordon, Sterling’s President of Innovation.

>>See more photos Here.


Next UP on Design Matters…

Friday, February 10th, 2012

On today’s episode of Design Matters, Debbie welcomes Cheryl Heller, the force behind the powerful idea of communication design.

Cheryl believes that communication design has a vital role to play in the creation of a sustainable future, and is determined to prove it. She has been profiled through articles in the New York Times, Boston Globe, BusinessWeek, Graphis Magazine, and Communication Arts, and is the recipient of countless awards from national and international creative competitions. Her work is included in the Library of Congress permanent collection, and has been published in numerous books on design and creativity.

Tune in today, at 3pm over at Design Observer.



Sterling Buzz…

Monday, January 16th, 2012

LPThis past week on Imprint, Debbie interviewed Paul Sahre on what it was like being the latest graphic designer to collaborate with pop-culture magnates,
They Might Be Giants.



What I Wish for 2012…

Friday, January 13th, 2012


by, Debbie Millman