As we noted in our previous post about hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta -- what WikiLeaks has packaged together as "The Podesta Emails," and keeps expanding with daily additions -- there is a lot of noise and comparatively little signal in the data dump. Though thousands of individual messages have been released, Podesta had plenty of inbox-clogging incoming in the form of newsletters and news-coverage summaries prepared by Clinton campaign staffers.
That said, Ad Age is continuing to review the emails for insights about the Clinton campaign's marketing, branding and overall messaging strategy.
To repeat our previous note: Though you've probably been seeing lots of one- and two-sentence quotes from The Podesta Emails, we're offering full, unedited messages in the interest of establishing context.
Walmart? Walmart Who?
In an Aprl 30, 2014 email from Hillary Clinton (identified by her handle "Evergreen," which was previously reported to be her Secret Service code name) to assorted campaign staffers and advisers, she writes,
Does anybody know about this letter Chosick article in 5/1 Times says was sent to me?
Campaign adviser Philippe Reines replied all,
Here is the story the Secretary is referring to, and this is the specific reference: "Last week, dozens of labor scholars and activists, including Ralph Nader, sent Mrs. Clinton a letter asking her to use her influence with Walmart to urge the retailer to raise wages for its predominantly female work force. From 1986 to 1992, Mrs. Clinton served on the board of Walmart."
He pasted the full text of an April 30, 2014 New York Times piece by Amy Chozick titled "Bill Clinton Defends His Economic Legacy" into the body of his email. Then, on May 1, Clinton adviser Huma Abedin wrote,
We are going to draft a response letter and send around for comment. John, can you help us with Walmart? Maybe Leslie Dach can help? Will want to give them a heads up on her letter.
John is John Podesta. Leslie Dach was exec VP-government affairs and government relations at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (dba Walmart) until June 2013. (In 2006, Ad Age called the then-former Democratic strategist "Wal-Mart's $3 Million Man," referring to the potential value of stock options he'd been granted by the retailer.)
In a May 4, 2014 email, Clinton adviser Cheryl Mills replied all,
Adding Leslie to whom I just spoke who is happy to be helpful both in content and strategy. He noted that Walmart is not opposed to the minimum wage law - which we can discuss when we are all on a call after reviewing the draft response.
Later that day former Walmart exec Dach chimed in, suggesting that the letter from Nader et al might not merit a response -- and that perhaps it wasn't wise for Hillary Clinton to remind people of her past Walmart ties.
I think this particular letter can be ignored unless it comes back in a meaningful way. His ongoing attacks on HRC delegitimize his voice, and it's already pretty marginalized. If you eventually need to answer u could simply say that your position on raising the minimum wage is clear to all businesses. You don't want to be tied or held responsible for any specific business, walmart for sure included.
In a Feb. 14, 2015 email from top Clinton campaign adviser Joel Benenson to various unspecfied members of Team Clinton, he expressed concerns about the Clinton logo that design firm Pentagram was working on.
I have a nagging concern that was reinforced at the meeting on Wednesday and while it's not keeping me up at night I just want to share it with the three of you to address however you see fit.
From the time the broader group was brought into the meeting at Pentagram there has been a concern about the static nature of the mark, the lack of action or anything suggesting forward movement etc. Each time we were told there would [be] some exploration in a new direction. We have had several calls along the way and the meeting this week where we thought we would see something in a new direction and we really haven't. To me, a new direction means a new concept something different from the idea of the "window," which is one concept but we really haven't been shown anything else.
I don't think it's fair to compare things repeatedly to the Obama mark but I think the process -- or at least what's been written and said about its development, might be worth looking at again. The "O" because linked to an identify that was not only positive and suggestive, it was also reflective who Obama was and what he represented. There was a rising sun, a path or road both of which suggest movement. Apart from the design issues have raised, conceptually a window is two dimensional object and the core quality Pentagram is affixing to it (transparent, open) only get us to the use cases as Teddy says and not to the core qualities about H that we are trying drive and communicate.
I would also like to press Michael to match what he said himself about Obama's mark/brand.
Designer Michael Bierut [a link to a Wikipedia article was included here] called Obama's branding "just as good or better" as the best commercial brand designs. "Every time you look, all those signs are perfect," Beirut said. "Graphic designers like me don't understand how it's happening. It's unprecedented and inconceivable to us. The people in the know are flabbergasted."
At this point, I think it would be wise to do one or both of the following:
· Review the brief to assess whether we are or not asking them to execute against the right things (we now have research getting us closer to our core rationale, attributes etc.)
· Ask Pentagram to develop something, perhaps with a different team, that is truly different from the territory we have already seen and possibly get 1 or 2 small firms to take a crack at this so we generate some healthy competition.
This is not a knock on Michael or Pentagram, who are terrific in the world of corporate branding. But I think we're looking for something in the mark [that] can present the discipline of a corporate brand while creating the truly dynamic potential we want in a political mark.
Wendy Clark was apparently one of the "All" Benenson was addressing, because she wrote back the same day, copying additional members of Team Clinton. (On Jan. 9, 2015, Ad Age reported that Clark, then Coca-Cola's top North American marketing executive, was taking a leave of absence "to pursue a 'passion project' that some sources indicate will involve working for likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.")
Thanks for taking time to outline your thoughts. I have read them carefully and want to answer your questions and try to address some of your concerns. [This] makes for a long email, but I believe we're at that point. I've also added the rest of the team in here as our exchange may be helpful for everyone.
As we outlined on Friday's team call, Teddy and I met with Pentagram on Friday right before the 9am call and confirmed 3 streams of work that they have been looking at for the last 24-36 hours.
1. Hillary. -- we need to determine if there is a similar technique that addresses the inevitability that comes with the period. What everyone lights to is the design asset that the period provides and can be applied to other words with and without Hillary. However what does not work is the implied emphasis of a period itself. There is no debate on what the core mark would be on this route if there's another option for the period.
2. H Window -- while there's lots of positive reaction for this direction there's also more to do in terms of getting the team and the Secretary comfortable to go on this. In her feedback on our call her language of "embracing people, embracing our problems and embracing our future" was really helpful along with "reaching outwards to inspire upwards." How do we imbue this approach with an even stronger sense of her passion and motivation behind doing the job? She leans away from Hillary type or Hillary signature, she's unwilling for this to be so focused on her. While we will maintain this as something to consider, per Mandy and Jim's input on the Friday call, we are seeking other solutions. So the core mark has to work harder to her mission and/or attributes. The other thing we need to add to this is the contextual relevance of a tagline and/or words as was displayed on the Hillary. approach. That combination of words and design consistency really compels everyone. How would we introduce words and/or a tagline within the design route of the H Window?
3. Something else -- the ideas that have been surfaced on H+You, &, + sign, Together, Us, the President's # idea and the Secretary's language outlined above need to be explored outside the constraints of the two existing directions. I think the watch out here is to not get too clever or too cutesy with symbols.
You will see options within all three routes on our call tomorrow.
On the design brief, we've been working against the version we all emailed and socialized 3 weeks ago and a distillation of the core idea and qualities/attributes was finalized on a call you, Mandy and I had. I recognize there's new insight since then, if there are core attributes that the design should represent beyond the current brief that would be important to agree on. In the meeting last week the Secretary seemed to associate with what we had identified: fresh yet familiar, tenacity, resilience, empathy, creativity, action-oriented, future focused.
As to the Obama parallel, we've discussed in the presentations that Obama's campaign execution truly represented a turning point for political branding in presidential campaigns -- they in fact used what many would say were widely accepted brand techniques that companies outside politics historically use -- contemporary colors and iconography, dynamic composition in the mark, the mark to represent truths of the brand, etc. We all observed in the political campaigns before Obama it was largely typesetting with use of flag imagery, stars and photograph identity as the core design assets used.
And this use of branding has a lot to do with why I believe I'm here. And why Pentagram and Michael Beirut are here.
As you point out on Michael's quote below, the Obama visual identity changed how the design and branding community considered political brands.
This benchmark sets the stage for a much more branded execution for Secretary Clinton, and quite frankly a fairly high expectation of a branded execution. But at its core, great branding must always reflect the unassailable truths of the brand. And the best, most compelling brands in the world are singular and relentless in their quest to do just this.
We have a gift in the Hillary Rodham Clinton brand because of massive recognition/awareness. Obama did not start with this. At the same time we must create a new, fresh view of that familiar brand in a truly authentic and compelling way.
To be clear, a logo can communicate and aid attribution of qualities, but it is not a proxy for the messaging of the campaign until they are relentlessly connected and delivered, repeatedly and consistently. That's when brands take on meaning.
As Michael has used previously, no one would look at a red Target logo and think: design for all -- fashionable yet affordable choices for my home and family -- expect more, pay less. But their relentless, contemporary, fashion-forward products and aligned messaging has imbued that logo with meaning just that.
Similarly, Apple, the world's most valuable brand, launched with their rainbow apple mark in 1976. It simply stood for creativity, thinking differently. Their repeated, consistent use of the mark along with some of the world's most creative advertising has imbued that bitten apple logo with meaning but no one would look at that mark standalone and say it means Apple is the leader in human-centered designed, electronic devices with a vision for the future.
And non-corporate examples are similarly rich in learnings. The Human Rights Campaign simply uses the equality sign. It's compelling, simple and speaks to their core -- being a relentless champion of equal rights for humanity. There are plenty of other attributes that are associated with HRC, but equality is their unassailable brand truth.
So, here's the point. We want to create a visual representation for Secretary Clinton that is equally as compelling, interesting, exciting and inviting as Obama's mark was eight years ago. And to use techniques that some of the best brands have done and continue to do around the world. And again, the mark is simply one aspect of a bevy of connection points (messaging, speeches, PR, advertising, web, etc.)
And this leads me to explain, if I've failed to so far, why the H window approach is so compelling to us.
This approach will represent in 2015 what the Obama approach represented in 2007. It literally resets the benchmark for political branding, if not all branding. It is of and for the times leveraging the massive and important shift to customization, personalization and co-creation. And, more importantly, while meeting this marketplace shift the mark is, at the same time, anchored on the unassailable truth of Secretary Clinton's life and career -- being in service of others. It's not about her, it's about you. It also meets our brief of fresh yet familiar, it shows creativity and empathy.
Now, we have work to do. While this direction is immediately compelling and will fuel advocacy from her fans and drive conversation and content around and for the campaign, we have yet to effectively land its core manifestation. And while we're likely to use it in numerous variations and iterations as it is so flexible to do, we have to have an anchoring point. And in honesty we've struggled to land that core mark to everyone's confidence and liking.
We'll share some more iterations tomorrow. One in particular introduces another attribute -- future-focus -- and a design asset like the period from option 1 that is interesting.
But for this conversation, I don't want our relentless efforts to make the core mark work construed as being obstinate. It's simply that we believe this approach would be level-setting for the candidate and campaign and are determined to land the core mark so we can reap the benefits of this approach.
Some final assurance, you will also see completely new exploration to get a sense of other approaches tomorrow and Michael/Pentagram has added two other senior partners into their effort to engage in the work, the limitation until now was set by us for confidentiality purposes.
If you've read this far, I appreciate the chance to frame the opportunity, underscore our continued confidence and provide any clarity.
A revised deck will be coming shortly.
Stay tuned for more from The Podesta Emails on AdAge.com.
Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.