In 1828, a bitter American presidential campaign was waging. The vicious personal attacks and spin doctoring going on at the time would make James Carville very proud. Andrew "Old Hickery" Jackson, an outsider, was running against an establishment incumbent President John Quincy Adams. Jackson was "a man of the people" and was the first leader of the newly formed Democratic Party. Quincy was portrayed as an "elitist" and represented wealth, establishment, and the status quo. But the campaign between the two leaders was a rerun. They had faced off in in the presidential election of 1824, and Adams won. Some historians tag the Adams victory as “The Corrupt Bargain.” In short, since the election was controversial, the House of Representatives determined the winner. Speaker of the House Henry Clay allegedly used his influence to give the victory to John Quincy Adams.
With that background in mind, here is where we get into branding. During the election of 1828, the mudslinging escalated and Adams group labeled Jackson a "jackass" (which was a particularly derogatory term back then). In responses, Jackson "spun" the insult into a positive- taking the image of a donkey and used it as his symbol. Jackson's point was the he was like the "strong willed" donkey. It didn't take too long before political cartoonist Thomas Nash took the donkey idea and ran with it. Democrats became donkeys in the mass media. The Democratic symbol had taken root.
Since that time, the Democratic National Committee has used the donkey as a shortcut to represent their candidates - from the local level to presidential candidates. It has been along side Democratic presidents over 171 years, through 14 different presidents and 15 presidential victories. (Astute history readers will know that Harrison interrupted consecutive terms for 2 time winner Cleveland). Throughout its history, donkey logo has been endowed with some of the most amazing times in Democratic-inspired American history (Jackson's win for "the common man", Kennedy's inspiration to have Americans walk on the moon, Obama's win as the first president of color) and has served as a short-cut to Democratic positions during some of the most challenging times(Civil War, World War I & II, Korean & Vietnam wars, 9-11, the Great Depressions and civil strifes). And, just because times are challenging doesn't mean positive associations can't flood to the brand. Some of the most endearing bits of hope are associated with the donkey. After all, Democrats using the donkey coined the iconic lines: "The only thing to fear, is fear itself" (Roosevelt); "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" (Kennedy), for example. Of course, in addition to the rich history endowed on the donkey, it also serves as a short-cut to today's Democratic positions on social policy, taxation, war etc. In a world that is unsettling both economically and geo-politically, the Democratic Donkey provides a sense of Americana, tradition, stability and current relevance. In short, the donkey is loaded with a lot of positive brand equity.
Usually when a brand element (a trademarkable device like a name, logo, slogan, symbol) is so iconic, custodians of the brand will go through great pains to preserve it. Sure, it might need updates to give it a more modern feel- but common sense tells you to preserve as much of its relevant design as possible. Think how crazy it would be for Coke to all of a sudden to abandon its red and make all of its its bottles green- or for Apple to throw away its apple-with-a-bite-out-of-it logo. For 171 years the Democratic Party has understood the value of its donkey and appropriately adapted it over time.
But a few days ago they unveiled their new logo.
I do not understand in any way why the party abandoned its high awareness, richly-association endowed donkey - and replaced it by an ill-conceived logo that lacks any imagination or captures any of the Democratic party's rich legacy. This, of course, occurred under an Obama presidency- by the same folks who engineered a masterful "elect-Obama" marketing campaign. It makes me both frustrated and sad to see how cavalierly an iconic brand element can be abandoned - and how the Democrats could throw away a wonderful piece of American history.
The legacy of the Jackass Bad-Ass: (About.com) Jackson Bio
Jackson appears on the American $20.
By 13, Jackson was orphaned. He lost his father at an earlier age and then lost his mother and two brothers during the Revolutionary War.
Jackson bore scars from a British officer’s sword on his skull and hand, and bullets from duels in his shoulder. In an 1806 duel, Jackson had killed a duel opponent.
When commanding troops in 1815, he had ordered the execution of militia members accused of desertion.