I hope that candidates from coast-to-coast are studying Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s historic win this week in New York and asking themselves what they might learn. There are quite a few political lessons to focus on, but there’s also a communications lesson.
Fast Company was one of the first to correctly identify her campaign’s visual identity as a primary driver.
In posters, on Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign website, and plastered on the side of an “Ocasio 2018–mobile” that made the rounds through the Bronx and Queens communities within her district, Ocasio-Cortez’s visual brand features a portrait of her center stage against a sea of deep violet-blue, her hair tied back in a low bun, with a look of undeterred gumption on her face as she looks upward and beyond, her gaze directed not at the viewer, but slightly askew and into the distance, as if to propel our attention onward to the future.
The grassroots campaign sought to speak to a different voter base and audience–and that required a different visual language, explains Scott Starrett, 34, co-founder and creative director of the five-person graphic design firm, Tandem Design NYC, that designed the overall campaign brand and visual identity as an in-kind donation.
The unique combination of grassroots activism and get-out-the-vote tactics combined with Ocasio-Cortez’s marketing savvy and connections in the design community allowed something unexpected to happen in Queens. Look at the sea of political signs at a polling station or in a supporter’s yard. The visual identity and approach to copy from most candidates and ballot initiatives are beyond stale. It’s a sea of red-white-and-blue with bold lettering. You don’t build a brand by blending in.
In addition to her advanced visual language, Ocasio-Cortez knows how to tell a story. She created a narrative arc that helps people relate to her. Most voters can’t see themselves as a candidate for Congress. Ocasio-Cortez just changed that score for good.
“I was born in a place where your zip code determines your destiny.”
This powerful line from her video echoes what Warren Buffet has said many times: “The American Dream has been very real for millions and millions of people over the years but there has been an American Nightmare that accompanied that, where people who equally tried to get educated and worked hard and had good habits and found themselves living a life that’s been on the edge throughout their entire lives and the same for their children; and America can do better than that.”
Yes, we, The People, can do so much better. In one Congressional district, “America” just did.