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So Clever: Ron Paul Campaign Vid Uses Obama's Typeface Against Him

Obama's signature typeface, Gotham, becomes a motion-graphics weapon in this dramatization of a Ron Paul speech.

You may not know it by name, but even non-type-geeks know it when they see it: Gotham, the typeface designed by Hoefler & Frere-Jones, which the Obama campaign used to brand the president during his 2008 campaign. Now it’s 2012 and we’re gonna be seeing a lot more Gotham from the Obama camp. But not just them. Ron Paul’s political action committee has dramatized an incendiary, Obama-criticizing speech that Paul gave using animated typography . . . and the whole thing is set in Gotham.

The actual content of the video, as one would expect from a PAC trying to get a libertarian cartoon character elected leader of the free world, is basically nuts: an elaborate recasting of Obama’s nation-building policy as a "what if it happened here?" Red Dawn-esque apocalyptic fantasy, with a psychotic voiceover performance to match. And the animated typography style is an unimaginative rip-off of Cee-Lo’s "Fuck You" music video (which itself was a rather unimaginative rip-off of a 2007 typographic visualization of Samuel L. Jackson’s Pulp Fiction speech). But setting the whole thing in Gotham? That’s some branding jujitsu right there.

Nowhere in Ron Paul’s speech does he say "the president" or "Obama," but as soon as this video begins, the visual association with Obama is subtly seeded in the viewer’s mind. Not because most people have ever heard of Gotham or Hoefler & Frere-Jones, but because that typeface was so distinctive and so ubiquitous at a specific time and place in our political history. It’s like a sense memory. And setting the vivid, horrifying imagery of an America occupied by foreign invaders in animated "Obama font" for three minutes recasts the typeface’s associations from "HOPE" to something much more menacing. Man, we’d better vote that dude out of office pronto!

Of course, Paul’s speech isn’t saying that an Obama presidency would result in America opening its doors to legions of occupying armies; the speech is merely a long analogy illustrating Paul’s isolationist politics. But everyone knows politics isn’t about what the words actually mean, it’s about how they make us feel. This campaign video may be loony, but as a piece of coded graphic communication, it’s perversely subtle—and clever—in its design.

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  • metamemetics

    This is Ron Paul's original speech from March 2009 that this ad was based off of:

    You might want to listen to it in its entirety, as during the speech Ron Paul had the foresight to predict and debunks your claims that A) it is a criticism of Obama rather than criticism of a decades-long foreign policy of intrusion, and B) that a trade-based foreign policy as advocated by the founding fathers is somehow "isolationist"

  • JasperCasey

    A little editorial there John? You are either intentionally miscasting Dr. Paul's platform, or are (more likely) ignorant. The ad is not meant to be an attack on President Obama's"nation building policy", but is rather an attack on established U.S. foreign policy over last several decades (see Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, et all).   Referring to the Paul as a "libertarian cartoon character" and "isolationist" only further show's your ignorance. Stick to aesthetic analysis, not politics. 

  • Cope

    People have been doing type videos forever, you should know that. "filmmaker" We had this as a design assignment back in 2000 and Im sure its been around before that. You calling it an unimaginative ripoff is like saying all photography/film making is a ripoff because they display images of people. Also, this is FastCo Design. Leave your politics at the door.

  • Tom

    Calling Ron Paul and isolationist is like calling your neighbor a hermit, because he does not come over to your house and break your windows.
    With that being said, I found the video very captivating. I liked how the words did not follow the right to left, top to bottom rule. At first I thought it was confusing, but a few seconds or so I couldn't look away. Maybe not that captivating lol. 

  • nickwangler

    Watching this and then watching the other political ads out there is a pretty good representation of what these guys believe. Paul is the only one who speaks at a human (not political) level.

  • awesomerobot

    You're a fool if you're looking to ignore politics in lieu of design - you can't have a discussion about one without the other when it comes to election campaigns. 

  • the roblr

    Ron talks in the vocabulary of the normal human being. Politics shouldn't exist as a seperate entity. Politics should be discussed and delt with so that everyone who graduated high-school may understand and participate in the system. 

    All these circles and un-daily  vocabulary that we have always used have led us in a unwelcoming politics cycle that anyone in their right now would want to actually participate. This video made two bold statements, and say what you will say, - they are truth. Bring our fucking troops home. Idiotic that we have homeless and rising and rising poverty levels here and yet the amount of money we spend on an un-wanted war is absurd. 

    I don't know why they mention the video is ripped, that is obvious, but in this day and age, who gives a shit. Seriously. Content is a higher priority then how that why the visuals were created.

  • Lisabeth Rosenberg

    Ron Paul a evil genius, its clear.  As you said: This campaign video may be loony, but as a piece of coded graphic communication, it's perversely subtle--and clever--in its design.

    ME: On the other hand, isn't the whole purpose of advertising and marketing, mind manipulation to make you do stuff?  Dangerous in the wrong hands - look at Hitler who started out as a graphic designer.

  • Aaron Ricica

    No politics please. I want to hear a random writer and filmaker's political views as much as I want to hear a random band tell me who they are voting for. I'm pretty sure you're paid to write about design... As far as the design part of the video goes, I remember seeing multiple graphic design students use this technique. While not completely original, I still enjoy short speeches or stories presented in this way.

  • Mieses

    Pavlus, if design is about understanding the affect on a subject, then why do you have a problem with politicians who try to understand the effect of policies on others?

    Probably you didn't even try to listen and wrote a quick knee-jerk hit piece on the one conservative candidate who scares both the republican and democrat halves of our one-party system.

    Please stick to telling us how to feel about design and not politics in the future.

  • InFavorOfReason

    Which part of this is "loony"?

    I'm a liberal Democrat, but I'm hard pressed to find the flaw in this message. If America were to incur a single civilian casualty at the hands of foreign occupiers on our soil...

  • Bob Loblaw

    Ending the USA's (ahem) "nation building" activities in the Middle East? Nuts! So nuts.

    Thanks for that, freelance writer and filmmaker. Do let us know if you have any more scintillating opinions. We're all ears

  • theJof

    Nowhere in Ron Paul's speech does he say "the president" or "Obama," - but then he does use the Obama roundel logo so it's not that subliminal! And didn't the Republicans start these wars?

  • Nedparker

    JTM- couldn't have said it better. lose the politically charged articles on fast company and focus on ACTUAL design related subjects. We'll all be hearing enough of it as it is over the next year... 

  • Cfountain72

    Forgive me. I forgot to thank you for posting the video. Maybe others will find it more effective than you have, Gotham or no.

    Peace be with you.