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.

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.