When it comes to politics, image counts, and nowhere was that more apparent than at the Republican and Democratic national conventions held in August in St. Paul, Minn., and Denver, respectively. Association Meetings asked a branding expert, STEVE JOHNSON, senior vice president, creative services, with Cramer Digital Marketing/Event Solutions, Norwood, Mass., how well the set designs correlated with each presidential candidate's platform and brand.

AM: Obviously, a lot of thought and money went into designing the stage sets for the RNC and DNC. Generally speaking, do you think they were successful in enhancing each party's message and brand?

Johnson: I think they both did a really good job of presenting the candidate, the messages, and the feeling they wanted to convey. For John McCain, the image is of a no-nonsense, simple, clear and direct individual, and the minimalist set reflected that image. The massive screen behind a very simple podium, with the shining floor reflecting the images, is very much in keeping with his platform and persona. The low stage showed respect for the audience; it says, “I'm your humble servant, and you're the ones who got me to this point.”

The Democrats envision Obama as being all about hope and change and new ideas, and that was reflected at the Pepsi Center and Invesco Field. The Pepsi Center set gave the feel of a pep rally, with the crowd dominating the low stage. Then you had that towering structure with the truss that comes out over the audience, with all the lights and multiple screens — that all says, “We're not afraid to embrace technology — we use it every day, just like our voters.” The presentations and animations running on the multiple screens also gave it a younger energy.

AM: Much was made in the press of Sen. Obama's acceptance speech being held at Invesco Field, a much larger venue than the Pepsi Center. What did that move say to you?

Johnson: Holding Obama's acceptance speech at Invesco Field was a good move because they could open it up to a larger audience. His whole thing is inclusion, and part of the message that night was, “I'm able to stand here because of your hard work, and we'll make the trip to the White House together.” The use of Greek Revival architecture in the backdrop was to remind people of Washington, D.C., and to make it easy for people to envision him in front of the White House as the leader of the free world.

AM: Unlike most association meetings, the RNC and DNC are staged as much for the television viewing audience as for the party faithful in the hall. How successful do you think they were at staging their messages for both audiences?

Johnson: I have to give the Democrats points for giving a better presentation for the television audience. At Invesco Field, that whole Greek Revival thing going on provided a nice soft backdrop for Obama. For McCain, the backdrop sometimes worked against him because whatever was on that giant screen was his background. With some images he was almost chroma-keyed in, and it was not the most flattering background.


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