The history of political party logos and what they really mean
The United Kingdom is in a state of flux right now, after Theresa May caused quite the commotion by announcing a “snap” general election for the 8th of June. After the recent election in the United States, it’s safe to say that we’re living in a politically-charged world, where political parties need to consider their branding initiatives just as carefully as any other business or organisation. But, have you ever wondered precisely what the main political party logos mean and represent?
Now that the battle lines have been drawn in the sand, it’s time for people to start choosing the sides they want to stand for. While it’s obvious that things like policies and promises are going to dictate the decisions that we make, it’s worth noting that branding, as always, has its part to play. Here, we’re going to explore political party logos, their fascinating history and true meaning.
Today, the logos and marketing solutions that political groups have used throughout the years have helped to develop their culture and story. We’re all familiar with things like “Labour party red”, and “Tory blue”. In fact, some of these logos have been around for as long as voters can remember. Yet, few of us have actually stopped to think about where they come from, what they represent, and how they affect our opinions of certain groups.
At Fabrik, we’re pretty laser-focused on branding. As experts in the world of design, we spend a lot of time daydreaming about colours, and pondering the intricacies of logos – how the font, colours, and images used can more accurately communicate the background of a brand. Every strong brand needs its own image, colours, and logo. Just like in the commercial world, a political party’s logo is a direct and simple way for it to voice its message.
Politics and logos: Why visual branding really matters
Before we explore each political logo in greater depth, let’s start by taking a closer look at branding for politics in general. It may surprise you to learn that Twitter only paid around $15 for their logo, while Nike paid $35 for that swooshing tick. In other words, the perfect logo isn’t born from the amount of money you spend. Expense doesn’t matter. What does matter, is the amount of energy and time you put into thinking about what you want your logo to say about you.
With commercial companies, we see logos all the time. They’re the simplest way for businesses to represent themselves on a visual level. For consumers, logos are almost as important as the politicians and policies that they represent. That’s why we often see political parties rebranding themselves with new colours and logos when things aren’t exactly going their way. For instance, remember when the Tories changed from a “freedom torch” to a “scribbly tree“?
Sometimes, other political parties attempt a cheeky rebrand of their competitor’s logos on their behalf. This could be seen in the instance where Labour tried to use an altered version of the Lib Dem dove during 2010.
In today’s competitive landscape, politicians know, just like businesses, that they need to represent their brand in a way that’s going to remain in the hearts and minds of their customers. The idea is to use a logo to create a stronger connection with your audience. The right image and colours can evoke certain emotions, history, and thoughts.
Since a logo is often the first thing a customer comes to recognise about a brand, and it’s also the most frequently-displayed sign of a business when it comes to marketing, the right logo will always give your brand a competitive edge. This applies whether you’re hoping to sell clothes and computers, or you’re trying to convince a nation of people to let you run the country.
But, why are logos so important?
In the world of consumerism, before a person visits a store, buys from a brand, or even communicates with your sales staff, he or she will see your logo and determine whether they can trust your business. The same applies to politics. Simply put, we look at logos for a distilled insight into what a company is all about. For instance, when you see the Nike “tick”, you see strength, positivity, reassurance. If a logo has the wrong first impression, it’s very difficult to reverse the negative associations it creates.
If you combine that fact with the knowledge that people retain 40% more visual data than written or audio information, it’s easy to see why logos count. The visual representation of your business (your logo), is easier for people to process, after all:
90% of information processed by the brain is visual
37% of marketers consider visual content to be the most important content for their business
Today, the Tories have a tree, Labour has a rose, and the Lib Dems have a bird – but what do these things mean, and how do they represent a specific brand?
Let’s tackle that answer one party at a time.
The Conservative Party logo: Blue and the oak tree
Let’s start with a quick evaluation of the Party currently running the country at the time of writing this article. The Conservative Party logo has seen a few re-branding efforts over the years, emerging from a simple torch, to a torch with a strong, muscular arm, to a scribbled tree.
The current oak tree logo first emerged in 2006, and it was seen by the British public as little more than a controversial doodle. Unlike the original “flaming torch” of freedom designed in patriotic red, white, and blue, it was difficult to discern what the “tree” actually meant, and how it connected to the Tory brand.
Essentially, the Conservative Party logo is an oak tree, the national tree of England. It’s meant to represent endurance, strength, and growth. Back in 2006, it started off with green leaves, but the Tories decided to swap in a Union Jack when they realised that they were losing out on votes to UKIP. Designers were paid £40,000 to replace the traditional emblem of the torch with an image that represented endurance, renewal, and strength.
Tories and the colour blue
It’s difficult to talk for long about the Conservative Party logo, and Tory branding, without touching on the colour blue. The Party adopted the colours of the Union Jack back when they first began in 1834, and ever since then, variations of those colours have been used to represent the Tories.
Soon after Labour began being associated with red, the Tories dropped the red and white entirely, to stick with blue as their primary party colour. Blue, in marketing, is used to invoke feelings of reliability, success, and confidence.
The Labour Party logo: A red rose
Reports claim that when the Prince of Wales first met Peter Mandelson, he said “Ah, the red rose man”. However, if Neil Kinnock’s claims are correct, then the prince was mis-informed. Rather, Kinnock boasts that it was him, not Mandelson who invented the logo for Labour’s red flag in the 1987 election.
The rose is an iconic image for Britain, as it’s the national flower of England. It’s been a symbol of anti-authority since the middle ages, frequently associated with socialism. This means that it may be somewhat ironic that Labour began using it in 1980, after they started to move away from socialism.
Apparently, the original design for the labour party logo (like anything in politics), saw a lot of controversy. During a radio show, Kinnock commented that the only contribution that Mandelson made to the rose was a decision to tweak the design according to a preference for a longer stem. Apparently, Kinnock felt that the length of the rose stem was too long to begin with, but the designers kept it the same after Peter decided that it looked best that way.
The stem for the labour party logo has obviously gotten shorter over the years.
Labour and the colour red
Like Tories and the colour blue, the Labour Party logo remains strong in the minds of voters, in part because of the colour red. The “red” of Labour has been associated with left-wing political parties ever since the French Revolution. Back in the annals of history, British sailors mutinied beside the mouth of the River Thames during 1797. At that time, they used a red flag on numerous ships, designed to represent “martyrs blood” for the people who had been killed.
The Liberal Party logo looks a lot like a bird made from banana skins, but it’s actually meant to be the “bird of liberty”. The Lib Dems adopted the dove back in 1989, where it was instantly called out by Margaret Thatcher for being uninspiring, or “dead”.
When the Liberal Party was reformed by those opposed to the SDP merger in 1988, they adopted an interim logo that looked a lot like a road-sign. Though that group eventually petered out, the current “Liberal Party logo” is still the golden and orange bird used by the Lib Dems.
Birds are generally associated with feelings of liberalism, freedom, and development, so it makes sense that the “Liberal” Democrats would want to use this icon for their brand.
Lib Dems and the colour orange
Though the colour choice for the Liberal Party logo is referred to as “gold” by some, it’s officially described as amber. From a designer perspective, it’s this colour:
The Liberal Democrats are the child of a merger between the Liberal Party of the UK, which are historically yellow, and the Social Democratic Party, with an ideology that can be found routed in socialism. Since socialism is represented by red, and the liberal party was yellow, the two blended together to create the orange we know today.
Orange isn’t a long-standing colour in political history. The Liberal Party logo, designed in gold, was intended to show that the party had moved away from their old emphasis of trade and markers, into a future that was focused on the freedom of wealth. However, the Lib Dem orange seems to be intended to inspire feelings of confidence, cheerfulness, and friendliness.
In marketing, companies like Amazon, Mozilla, and Harley Davidson all use orange to create bold statements, so perhaps that’s what the Lib Dems are trying to achieve too.
The UKIP logo: Purple and the pound sign
We mentioned above that yellow has something of a connection to wealth when it’s used in certain shades. UKIP have blended that “wealth” with the inherently passionate and “royal” colour of purple to attempt to draw in voters from all corners of the UK.
One interesting point to note is that the English pound sign actually comes from the Roman Capital “L”, to represent libra – the standard unit for weight in the Roman empire. It’s unlikely that UKIP have taken over the pound sign icon in an attempt to show their connection with our Roman history, however.
Fundamentally, the use of the pound sign is designed to define UKIP as a party that are utterly British. They’re all about keeping England separate from the rest of the world, holding onto the pound sterling, and staying away from the Euro. All that can be seen very effectively in the use of the pound symbol.
Though the logo is efficient from a branding perspective, some people still think it looks a lot like a pound shop logo.
UKIP and the colour purple
So, let’s delve into the UKIP logo and its colours for a minute. While there are actually two primary colours to UKIP (yellow and purple), it’s worth noting that purple is the brand’s most iconic colour. If we look back over UKIP marketing throughout the years, it’s easy to see that purple is at the foundations of their brand identity.
In branding, purple is used to invoke feelings of glamour, charm, and feminity. Think things like Hallmark, or Cadbury chocolate, for instance. However, the chances are that UKIP aren’t trying to evoke these particular feelings with their logo. So, what are they trying to do?
One answer could be linked to the suggestion made above, that they’re using the connotations of “royal” purple, and golden “wealth”, to suggest the importance of British heritage. On the other hand, some experts believe that the purple comes from UKIP’s desire to draw voters from every party. Purple is a combination of red (labour), and blue (conservatives). The official UKIP logo even throws a little yellow in there for the Liberals.
The SNP logo: Yellow and… a ribbon?
Despite the fact that the National Party of Scotland (1928), became the Scottish National Party after merging with the smaller, Scottish Party in 1933, people still aren’t sure what their logo actually is. Some people see it as a ribbon, whereas others see it as a kind of Celtic symbol.
The truth is that the SNP logo actually a stylised combination of the “Saltire”, the diagonal cross on the Scottish flag, and a thistle, the national flower of Scotland. While the Saltire is the cross that the Romans apparently crucified St Andrew on, the thistle is their ancient symbol of nobility. In other words, they’re going for heritage, culture, and dignity.
The SNP and the colour yellow
So, we know that the SNP logo is meant to represent honour and heritage, but how do those things relate to the use of the colour yellow? Well, as we mentioned above, the use of political yellow actually traces back to around 1928, when David Lloyd George published: “Britain’s Industrial Future”.
The report is still known today as the “Yellow Book”, perhaps because during the second half of the nineteenth century, a lot of adventure and fiction stories were published with yellow covers, to help represent that they were something “new”.
In other words, yellow doesn’t just represent wealth, as it might have done with the Liberal Party logo, it also indicates freedom, development, and new-ness. It’s about modernity. Although a more obvious colour choice might have been blue and white, the “blue” was already taken.
The Green Party logo: Earth, a sunflower, and green
It’s easy to see what the Green Party logo is attempting to represent with its use of a green planet earth, surrounded by sunflower petals. The earth obviously represents environmentalism, while the sunflower has been internationally associated with the green movement for a number of years.
If you take the time to look up plant symbolism, you can see that sunflowers are intended to symbolize “pure and lofty” thoughts. In other words, the Green party logo is encouraging us to look towards a healthier, more unified global future.
The Green Party and the colour green
Though it might be pretty obvious why The Green Party chose to use the colour green in their campaigns, the history actually goes back further than you might think. The first time green was used in politics was back during the 6th Century, by a political faction in the Byzantine Empire.
When they first began, the Green Party were originally called “The Ecology Party”, and they changed their name in 1990. The Green Party logo has always been green, as it represents a pretty obvious choice for any group that centres around environmentalism.
In marketing, as in politics, green logos often invoke feelings of environmental friendliness, and sustainability. They can also be associated with wealth, durability, and “freshness”, like fresh new ideas.
The Plaid Cymru logo: The yellow poppy
Finally, we come to the Plaid Cymru party of Wales, established during 1925 by founding members who wanted to fight back against the “sense of injustice” facing the Welsh people. On their website, the party explain that each of the founding members had different political motivations, but their unifying threat was the desire to eradicate the feeling of anxiety that the people of Wales had about the future.
“Plaid Cymru” actually means “The Party of Wales”. During 2006, constitutional changes were voted into place by the Party. At the same time, the Party also decided to rebrand and radically change their image. They opted to start using “Plaid” as the Party’s name, though “Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales”, continues to be the official title.
Additionally, the logo changed from a traditional red and green “triban”, to a Welsh Poppy in yellow.
Plaid Cymru and the colours yellow and green
The colours yellow and green help to represent modernity, freshness, and growth for the Plaid Cymru logo. This combination of hues is potentially the ideal way for the political party to establish themselves as a movement for positive change in Wales. While green represents nature (just like the poppy itself), and growth, yellow represents the positivity of a new future.
Logos and identity branding in political times
Identity branding, in the world of marketing and advertorial development, refers to the way that your complete corporate image can be perceived emotionally by your target audience. In other words, your logo, and the colours that you use in your branding, help to decide the kind of personality or background your customers, or voters, use to describe your party.
The visual image of any group, whether it’s commercial, or political, needs to do a very important to job. Logos are designed to distil everything a company stands for, does, and produces, down into a single image, or collection of colours that can invoke specific thoughts and feelings. Your logo needs to reflect the mission and vision of an entire business, and branding helps you to showcase the idea of what makes up your company, along with the driving forces behind it.
In simple terms, branding doesn’t just boil down to logos and slogans, colours, or typefaces – it’s actually a lot more than that. A good logo and branding is what can transform a political party from something boring, annoying, and often difficult to understand, into something that’s universally accepted and supported. Logos help to reduce the complexities of politics into something simple and more palatable for us everyday people to understand.
The Green Party uses its logo to show togetherness and environmentalism, while the Liberal Party indicates freedom, and the Conservative Party attempts to achieve “endurance”. Political parties over the years have come to learn that identity branding and logos are key to letting people know who they are, and what they want to achieve.
When it comes to branding yourself, it’s worth noting that no matter where you are, and what you’re doing, logos, colour schemes, images, typefaces, and all those other tiny aspects of design are crucial to making sure you have the right impression of your audience. This is just as true for brands as it is for political parties, and it’s perhaps even more important when your target market is the nation, and the power of running the country is what’s at stake.
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