To help Americans see their $789 billion tax dollars at work, the White House has commissioned two brand logos for programs financed by the Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the stimulus package).
The logos will appear starting next month on signs and other materials for building modernization and weatherization projects, green energy programs, road and bridge work and other works using stimulus money.
The act allots $507 billion for projects intended to create 3.5 million jobs and contains $282 billion in tax changes designed to stimulate the overall economy.
One logo is for Department of Transportation projects: It says "TIGER," for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, in orange-and-black-striped letters, and it includes the DOT's website address.
The other, for all other projects, is a circle: a blue top half with stars and the Web address, a green quarter with leaves (for green energy projects) and a maroon quarter with gears (for infrastructure projects) and a small cross (for health initiatives).
"The idea was to tell the story of the Recovery Act and rebuilding America with an emphasis on a green future," says Nicholas Shapiro, White House spokesman. "The Recovery Act speaks to the investments we will make in green energy, infrastructure and health care to get the economy moving and lay the foundation for economic security in the long run."
Design expert Allen Adamson, who helped created the Homeland Security seal in 2002, says the logo works for sending a positive message.
"Calling it a recovery rather than a bailout is a good idea," says Adamson, managing director of Landor Associates' New York office. "It's a good idea to try to brand the stimulus package, because it communicates the positive aspect of what we're doing. The branding that was done before, the bailout package, was so atrocious."
However, brand identity expert Alan Siegel wonders if, by trying to say so much, the logo says very little.
"This is Amateurville," says Siegel, CEO of Siegel + Gale. "This is a logo from the 1930s. It's trying to communicate too many things. It's not a stimulating design. It's not memorable. It's not powerful."
Logos and art deco posters were created for 1930s New Deal programs under President Franklin D. Roosevelt — for projects of the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Works Progress Administration.
Designer DJ Stout says the new logos don't have the impact of the "O" logo that was so ubiquitous during President Obama's campaign: a bold blue O with red and white stripes across the bottom, making the inner O look like a sunrise.
"I really liked the original Obama logo for the campaign," says Stout, a partner in design group Pentagram. "It came from a single point of view. That campaign was in Barack's control. This recovery logo looks like where he is now: immersed in this quagmire of partisan government."
Both the campaign logo and the new recovery logos were created by Chicago agency Mode Group, a shop that worked for New York political consultants AKP&D Message and Media.
The A in that acronym, David Axelrod, was chief Obama campaign strategist and now is in the administration as a senior adviser.
Mode, which declined to comment, hired Ohio-based graphic artist Chris Glass, who designed the TIGER logo, and Portland, Ore.-based Aaron Draplin, who created the other logo.
While symbolic of spending billions, the logos earned the artists $1,500 each.
Brand expert Andy Bateman wonders if even that modest expense was necessary.
"Do we really need to brand everything?" says Bateman, CEO of Interbrand New York, whose clients include AT&T and BMW. "It sounds like heresy, but more and more of our business is helping clients have less brand, not more brand."
ASK THE AD TEAM
Q: Who is the female voice of the J.C. Penney ads? She does both radio and TV, I think.
— Scott Walker, Lynchburg, Va.
A:She is Julia Murney, 40, and if you are a Broadway fan, you may know her as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, from the hit show Wicked. She played the part in the national touring company for six months and for more than a year on the Great White Way. Although she was born in Pennsylvania, she was raised in New York City and has a long career of radio ads and TV commercial voice-overs to supplement her work on Broadway and TV, which includes appearances on Law & Order and Sex and the City. In addition to J.C. Penney, she is currently the voice for NuvaRing ads. Past ad work includes Estée Lauder and Chiquita bananas.
"It's fun to do," she told the Ad Team. "People are very nice, very laid-back, and I can wear jeans and a baseball cap, and no one cares. You can just show up."
You can catch her discussing her voice-over work at YouTube, where she says that her career highlight was landing a job to promote the skin network The Spice Channel.
Have a question about TV, print or online advertising? Go to media.usatoday.com and click on "Ask the Ad Team."