Jermaine Rogers makes rock gig art. Now he wants you to vote. So do we.
Kind of bursting at the seams today for a few reasons. One of them is the launch of a big-time campaign — Voting Because — that exemplifies USA TODAY NETWORK'S commitment to the First Amendment and our shared responsibility to participate in our democracy. Another, which is closely tied to that campaign, is the launch of an exclusive poster from super-cool gig art guy Jermaine Rogers:
The poster is available now as a digital download at the Voting Because site and will run as a full-page collectible poster in Friday’s national print edition of USA TODAY and again Sunday in the USA TODAY local edition in cities across the country.
So why work with a rock poster dude to help spread our message?
At the USA TODAY NETWORK, we’re keenly aware of first impressions. And second and third impressions. And impressions that come from having decades of history as a traditional print news distribution company. And that’s just USA TODAY. That history, and pigeonholing as a legacy media dinosaur, gets exponentially longer when you factor in some of the august titles in the network: The Detroit Free-Press, The Arizona Republic, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal and old-timey sounding titles like Salem, Oregon’s Statesman-Journal or the Alexandria, La. Town Talk or the Poughkeepsie Journal, which has been operating continuously since 1785. All of these are amazing bastions of capital J Journalism, but have had to work double-time to connect with younger audiences.
That’s when we started looking at how politicians were transcending their own image and awareness problems to connect with new audiences. And it will come as no surprise to any sentient being that art and pop culture have played a key role in connecting candidates with a young audience.
Exhibit A: The 2008 Barack Obama “HOPE” poster created by Shepard Fairey, which is credited to varying degrees with helping to turn Obama’s then-unlikely run for the White House into a sure thing. The image has become a cultural touchstone and meme cribbed for everything from satire to ad campaigns.
Exhibit B: Artists for Bernie Sanders. Building on the success of the HOPE campaign, a group of influential and highly-collected artists came together to lend their support to 78-year-old Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders, who did go on to have an unexpectedly HUGE following among millennials — and super-hip artists and musicians.
So, we reached out to an agency that reps many cool up and coming artists and the agent there — Souris Hong — who played a big part in curating the Artists for Bernie Sanders exhibits in Los Angeles and New York. We explained our mission: To connect that same audience that gravitated to the Obama poster and the Berner art with our brands, but more importantly, to motivate that audience to vote.
Hong worked closely with us to understand our brand guard rails — clearly this needed to be a non-partisan message— and exactly what we were trying to communicate. On our end, we were also super-explicit about wanting to create an image that didn’t look like a slick bit of marketing from a huge corporation and that would be welcomed both by our loyal subscribers, but also reach a new audience. Digitally, it would be shareable and not look out of place in a 21-year-old’s Instagram feed, but would play equally in print as a full-page poster that would stand out as something new and accessible.
Hong smartly connected us with Jermaine Rogers, a guy who has produced hundreds of posters for artists ranging from the Foo Fighters to Queens of the Stone Age to Ween and David Bowie. That’s when a series of calls started to allow us to get to know Rogers and make him comfortable with our intentions and ultimate desire to inspire our audience to vote.
Jermaine came up with the perfect image: A still strong, but clearly concerned, Uncle Sam who is reaching out to the viewer for help. Uncle Sam is an iconic image instantly recognizable to Americans as the bold star of J.M. Flagg’s 1917 poster, which was used to recruit soldiers for both World War I and World War II. In that artwork, Uncle Sam is resolute. He knows what he wants and he doesn’t hesitate to ask for it.
In Jermaine’s reimagining, Sam is still strong, but he’s been worn down — like many of us — by a contentious, vitriolic election cycle. Instead of commanding the viewer, Uncle Sam is pleading with the viewer to vote — to not allow the news of the day, or election cycle, dissuade us from exercising our right to help chart our own future.
Here’s Jermaine’s take:
“In these times when the weight of our divisions have created a communal fatigue in this country, the fundamental idea of the ‘vote’ is one of the things that still unites us. This ability to cast a ballot in favor of (or against) decisions which will affect our national, state and local neighborhoods is a heavy thing, especially when considering the enormous sacrifices that have been made to secure even the OPTION for you and I to do so.”
“There is also the sobering realization that, if I don’t vote, someone else’s opinion will count for more than mine. Imagine ceding these decisions on pertinent issues to other people, some of whom maintain positions that you strongly disagree with!”
“Voting is ‘equality’ in action. I expect my opinions regarding my government and how it’s run to have as much weight as yours. You should feel the same way.”