About this blog
A blog dedicated to the examination of communications in election campaigns, with a focus on posters
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Many have decried the "presidentialization," "Americanization," and infusion of marketing into British politics, although these trends have been apparent for quite a few years now.
The latest barrage of criticism is directed at Conservative leader David Cameron's "presidential-style" election billboard/poster campaign, in anticipation of the upcoming elections in the United Kingdom. Many dislike the poster's focus on only Cameron, with senior Conservative leaders such as George Osborne and William Hague ignored. Even the party's logo is missing. This is not America, after all!
While it is true that, because its political system is parliamentary, there is more emphasis on parties than there is in the United States, Great Britain’s campaigns became “presidential”—in many ways—in the 1990s. This “presidentialization” was stimulated, in part, by the concentration of broadcast and newspaper reporting on party leaders; decisions by the parties themselves to focus attention on these men and women as message deliverers also factored. Even earlier, in 1987, the Labour Party brought in American political consultant Joseph Napolitan. In the 1980s, the Labour Party (seeing how political marketing techniques had proven to be successful for the Conservatives) began to move away from its reluctance to employ “modern” strategic political advertising and promotional methods and began to embrace them. This transition accelerated in the early 1990s, under Tony Blair’s leadership. The “Americanization” (i.e., more emphasis on personality and image, simplification of problems to a few emphasized issues, targeting of voters, and negative and/or emotional messages) of the campaigns conducted by the Labour Party was manifest in the inclusion, on posters, of photographs of Blair.
The Cameron billboard has also been attacked because of the obvious airbrushing and manipulation of the Tory leader's image, including his nose being slimmed down, his hair increased, and, according to Didi Danso (the Mirror's Fashion Editor), "he has pouting lips Keira Knightley would be jealous of." Of course, this "image enhancement" has occurred before. In 1929, British Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin was featured on a poster, with him appearing quite handsome, even though one contemporary reporter, Ernest Marshall, wrote that although “Baldwin has been described as the homeliest man in a conspicuous position in British politics, … [his] facial lineaments are now displayed on posters all over the country as an attractive appeal to the voters, … [with his] features … rounded out almost to John Bullish fullness.”
The accompanying slogan in the Cameron billboard/poster is a negative one (as so many have been in the contentious election campaigns in Britain): "We can't go on like this. I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS." Cutting spending and not health services? Does this sound familar to U.S. voters?
According to the Mirror, over 700 of these billboards—at a cost of £500,000—have already been put up.
To learn more about the use of posters and billboards in British politics, as well as British political history and the influence of advertising and marketing, see my book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.
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