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Posters and Election Propaganda

A blog dedicated to the examination of communications in election campaigns, with a focus on posters

Tagged as “Advertising”

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Posted by Steven Seidman at 8:18PM   |  Add a comment
Billboard for "The Iron Lady" (MailOnline, 2012)

Margaret Thatcher—whose Conservative Party won elections three times between 1979 and 1987 when she led it—is the subject of a new movie, “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep. But the tough, imaginative campaigns that brought Thatcher to power were orchestrated by the advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi and emphasized emotions and issues and did not focus much on Thatcher herself.

In 1979, high unemployment and inflation hurt the ruling Labour government. The billboards and posters, titled “Labour Isn’t Working,” created by the advertising firm illustrated the joblessness (see my past blog post). They featured a long, snakelike line of people at the unemployment office, and the caption “Britain’s Better Off With The Conservatives.” TV spots also did not mention Thatcher; rather they showed people trying to cope with high prices, unemployment, and taxes, and speaking positively about Conservative economic policies.

Thatcher and her party won again in 1983 and 1987. After the British victory over Argentina in the Falklands War, and with improved economic conditions, the Conservatives won decisively over Labour (as shown in the film). Saatchi & Saatchi’s campaign for the Conservatives, in 1983, featured a poster that compared the Labour Party’s policies to those expressed in the Communist Manifesto. The poster’s headline read “Like Your Manifesto, Comrade.”

In contrast to U.S. elections, it was clear that British voters put less emphasis on the leader of the party. In a 1987 exit poll, voters were asked to indicate “the most important reason which decided their vote,” and only 6 percent replied that it was the party’s leader. It is not surprising, therefore, that British posters in the 1980s often excluded Thatcher and the opposing leaders (while U.S. posters showed Reagan, Bush, Carter, and Mondale).

More often than not, British election propaganda campaigns have emphasized issues more than the leaders, even popular ones. Party leaders, however, have appeared on posters more frequently in the past two decades. And, ironically, Thatcher has appeared a number of times on opposition posters and billboards—sometimes with only her hairdo on a Conservative Party leader (see an example above).

For more on election posters in British campaigns, see my book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 4:18PM   |  3 comments
Malachi Cleary as Warren G. Harding on "Boardwalk Empire"

Warren G. Harding, the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the United States in 1920, is portrayed by actor Malachi Cleary in the HBO television series, "Boardwalk Empire." In fact, the title of the finale of the show's first season, "A Return to Normalcy," was one of Harding's campaign slogans. And a large Harding poster can be seen in the background during the Republican National Convention scene (as David Ettlin—a reader of this blog—points out). Harding, a silver-haired, adulterous, corrupt minor senator from Ohio, secured his party's nomination at the convention, with the help of several party bosses in a "smoke-filled room." On the TV show, Harding's campaign manager, Harry Daugherty is helped by “Nucky” Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi), who calls the candidate an "imbecile" while dealmaking to benefit both Harding and himself. "Nucky" also agrees to hide Harding's mistress, Nan Britton, in New Jersey during the presidential campaign. 

During the 1920 campaign, the Republicans spent an incredible amount of money to elect Harding (who won by the huge margin of 26 percentage points). It was reported in The New York Times that five million posters that included portraits of Harding and his vice-presidential candidate, Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge, were printed, along with fifteen million buttons of Harding alone.

Although Daugherty was quite influential in the campaign, another figure, advertising executive Albert Lasker, loomed large. Lasker coordinated public relations and advertising, and posters and billboards were a fundamental part of the campaign. Lasker’s style of advertising, which often advocated the purchase of one product over another, worked very well in politics, with newspaper and billboard ads promoting politicians rather than products. It was a small leap for him to come up with another slogan for Harding, “Let’s be done with wiggle and wobble” (a reference to a Democratic policy that seemed first to have been isolationist, then interventionist), after concocting such slogans as “Keep that Schoolgirl Complexion” and “A Cow in Every Pantry” for products. Lasker’s slogan was seen on billboards across the country at a cost of four hundred thousand dollars (while the Democrats spent little on this medium)—and that was only 7.5 percent of the Republican National Committee’s total expenditures. The “wiggle and wobble” slogan strategy contrasted Lasker’s candidate with the outgoing president: Harding was depicted as a solid, steady leader with small-town values, who would return the country to “normalcy”; the outgoing Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, on the other hand, had promised to keep the country out of the Great War, and then had led it into the conflict.

The visual images that were sometimes fashioned for the posters and billboards in the Harding campaing were imposing: a good example is Howard Chandler Christy’s idealized rendition of Harding with the candidate dramatically raising one hand and appearing to hold an American flag with the other. There were only two words accompanying the image: “America First!” (yet another slogan). This was the same slogan that was used in the Wilson poster in the previous election campaign, and, amazingly, the slogan that was included in some Democratic posters in 1920.

To learn much more about the Harding campaign, see the book Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.

 

 

 


Posted by Steven Seidman at 12:15PM   |  Add a comment
Freeze Frame from BBC Interview (March 28, 2010)

Jonathan Gabay of brand forensics talks to the BBC about the British Conservative Party's poster campaign for this year's elections that directly attacks Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

It echoes Saatchi & Saatchi's famous 1979 campaign for Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives, best seen in the classic poster, titled "Labour Isn't Working."



Posted by Steven Seidman at 3:00PM   |  Add a comment
Mumsnet Logo

The influential parenting Web site in Britain, Mumsnet.com, is being used by the political parties to get across their messages to "mommy bloggers." The May election in the U.K. is now being called the "Mumsnet Election," according to Emma Hall in AdAge.com. In fact, the Web site has a section with exactly that title, with links to an article, a survey, a discussion board, leader biographies, and Web chats.

Just as "soccer moms" were a key targeted group for Bill Clinton's 1996 U.S. campaign, middle-class, college-educated mothers are being targeted in this year's British campaign, as Rachel Sylvester points out in the TImes. According to Sylvester, "Labour is planning manifesto pledges to increase paternity leave, allow greater flexibility at work and give more help to those caring for elderly parents. The Tories are also preparing to pitch to the Mumsnet vote with an increase in parental leave...."

Both the Conservative and Labour Parties have developed ads for the Web site and their leaders have participated in online chat sessions with some of the site's users. One Labour ad says, "Are you earning more than 42,000 pounds? Say hello to David [Cameron, the Conservative Party's leader]. And goodbye to your child tax credits. Vote Tory and you'll get less than you bargained for." The Conservative Party's ad exclaims, however, that the party favors child tax credits for people who earn under 78,000 pounds.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 10:14AM   |  2 comments
Shepard Fairey, "Arm Yourself," Ad for Saks Fifth Avenue (Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company)

Saks Fifth Avenue hired guerilla artist Shepard Fairey recently to design advertisements, catalog covers, and shopping bags. Fairey became famous as the designer of several posters of Barack Obama during his run for the U.S. presidency, one of which was sold on Obama's Web site.

As with the Obama poster creations, Fairey's commercial work is influenced by Soviet Constructivist Art from the 1920s and 1930s, especially the work of Alexander Rodchenko, who combined photographic images, slanted perspectives, and bright, primary colors. He also borrows from the Bauhaus School, whose artists frequently used diagonal lines and lettering. These influences are evident in Fairey's ad for a slouchy bag, for example, which features an angled model with a raised fist—indicating that she is for the "rights of the people" as well as "arming" herself with a slouchy bag—along with red areas and white diagonal lines.

All of Fairey's work is propaganda, but in the best sense: it's goal is to influence an audience's emotions to promote a product, often inspiring viewers. According to Terron Schaefer, senior vice president for marketing at Saks, as quoted in The New York Times: "What we do very day, really, is propaganda." All advertising can be considered propaganda, of course. But I think that Fairey's comment about his work for Saks (also quoted in The New York Times) is more on the money when he stated that his goal was just to get attention.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 12:20PM   |  1 comment
USA Today, Political Spending (http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics)

This year has seen yet another record for campaign expenditures in the U.S. The projected total amount for the presidential and congressional campaigns is $5.3 billion, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. This money has been spent mainly on political marketing—including TV, radio, and Internet spot ads, and direct mail—but also for the conventions, canvassing, polling, and telephone calls.

Almost one-half of the above amount—a record $2.4 billion—has been spent on the presidential race. But, as USA Today's Fredreka Schouten noted, this "is less than the $2.6 billion Coca-Cola spent on advertising in 2006." Of course, it is also 50% more than the $1.6 billion expended on the presidential race four years ago.

It also should be mentioned that the Democrats raised almost 60% of the total this year, whereas fundraising by the two major U.S. political parties was approximately the same in 2004. Over 90% of Barack Obama's $639 billion has come from individual contributors, according to the Center, whereas only a bit more than 50% of John McCain's $360 billion has been given by individuals (23% are federal funds; 22% are "Other").

The minor parties? Well, independent Ralph Nader obtained only $4 million (of which 22% were from federal funds); Libertarian Bob Barr had about $1.25 million (with no federal funds); Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin raised $239,000 (with no federal funds); Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney had a mere $188,000 (with only about $5,000 from the federal government).

Interesting, independent "527 groups" devoted to federal races have raised less money this year: $424 million (a decrease of 12% from 2004), reports Ms. Schouten.

How much does all this spending help candidates? There is some research to indicate that it does help somewhat. For instance, money spent on campaign advertising in British elections has been found to be generally effective, particularly for out-of-power parties against incumbent ones. This may prove to be the case in this year's U.S. presidential election.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 4:15PM   |  Add a comment
AFL-CIO, "Straight Answers," 2008 (http://marcambinder.theatlantic.com)

The final "surge" is on in the last four days of the election campaign!

Labor unions almost always work to elect Democratic presidential candidates in the U.S., and this year is no exception. The AFL-CIO, for example put together a huge campaign for the final four days—the largest in its political history—with more than 100,000 workers in 21 "battleground" states calling on almost 4 million union households, dialing 5.5 million telephone numbers, and disseminating over 2 million leaflets at workplaces in support of Barack Obama, wrote Jonathan Martin (http://www.politico.com).

This summer, the AFL-CIO sent cards (see the illustration on the right) to 600,000 union members in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with their purpose to counter "myths and rumors about Sen. Obama,"  according to union spokesperson Steve Smith. The questions included the following about Obama (with all of the answers "Yes"):

  • Does he wear a flag pin on his lapel?
  • Is he a Christian?
  • Was he born in America?
  • Does he place his hand over his heart when he says the pledge?
  • Was he sworn in on a bible?

Another printed piece focused on health care and the economy. (see Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic)

 

As for the Republicans, the Politico's Martin reported that John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee are sending out robocalls and radio spot ads, featuring retiring Senator John Warner, to Virginians in that key battleground state. The messages emphasize defense. In the radio ad aimed at the voters in the Tidewater area (with its gigantic naval base), Warner says: "Barack Obama's liberal colleagues in Congress announced they will cut defense spending by 25%. Fellow Virginians, cuts in the defense budget will weaken Virginia's economy, weaken national defense."

 


Posted by Steven Seidman at 5:30PM   |  Add a comment
Electronic Arts, "Early Voting Has Begun," Burnout Paradise Game, 2008 (http://www.autoblog.com)

Presidential campaign billboards have been placed in video games for the first time by Barack Obama's team. The inserted ads appear in the game Burnout Paradise, and "racers" speed by billboards that say "Early Voting Has Begun" and "Vote for Change.com."

The billboard also can be seen in a number of other video games, including Need for Speed, Skate, NASCAR 09, and NBA Live 08, as well as online versions.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 1:30PM   |  Add a comment
"One Heartbeat Away," National Nurses Organizing Committee, 2008

According to The Spot (a blog about political ads by the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a division of TNS Media Intelligence), special interest groups are girding up to release TV spots in targeted states. These 527 and PAC groups may "prove to be a significant force, largely because they are more willing than candidates to include incendiary information and images in their ads," states the blog.

In the last week, these groups distributed ads that focused on abortion, rape, Obama's association with Tony Rezko, Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers, McCain's bouts with cancer, and more.

Planned Parenthood, the Committee for Truth in Politics, the California Nurses Association, and the Judicial Confirmation Network sponsored ads that ran over 1,000 times during the week—costing almost $375,000.

Here are two of the ads:




Posted by Steven Seidman at 2:40PM   |  Add a comment
Frame from "Better Off" Video, McCain-Palin Campaign, 2008



Along with Apple, Coors, Nike, and Zappos, the Obama and McCain campaigns have been nominated as finalists for Advertising Age's "Marketer of the Year" Award, 2008.

 

Obama's campaign used innovative marketing techniques to brand the Democratic candidate as the agent of "hope" and "change," and mobilized young people to support him.

 

McCain's campaign reinforced the Republican's brand as a "maverick" and a "hero," and partially grabbed "the mantle of change" from his opponent, according to Advertising Age

 


Posted by Steven Seidman at 1:06PM   |  1 comment
Frame from Brave New PAC's "A Fellow POW on John McCain," 2008

In early nineteenth-century America, negative advertising and distortion of candidate records were all practiced in politics—in partisan newspapers, broadsides, and posters. Today, this is mainly conducted on the Internet and with TV spot ads.

Vinny Minchillo (Chief Creative Officer, Scott Howell & Company) says that presidential advertising is like auto advertising. Here are the similarities, according to him (in Advertising Age, September 19, 2008):

  • "Both decisions come with a commitment of two, four or six years"
  • "Potential customers are engaged for a short period of time"
  • "People actually do their homework before committing"
  • "People want us to believe they decide based on facts, when it's really an emotional decision"
  • "There's plenty of negative advertising"

The key for shoppers—for presidents and cars—writes Minchillo, is to "make a connection to the brand that is both logical and emotional." There are a number of important questions asked by these shoppers, but perhaps the most important ones are "How will this car make me look?" and "What will my friends say when I reveal my candidate choice?" Minchillo states that Obama—"a stunning orator and tremendous narrator"— is a "Ferrari"; McCain—"with tons of experience and decent qualifications"—is a "Toyota Camry."

Then there is the "comparative advertising" between "products." Although surveys have indicated that many voters dislike negative political ads, researchers have shown that they are often effective. Two of the most successful were the Willie Horton spots in 1988 and those by the Swift Boat Veterans in 2004.

The most malicious video spots are not even shown on television; rather they are posted online. Both TV and online spots have been financed by so-called "527 groups." These groups can raise unlimited funds independent of the authorized groups supporting candidates and parties, but must disclose donors. One 527 group, calling itself the "Brave New PAC" targeted John McCain with a spot attempting to tarnish his "hero" image as a Vietnam POW. Here it is:


An anti-Obama spot, posted by "Our Country PAC," called into question the Democrat's "patriotism." Here it is:


These are just two. You can find many more out there.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 5:37PM   |  Add a comment
2008 Yard Signs

Yard signs hold a prominent position in twenty-first-century election campaign packages, although not much is said about them. Both the Obama and McCain campaigns are selling these signs (also called "lawn signs") on their Web sites. Both sides have added the names of the vice-presidential candidates to them in the past month or so.

Yard signs are often similar to the posters and bumper stickers produced. They are part of coordinated campaign packages, with their components (magnets, tee shirts, etc.) exhibiting the same logo-type design. They have much in common with TV political spots and product commercials: their messages have almost always been reduced to a few, carefully selected, pretested words and images that encapsulate why people should vote for a candidate or party, as well as—after much repetition—building “brand familiarity.”

Frequently a slogan or logo is included, which can further motivate voters to support a candidate. These play on emotions—an advertising practice, along with repetition, that works. Successful brand management for a candidate is characterized by simple slogans and logos that resonate with voters. The Obama campaign's logo, for example, is designed to get voters' attention and to make them feel good about the candidate, with its imagery evoking feelings of patriotism, the "heartland," and optimism.
 
Yard signs establish the presence of a candidate in a community and are mainly aimed at supporters— to increase their sense of urgency to work for the ticket and get other partisans to do so. In nineteenth-century American campaigns, parades with banners helped gain attention for candidates and stir supporters; today, yard signs help to accomplish this.

Since the 1950s, antilitter legislation in the United States has been a key factor in the heavy use of election yard signs, while limiting the display of posters and billboards in public places.

The display of yard signs often continues after the voting has occurred. This might reinforce citizens’ identification with parties and help them in the next round of elections. Researchers have found that a “basking-in-reflected-glory” effect can occur for posters and homeowners’ lawn signs. This phenomenon lasted for one week after the 1999 general elections in three urban areas of Flanders: a significant relationship was found to exist between the performance of the winning or losing party and the exhibition of those parties’ printed material. Homeowners were more likely to display the posters and lawn signs that favored the victors and to remove those for the defeated parties.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 7:15AM   |  Add a comment
Campaign Slogan, Democratic Party, 1964 (morningagaininamerica.com/ home/?page_id=29)

Slogans, ranging from “I Like Ike” (Republicans, U.S., 1952) to “Labour Isn’t Working” (Conservatives, Britain, 1978), have summarized entire political campaigns with a few, memorable words. Repetitions of slogans and playing on emotions are key practices of advertising. Advertising is, of course, a form of propaganda. Sometimes ads for products, such as “Wilson, That’s All!”—which was employed originally in advertisements for a brand of whiskey—are used for candidates, in this instance Woodrow Wilson.

Slogans are carefully devised, with each word calculated to appeal to one or more target audiences, with focus groups used to help determine the slogan, as well as to test it out. Obama's "Yes We Can" is a good example: it is positive, inclusive, and implies "change."

Some successful U.S. campaign slogans follow:

  • “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” (Whigs, 1840) celebrated William Henry Harrison, the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe and his running mate, John Tyler
  • "Don't swap horses in midstream" (Republicans, 1864, for Abraham Lincoln)
  • "He Kept Us Out of War" (Democrats, 1916, for Wilson, who then had the U.S. enter World War I)
  • “Let’s be done with wiggle and wobble” (Republicans, 1920)—a reference to a Democratic policy that seemed first to have been isolationist, then interventionist
  • "A chicken in every pot. A car in every garage. A duck in every bathtub" (Republicans, 1928, for Herbert Hoover)
  • "A New Deal" (Democrats, 1932, for Franklin D. Roosevelt) 
  • "All the Way with LBJ" (Democrats, 1964, for Lyndon B. Johnson)
  • “A Stronger America” (Democrats, 2004, for John Kerry)

One slogan that has been forgotten by most Americans was devised by the Democratic Party in the mid-nineteenth century: "We Polked you in 1844; we shall Pierce you in 1852." It honored James Polk and Franklin Pierce. And in the past, slogans were often negative. For example, in 1884, the Democrats created “Soap! Soap! Blaine’s only Hope!” to help defeat James Blaine. The slogan was an allusion to Blaine's alleged corrupt practices.

Slogans are evident in many other countries' election campaigns, as well. Here are a few:

  • “Bread, Justice, Freedom” (Japan Labor-Farmer Party, 1928)
  • “The Socialists will be Liberal with your money!” (Conservatives, Britain, 1929)
  • "One People, One Country, One Leader" (Nazis, Germany, 1938)
  • "We Shall Overcome" (Popular Unity, Chile, 1970)
  • “We Need a Strong France” (Union for French Democracy, 1981)
  • “A Better Life for All” (African National Congress, South Africa, 1994)
  • "Enough Already!" (National Action Party, Mexico, 2000)

The "I Like Ike" slogan was used in a television commercial. It was an effective slogan, since it enhanced General Dwight D. Eisenhower's already positive image. The posters that were produced further reinforced the image of a confident, smiling presidential candidate who was ready to face all problems, and above petty party concerns. Here's the 1952 TV spot:

 



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