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Posters and Election Propaganda

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

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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 3:30PM   |  Add a comment
Labour Party Web Site Image (2010)

How important are good looks and smiles on political posters, billboards, direct-mail pieces, Web sites, and television to political consultants and designers?

Well, it depends. Does a candidate or party want to convey seriousness, which the times demand, or a confident, friendly image to which voters can better relate? And how much airbrushing and other image manipulation should be done, before the candidate is ridiculed (as British Conservative Party leader David Cameron has been, especially on the mydavidcameron.com Web site)?

Some commentators, such as Michael Deacon, think that Cameron (especially after his portrait was airbrushed for a billboard recently) just doesn't look like a  "statesmen," and that the result is a lack of support of his party in the polls.

British Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Gordon Brown was never shown smiling a decade ago, but now is shown with a very pleasant smile on his party's Web site, and with an idiotic grin on opposition Conservative posters. Since times are hard now, perhaps Labour should can the smiles though.

Cameron, of course, was not the first politician whose image was "improved" by designers. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, was transformed from "homely" to "attractive," according to Ernest Marshall, who wrote in 1929 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” (Ernest Marshall, “The News of Europe in Week-End Cables,” New York Times, May 5, 1929, http://proquest.com).

Baldwin was not the first “homely” candidate to be idealized in campaign portraits, since this process had transformed, earlier, plain-looking or unattractive politicians, most notably Abraham Lincoln in the United States.

And after the memorable first debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy during the 1960 U.S. election campaign, the importance of “image” was mentioned right away in newspaper articles. For example, two days after the event, a piece in the New York Times stated that viewers had made “frequent mention of how drawn and weary the Vice President had looked” and how his “grimness was shocking,” but many thought that Senator Kennedy had projected a “mature image” (New York Times, “Both Candidates Retain Backers,” September 28, 1960, http://proquest.com).

Until the 1952 election, candidates never really smiled in U.S. political propaganda; they were expected to present themselves as “serious.”  Smiling also has varied by party: in Japan, only 36% of candidates of the Clean Government Party smiled in campaign posters studied in 2000 and 2001, in contrast to the 80% of Communist candidates who did [See Jonathan Lewis and Brian J. Masshardt, “Election Posters in Japan,” Japan Forum 14 (2002)].
 


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 3:20PM   |  2 comments
David Cameron Images (http://www.mirror.co.uk)

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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