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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 “Political Advertising”

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Posted by Steven Seidman at 9:44AM   |  Add a comment
"Windsurfing" (Bush-Cheney '04)


In 2004, the George W. Bush campaign produced one of the most devastating attack ads ever run. The "Windsurfing" ad was a 30-second spot that depicted Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry as a "flip-flopping, windsurfing elitist," who changed his positions to try to increase his support from voters. Kerry was shown windsurfing to the left and right, to symbolize his supposedly changing stances on the war in Iraq, and funding for troops, educational reform, and medicare premiums. These and other ads might have made the difference in President Bush's narrow margin of victory, which was 3 percent in the popular vote and 6 percent in the Electoral College. Click on this link to view the "Windsurfing" ad:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbdzMLk9wHQ

Now, in 2011, the Democratic National Committee has already run a similar 30-second spot ad, directed against a candidate who has not even been nominated yet (and may not be): Republican Mitt Romney. The "Trapped" ad pits "Mitt vs. Mitt" on abortion and health reform, stating that Romney (like Kerry) is "willing to say anything" to get elected. Click on this link to view the "Trapped" ad: http://www.youtube.com/user/DemocraticVideo#p/u/0/CUOM9QvhG5I

Such attacks can be effective, since they can get voters to question the "character" of candidates.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 1:15PM   |  Add a comment
Woman walks past election campaign posters of Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (BBC Photo; 2004)

Hafiz Noor Shams in a blog post in The Malaysian Insider compares the use of posters during election-campaign periods in Malaysia to their use in the United States and Australia (the latter of which voted on Saturday).

Shams wonders why there are so few posters in Australia, while "election time is always carnival-like in Malaysia. It is noisy and it is colourful. Loud speeches will blare into the night. More strikingly is the poster war. Colours representing major political parties will decorate the streets."

Why are the streets in Australia, the United States, and many other countries comparatively dull during their election periods? The mass media are more significant communication vehicles in these countries, and posters are used less—although they are now displayed on Internet sites (and downloaded) more frequently. In addition, there are no huge roadblocks to minor parties' advertising in the mass media, although they can be limited by a lack of funds.

But the main reason is legal restrictions imposed by the Malaysian government. The ruling coalition has over 90 percent of the seats in Parliament, and controls the mass media. In Malaysia, there are more political parties, and many of them do not have access to the mainstream media, making posters and the Internet more important vehicles to communicate to voters. Just to give you an idea of the number of political parties in Malaysia, eight new parties submitted registration applications in the first five months of this year alone! And opposition parties are not allowed to air their viewpoints on TV and radio, as well as in most newspapers.


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)].
 


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