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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 3:10PM   |  Add a comment
"Obama Isn't Working" (http://www.mittromney.com, 2011)

Mitt Romney's campaign has now borrowed from the British Conservative Party's very successful campaign that brought Margaret Thatcher and her party to power in 1979. Romney's Website features an "Obama Isn't Working" banner that is almost identical to a British poster used more than thirty years ago.

The 1979 campaign in Great Britain was marked by the aggressive and innovative advertising campaign for the Conservatives devised by Saatchi & Saatchi, and its “Labour Isn’t Working” poster was the key element. The firm’s Tim Bell (whom Thatcher later knighted for his efforts) was given the account and he decided to emphasize emotions, not issues, which would appeal to voters—an approach that was hardly new.

In 1979, high inflation, strikes, unemployment, declining market shares in many industries, monetary devaluation, and skyrocketing oil prices plagued the Labour government. In fact, many of the same problems beset U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the end of the decade. As a result (and with effective political marketing specialists aiding the conservatives in the two countries), both Carter and Labour lost power to Reagan and Thatcher. The faltering British economy and the Tories’ advertising strategy clearly convinced many voters to side with Thatcher’s party, which increased its share of the vote from 36 percent in the previous election to almost 44 percent (while Labour’s share declined from 39 percent to 37 percent).

As Maurice Saatchi said years later, "in great advertising, as in great art, simplicity is all … [with] simple themes, simple messages, simple visual images."

As both U.S. parties have acknowledged, jobs and the economy are the dominant issues in the 2012 campaign. And imagery—even if borrowed—may play a role in determining the election outcome.

For more on the 1978-1979 election campaign in Great Britain, see my book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.  


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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