About this blog
A blog dedicated to the examination of communications in election campaigns, with a focus on posters
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Mark Jones, on a Reuters blog that focuses on Britain, speculates that social media could mean the death of election posters and billboards.
The use of new social media technologies was expanded by the Obama campaign in the U.S. in 2008. Many marketing people thought that these would be more effective than older media—even TV—in influencing voters, particularly younger ones. The Obama campaign had desktop wallpaper, blogs, posters and signs, logos, flyers, badges, widgets, IM buddy icons, and mobile ring tones available on its Web site, and people who signed up could receive campaign updates and notices about events on their cell phones (accompanied by an image of the candidate and his logo) or they could find them on Twitter. In addition, one of the first iPhone applications was developed for the Obama campaign, with which users could obtain news about the candidate, video spots, and photos. Additionally, the Obama Web site sold lots of posters via its online store, and there were dozens of Web sites that put up poster designs.
But social media were important. Chris Hughes (a founder of Facebook) developed the Obama Web site as a social network, and there were also Facebook and MySpace groups. Almost 60 percent of under-30 registered voters visited candidate Web sites, social-networking sites, or blogs in 2008, according to the Pew Research Center, and this age group was much more likely to turn out for Obama.
Political posters and billboards get a lot of media attention in Britain, but even there they may be used less in the future. However, nowadays, poster designs are often meant to be downloaded from Web sites, and electronic billboards are becoming more commonplace. In the past year in the U.S., for example, Coca-Cola put up ads on these digital outdoor displays in 27 markets, according to Natalie Zmuda in Advertising Age.
In close elections, posters have made a difference. Some interesting research, conducted before the 1996 parliamentary elections in Great Britain, suggested that poster campaigns persuaded swing voters, in particular, to change their political preferences. Researchers found that a Conservative Party's “New Labour, New Danger” poster, showing two red eyes peering out from behind a red curtain, was effective with focus-group members, 25–34 years old of age, who lacked strong party allegiances.
Overall, posters and billboards may have had some influence, according to researchers. Voters surveyed in the United Kingdom during the 2001 election campaign indicated that billboard advertisements had affected one in ten persons—2 percent reported that the ads had a “great deal” of influence on them and 8 percent indicated a “fair amount.” In comparison, the percentages for televised broadcasts were 6 percent and 16 percent for the same response categories. In addition, the survey data from 1992 to 2000 in Japan revealed generally similar findings about the influence of election posters in that country: when participants were asked if the medium assisted their voting decisions, the percentages ranged from 5 to 9 percent for posters (about the same as for newspaper advertisements)
Of course, these percentages could be lower in the years to come.
For more on the use of posters in British election campaigns and on the effects of posters on voting behavior, see my book, Posters, Propaganda, and Persuasion in Election Campaigns Around the World and Through History.
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