In the run-up to the Local and European elections in Ireland on 24 May, a predictable debate broke out about election posters. On one side, community groups and environmentalist complain about the visual pollution and use of single-use plastics. On the other, politicians argue that they let an often apathetic public know that elections are happening, and that posters are an important way to let the public know who’s running – especially candidates that are new to politics or independent.
From a communications perspective, the benefit of an effective poster campaign is clear. Billboards still work, and that’s why we still see companies using them on the roadside, at airports and in Times Square. They are an effective way to communicate an extremely concise message.
The problem with the poster campaigns for the Locals and Euros is that by and large their messaging is dull (or non-existent) and the graphic design is uniformly unremarkable. The colour palettes are boring and the layout is so same-y they all blur into one after a while.
A headshot against a white or grey background paired with an unfamiliar name asks me for my vote. Face and name recognition matter, but only when teamed with a message, however brief. These candidates haven’t given me any reason why I should vote for them – I just should.
A poster is a very limited space. You might be thinking ‘How much information could they possibly convey?’ – and here’s where I’d ask you to compare the poorly designed and thought through posters staring blankly down at us from each and every lamp post with the posters for the two biggest referendum campaigns in recent times – the 8th amendment and gay marriage.
Granted, these campaigns had significantly larger budgets than your average Local candidate, but let’s take a look and see how they compare.
Activist groups on both sides made use of bright, eye-catching colours with short, simple messages. The Yes side went with ‘Equality for everyone’ while the No side centred their campaign around the impact on children. Both arguments have a deep emotional resonance.
On the 8th, the Yes side condensed their message to just a few words ‘Trust women’ or ‘Yes for Care’ while the No side combined stark but undeniably attention-grabbing imagery with short messages like ‘Babies will die’.
What can we learn from the results? Bright colours and succinct key messages are good, while negative campaigning is unlikely to work out.
So what should Local and European candidates be doing?
- First and foremost, they should distill their campaign messages to a few words each: “Fighting climate change”, “Protecting YOUR community”, “Creating jobs” – it’s not that hard. Those messages give voters a reason why they should take time out of their day on May 24 to vote for them.
- If they don’t have budget to invest in graphic design, they need to find out which of their friends, family or campaigners have basic photoshop skills and engage their support. They should take inspiration from referendum campaigns and leave the boring headshot/plain background election posters behind in favour of attention-grabbing colours and messages.
- They should direct voters to somewhere they can get more information. A website, social media handle or hashtag should be used to ensure that interested voters know exactly where to go to find out more about the candidate.
What’s your opinion on election posters? Leave a comment with your thoughts.
ABOUT KATIE HARRINGTON
Katie Harrington is a Communications and Content Creator based in Dublin, Ireland. Her e-book, Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art launched in November 2016. Katie has worked with global brands including Accenture, EY, Emirates Airline and Allianz, as well as in the Irish parliament and Qatar’s semi-government oil and gas company Nakilat.