“Women have been voting for nearly 100 years. Why stop now?” A political campaign poster for ‘get out the vote’ (GOTV) encourages women to vote even today, in a few but powerful words.
Posters have been an inherent part of political campaigns as well as public movements for centuries. Suffragettes designed them to convey their message for women’s right to vote, the US army put Uncle Sam on them to recruit soldiers in wars and more recently, Obama used presidential campaign posters to convey a simple message- Hope. Now, with the elections approaching, the political campaign posters have once again made a comeback.
While a large share of a political campaign’s work has shifted online, the good old posters, with their vibrant colors and ability to grab attention in public spaces, remain a classic.
Political campaign posters will
- Help you take your campaign to the streets and get more eyeballs (quite literally)
- Keep you relevant (remember, out of sight is out of mind) and
- Inspire curiosity about your campaign.
So, do not underestimate its power while campaigning.
Where and How To Display Political Campaign Posters:
For an effective poster campaign, the poster has to be displayed at a venue that is frequented by your target audience and has enough context to attract them.
To get the best, you need to map out the people you are targeting, where they are likely to be, and what will lure them.
You need to be visible on online and offline platforms, customizing your posters (designs, sizes, locations, messaging) to appeal to different segments.
It is crucial to understand where and how to display them. Let’s go size-wise:
71% of Americans reported looking at advertisements consciously while driving. 58% said they learned about an event or restaurant they later attended. These numbers show that billboards can be extremely useful for:
- Spreading awareness about your candidate and your campaign
- Increasing event attendance for your campaign
Billboards can go on large roadside hoardings, bus stands, shopping centers, or streets with high foot traffic.
Large campaign posters on poles:
In the above image, you can see how the posters are placed and repeated. When on roads, drivers and passengers don’t have time to stop and read your signs.
Only 28% of people recall websites they see on billboards. Even lesser people – a mere 26% remember phone numbers. So in these posters,
- Keep text to a minimum on such posters
- Focus on graphics instead
- The placement should be such that drivers or passengers see at least one of your signs every few seconds
Wall sticker posters:
The writing’s on the walls. Posters stuck on walls of public areas do help in advertising. Think of the colorful, quirky advertisements in subways. They catch your eyes in a matter of seconds and inform you of the new play, movie, or political candidate that deserves attention. When going for such posters, make sure you:
- Print out bulks of signs to stick in such public places because people seldom stop at the first poster
- Go for big sized banners to stand out from the crowd
- Try for places where people are bound to stop like ticket counters, inside trains, or in waiting areas
Advertising in shops and cafes:
You need different designs for people who are walking past your posters and people who will see them while shopping or eating. With advertisements in shops or restaurants:
- There’s room to add more text so utilize that to the fullest
- Think about the placement and where people will most likely read you (behind cashiers in a shop or a wall near tables in food joints)
- This could be a great place to advertise text to join campaigns or volunteering or fundraising appeals because people have time to wait and act on the posters
These are another type of mini-posters that you require in bulk. The page should be catchy enough to stop people from chucking the paper into a bin. But, pamphlets give you space to jot down many details. Utilize this space to the fullest and have your volunteers distribute them in a long radius. You can use the medium to:
- Inform about the issues you advocate
- Spread word about volunteering opportunities or other means to support you
- List polling locations and timings in that area as a GOTV effort
On social media:
Ain’t nothing like social media to reach out to thousands of people at the click of a button. Use this tool to take your poster campaign online and increase followers. Potential supporters, established supporters, volunteers, and others can be targeted with specific posters (like messaging, appeal for volunteering, fundraising). Another feather in the cap of social media posters is that it is absolutely cost-effective!
Are political campaign posters still relevant and practical?
Absolutely yes! Posters are a powerful medium to communicate and are definitely still relevant and practical for your campaign.
However, given that people engage with posters on different platforms, how you use your posters has evolved.
With 79% of people in the USA on social media, online campaigns are, of course, essential. That means posters are now seen on social media like Pinterest, Instagram, and more.
But that’s not to say that offline efforts have lost meaning.
Although the internet is a great tool to reach out, 70% of people are more likely to remember a brand they see in print than online. One reason for this could be our diminished attention span when we are viewing a screen.
Today, your campaign needs to be the right blend of online and offline efforts. Regardless of which channel you choose to publish your posters, they are relevant because:
- They can create a massive impact in a few words
- They reach a segment of the audience who prefer not to read
- Posters can be an online tool as much as offline
Let’s look at these points in further detail.
They can create a massive impact in a few words:
Obama’s Hope poster is a great contemporary example.
On the surface, it looked like a straightforward poster with two primary elements- the word ‘hope’ in bold and capital. And an illustration of Barack Obama. Yet, it spoke so much to those who saw it.
Shephard Fairey, the artist behind the poster, shares that he had made the illustration for an event. It wasn’t supposed to be a significant part of the campaign. But it resonated with the supporters, and he sold over 4700 copies within the first few days!
So iconic became the image that Fairey and others adapted the template for other causes.
It became an inspiration for satire and public movement.
They convey your message without words (and reach a segment of the audience who prefer not to read)
Long articles or speeches will go deep into your cause and help people understand it thoroughly. But the target audience is typically people already invested in your cause and are looking to learn more.
In contrast, posters are for those audiences who are still relatively low in the ladder of engagement.
Posters do the job of sending your very first message to the common folk. They are the “hello,” to get the person on the other line to ask, “who is speaking?”
Posters can be an online tool as much as offline
Facebook, Twitter, and such other social media sites have a cover image space on your profile. That is essentially an online poster of you. It is a space to pictorially depict something about you- something that will impress or intrigue the visitor.
This is a small scale example of an online poster.
Similarly, posters can be used to make the initial impression of your campaign through profiles. For instance, if you ask staff members and volunteers to put up your poster as their cover image, you automatically reach thousands of people.
Additionally, you have more creative freedom in designing online posters. You can experiment with videos, gifs, audios, and other media tools too!
Social media allows you to target specific audiences, and so online posters can have focussed messaging for every audience segment. For instance,
- For potential supporters, make posters that introduce you, your campaign or your message
- When you are targeting established supporters, make appeals for volunteers
- Target posters with a fundraising appeal to volunteers and followers
Challenges one may face with a poster campaign
Political posters campaigns are not very easy to make if you are expecting significant results. They need to be not just attractive but also convincing, which essentially means you need to invest in the campaign substantially. Let’s have a look at some of the challenges you may face while going for such a campaign:
|Poster campaigns are able to create great impact without long prose||You need just the right design to secure this impact|
|They can target people who are not keen on long articles or speeches||It’s not easy attracting attention to your campaign in a location filled with many other posters|
|You can use different sizes and designs for different locations||But it could be challenging to maintain one theme throughout the campaign|
|Poster campaigns can improve your visibility even in low traffic areas||The accurate measurement of an individual poster is nearly impossible|
|Posters can help you send out GOTV messages, fundraising appeals to various geographies|
|They are and will always remain a classic way of reaching out to supporters|
Here’s a detailed look into these challenges:
Nailing the right design
- Getting a good design is a hurdle. Getting a viral design (for the right reasons), is even more challenging. For instance, in the above image, the design is not pleasing, and the catchphrase has immense trolling potential. So if it does go viral, it would probably be for all the wrong reasons. You want readers to support you, agree with you, or laugh with you- not laugh at you. Setting the right tone and making the design a hit can be a challenge.
Getting eyeballs/attention to your poster
- The COVID-19 quarantine means fewer people are outdoors to see your poster. You may wonder if these efforts are worth it if your audience size has shrunk. However, as we discussed earlier, positioning is essential. You may want to target streets, shops, and services that are still operating actively.
Maintaining consistency in design excellence for campaign
- Getting several good designs for one campaign can be tricky. One size does not fit all. Posters need to change in size, color, and nature according to their placement (a large, brightly colored ad is not a great view from one’s house. Keep such hoardings to the highways. Similarly, pamphlet-sized posters are not a great campaign in fast lanes.)
Measurement of impact and its tracking can be difficult for print posters
- Online engagement metrics are easily accessible, but offline is a different ball game because it is incredibly tougher to track audience behavior offline. One way to overcome this is to reserve a calling/texting number or keyword only for poster campaigns. Still, it is nearly impossible to track which poster exactly impacted your new caller or supporter.
How can campaign posters help you:
Despite the sizable challenges presented by posters, many political campaigns have reaped their benefits. They still make it an essential channel of communication. Here is why…
- They can help you recruit volunteers
- Posters deliver your message in a compact manner
- And improve your visibility in low as well as high traffic areas
- You can make fundraising appeals via posters, and people can donate easily
- Poster campaigns are classic GOTV tools
Let’s understand each point in detail:
They help in volunteer recruitment:
Posters can be excellent tools for a shout out to volunteers. People looking for volunteering opportunities need not contact you. Instead, with attractive banners, you reach out to them!
One of the classic campaign poster examples is the “Uncle Sam wants you” advertisement used to recruit soldiers in wars. The messaging was crystal clear- Uncle Sam, the personification of the USA, was pointing to the reader with the words “I want you for US Army,” written in bold capital letters.
The campaign was successful when first used in the War of 1812 and was reused for both the world wars a century later!
Political campaigns can take a leaf out of this strategy. Posters have a broad reach, and you can utilize it for opt-in text campaigns. Put up keywords in posters that allow new supporters to confirm their interest, opt-in for notifications, join as volunteers, or get details about fundraising opportunities.
Of course, war is not on the horizon in this context. But there’s no reason why we can’t use its tactics for peaceful objectives!
Delivering your message in a compact manner
Obama’s “Hope” poster had become an icon in recent times, and when the 2016 elections were due, Bernie’s supporters were looking for something similar. Just like Obama’s 2008 poster, Bernie too emerged from supporters, not a commissioned piece.
This colorful poster had the words “Not Me, Us”, written on the top left corner. This was a line taken from one of Bernie’s speeches, where he asked the crowd who the stronger candidate was. When the crowd chanted his name, Bernie said, “Not me, us!”
At the bottom of the poster was a silhouette of Bernie, his fist raised in triumph. His name appears at the very bottom, inside his image. This silhouette and the word, “us” is filled with colorful outlines of people representing the citizens of the USA. Each shape is different from the other- some with short hair, a cowboy hat, a cap. Detailing is crucial in any poster, and this design has owned it.
The clear messaging, the inclusion of human silhouettes into Bernie’s, and the bright colors all subtly deliver the message that he stood for in that election.
Similarly, the design you choose can reflect on your campaign stance and be a powerful addition to your messaging.
Interviews with French and Belgian politicians revealed a significant difference between how parties use posters. For minor parties, they are a means to get their message across. For major parties, however, posters are also a way to affirm their strength and position of power.
The main motive behind both these objectives remains the same- visibility. Unless people are actively searching for you, there is a slim chance of visibility for political campaigns and candidates. Posters are a way to engage people when you are not organizing rallies, debates, or events.
Remember what we discussed previously- positioning and repetition. Both these are crucial factors to ensure visibility where you need it.
Fundraising appeals using posters
Just as you may send out fundraising appeals through texts or via phone calls, posters can be a tool to make donation appeals. In the above image, Eugene McCarthy’s campaign provides all details of a fundraising campaign.
We have come a long way from the 1960s. Now, all your posters need is a keyword to opt-in for fundraising events or a website where people can donate (you can also experiment with QR codes to enable supporters to donate without hassle!)
- Use posters to make direct donation appeals. Make sure you mention where people can donate (address, keyword, phone number or website)
- Use them to invite people for fundraising events. Here too, all crucial details such as location, time, and nature of the event must be mentioned.
When it comes to voter turnout, many countries show discouraging numbers. For instance, in the 2016 USA elections, only 55.7% of people voted- and even this number was cause for celebrations!
Running campaigns to get out the vote is essential to your success. After all, your supporters may be in the list of people who do not vote. With posters, you can make this appeal. We saw the powerful imagery used in the UK to get women to vote. Many such minimalistic posters send out the message strongly.
Campaign poster examples for GOTV:
The graphic is quite basic, but the message compelling. “To vote is to exist” conveys that in a democratic system, voting is not just your right as a citizen but also the duty. Once you are hinged to this message, further details come in a much smaller, less bright font below. This ensures a reader is not overwhelmed by the text but stops to read when they are engaged.
In 2017, the Virginia House of Delegates became the center of national attention due to one vote. Republican David Yancey had won the elections before Shelly Simonds, his democrat opponent, asked for a recount of votes. She won by a single vote!
A court intervention then declared that one of the ballots counted in Simond’s favor should be in Yancey’s. The drama resulted in the final winner being decided “by lot,” and Yancey’s name was picked as the winner.
Well, all of that happened mainly due to one voter. It goes to show that even individually, votes matter—your voice matters.
The message gives a sense of urgency that invokes action in the reader. It makes one feel responsible and essential in the political fate of the country. As we have seen in the example above, the state (or an election) does depend on the voter. This poster conveys precisely that.
How do you make a political campaign poster?
You want the posters to grab eyeballs of pedestrians, drivers, or passengers. There’s a myriad of advertisements, hoardings, billboards, and you want to stand out from the crowd. How do you do it? These tips will come handy:
Choose a color palette that stands out and resonates with your cause.
Difference between the two poster styles
|Posters in the left frame||Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s poster|
|The four posters have similar features- all with one person looking in the camera and their names.||Cortez looks away from the camera, putting up a simple but powerful stance|
|All posters follow a standard design and color scheme. So none of them stand out||The bright background and bold, big font stand out effortlessly, even in a crowd of posters|
|Individually, you may want to read more about them. But when several similar images come together, none pique much interest.||Cortez’s name and photo are the heroes if the image and get registered in a viewer’s mind within milliseconds|
|One needs to squint to read the text||Big and bold font with minimal text ensures effortless reading|
What is common between The Simpsons, Spongebob Squarepants, and Alexandra Ocasio Cortez’s poster above? The simple answer is- a yellow theme. But dig a bit deeper, and you will realize why yellow. Many cartoons have this color to make them pop when you are skimming through content.
For her 2018 elections, Alexandra Ocasio Cortez chose a bright and bold yellow+purple scheme over the conventional red, blue & white. This unusual color scheme did what it was supposed to- grab attention.
With a clear and well-positioned text, the poster not just grabbed attention but also conveyed the message instantly. Cortez’s win over incumbent Joe Crowley cannot be attributed only to posters. But the refreshing look- with bilingual messages, bright color scheme, and forgoing the traditional colors undeniably played their part in gathering support.
Do not clutter
One would think that a lot of pictures or text will give more information. On the contrary, it usually feels like a mess that people tend to avoid and forget. In the above image, there’s much to read and so many pictures to look at. This image can be lovely for a game of “where’s Wally,” but as a presidential campaign poster, it demands undue efforts from readers. That is quite a task.
Minimalism is impactful- advertisements and posters that say a lot in minimum text or pictures.
Uncluttered posters have two main advantages:
- They convey the point quickly
- Require less mental effort from the reader
American journalist Brooke Gladstone observes,
“…the most effective campaign posters of every era leave as much as possible to the voter’s imagination. They are like Japanese manga: the less detailed the image, the more easily we can identify with the candidate, the more space for projecting our dreams. The more specific the image, the greater the risk of creating a feeling of “otherness,” which translates into death at the polls.”
Having minimal information also means adding the right information. E.g., in a GOTV campaign poster, it is important to add the dates and times.
Put up political campaign posters at scale
Any advertising pundit will tell you that repetition is a primary advertising technique. Your design will attract viewers, but the only repetition will keep that intrigue alive.
The same goes for your campaign posters too.
For your campaign posters to be impactful, viewers need constant reminders. A rare advertisement remains a faint memory. The more frequently your message gets repeated, the better it sits with the audience.
For instance, if you are running a GOTV poster campaign, tie it with an active social movement- like a #BlackLivesMatter rally. Speak about how institutional change can be brought by voting. This message can be repeated in all causes you support. Target all locations that resonate with your campaign like rallies, hospitals, educational institutions, parks.
Posters, and by extension, your campaign should not slip away from the minds of viewers.
Hire professional help to design unique, effective posters
Graphic designers train to understand aesthetics and how they can inspire behavior. For instance, warm colors advance and cool colors recede heart rate. Colour themes must reflect the type of campaign you are running (eg., positive for causes you support or negative for criticism).
Professional graphic designers can help you with such tactics.
- They are well versed in understanding the effect of colors on human moods
- They know how to position the most crucial message, so it is the highlight of your poster
- They can guide you in the use of minimalism, heavy messaging, use of pictures for effective results
- They know exactly what fonts, sizes, and color contrasts to use for what effect
Hiring a graphic designer(s) is a crucial investment for a poster campaign. If you are tight on financial resources, you may want to consider recruiting volunteer graphic designers.
Design posters to reflect the essence of your campaign
Designing different posters to cater to different areas is always encouraged. But the essence of your campaign must be at the crux of every design.
Jagmeet Singh’s posters do just that. Every poster is designed to reflect the expectations of various demographics, and yet, the messages don’t take away from the candidate’s limelight. The taglines are different-
- You deserve someone on your side
- Let’s make history together
- Want different results? Make a different choice
However, the candidate with his smiling face is the hero of the posters. That makes it easier for viewers to associate the message with the campaign.
When it comes to gathering efforts and support for campaigns, every bit counts. Political campaign posters can attract people and direct them to support your cause with the means of art. This campaign season, do not forget to blast out colorful, powerful posters that resonate with your purpose and spread your message!
Feature image credits: Filip Mishevski