Rhetorical question: Why are campaign posters always so uninspiring?

January 27, 2010

Frick and Frack for Governor

It’s election season again in Chicago (when is it not?) and, like crocuses, candidate’s signs are popping up all over our town. Unfortunately, unlike the flowers of spring, election signs are almost always muted, dull and hopelessly alike. It doesn’t seem to matter who’s running or what party the candidate belongs to, the cardboard placards are as non-descript as…cardboard placards. For obvious reasons, the most prevalent colors are red, white and blue. Occasionally, we see green, generally denoting the candidate as Irish-American, which has gravitas in Chicago. And that’s about it.

Even President Obama’s super famous logo was red, white and blue. No doubt his campaign had some cool propaganda, especially that “Hope” poster, but when it came to the cardboard placards, they were basically like all the others.

Why are these signs so homogenous? It seems like standing out might be a good thing. Or is it? Maybe candidates are playing it safe, not to lose. Not to be a cynic, but 99% of politicians are pretty much the same (especially after they’re elected). Why should their signs be any different?

In an article by Chicago Tribune reporter, Cynthia Dizikes, she asks the sales manager for CandidateSigns.com (a leading maker of campaign signs) why certain colors are always chosen. The answers are obvious and unsatisfying. Seen together red white and blue evoke patriotism (duh!). By itself red signifies passion. Blue stability. And as stated earlier, green means Irish. Although the sign salesman volunteered that green can also indicate pro-environment, I’m guessing Pat Quinn is mostly about the shamrock.

Amidst these boring yard weeds, relatively small aberrations seem bigger than they really are. For example, Senate candidate, Cheryle Jackson uses an orange and teal color scheme, which, according to the sign salesman, means she is a WOMAN (teal) of ACTION (orange). Seems kind of tacky to me, like a bridesmaid’s dress.

The most different sign (again, relatively speaking) is Senate candidate, Jacob Meister’s. He’s encased his name in a thought bubble, implying Facebook and social media. Such a renegade!

Campaign signs aren’t really ads, are they? I liken them more to markers and (now I am being cynical), as such they work like dog piss, marking territory. Joe Blow was here and here and here. Joe Blow is the alpha candidate in this hood!

Still, wouldn’t it be refreshing, if not downright cool, to see campaign signs that actually functioned like good out-of-home advertising? You know, something with a great message attached…a badass tagline. I’d vote for that guy. But then what do I know; I inhaled.

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4 Responses to “Rhetorical question: Why are campaign posters always so uninspiring?”

  1. Paul said

    Having recently created the branding for a gubernatorial race, I would like to share my experience. I originally developed a logo incorporating a graphic icon (similar to the Obama approach), which incorporated a metaphorical image together with a tagline. The colors were black, yellow and red.

    It was clean, appropriate… possibly even inspiring. And it would certainly stand out from the competition.

    The campaign’s inner circle loved it. But the candidate (read: CEO) had the final say, of course, and it was a bigger leap than he was willing to make. He wanted the focus to be solely on his name with the messaging simply “Governor 2010”. He liked the colors.

    Long story short, new branding was developed and the final solution is typographically elegant but much more “traditional” in approach.

    I just saw some recent campaign photos – the posters are now red, white, and blue.

  2. SRP said

    Living proof!
    thanks for reading and commenting,

  3. Tad DeWree said

    Interesting thought.

    There are times for creativity and times for maximizing impressions. The short 45 day window for election advertising validates a simple, clear message. Blue and red make party definition easy and Red, White and Blue usually intend to encourage party crossover. The one, two and three word usage is classic numonic simplification –with 10 plus offices on ballots, simply reminding voters Bob & Judge or Senate helps lazy voters feel comfortable in the voting booth. Most importantly, one and two color silkscreen, semiwaterproof signs are the cheapest format to reproduce on mass.

    Sadly, most local and regional elections are formalities with some officials banking on party loyalist to keep the status quo.

    Those dreary facts out of the way, the simple genius of a thought bubble or graphic can speak volumes about the candidate- Young. Progressive. Outsider. Woman. Your example is an excellent one. Equally facinating is the discrete use of typography as evidenced by those same Obama signs.

    A great Ad professor said : when the message is
    simple…keep the message simple.

    Too ugly? Yes. Obtrusive. You bet. But unlike brands we all build over years, in 45 days its simple win or lose. Tough environment for understatment.

    As always, Stefan…great topic and creative vision. We need more like you. http://m4blog.com. @mind4marketing

  4. supdog said

    In the early 90s, just a few short years out of college, I designed campaign collateral for a friend who ran for alderman in chicago. My colors stayed true to the red,blue formula but, being in my early 20s, I broke convention by using david carson inspired generously kerned typography. I admit I did not know wtf I was thinking. Now I see how he could have come across as inexperienced and frivolous.

    In the end, three candidates split a mere 4000 votes 2000, 1000 and 1000. Although my friend did not win, we found some consolation within a year when the victorious incumbent went to jail during the infamous operation silver shovel sting.

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