"Stop the Paedophiles" – the dos and don'ts of election posters

With polling day on the horizon, poles around the country will soon be asking for your vote

Election, Election Posters, General Election

Clifford T Reid's unusual election tagline pulled in more than 10,000 votes when he ran in the 2004 European elections [Reddit]

There’s an election on the way, and there’s some serious shade about to be thrown.

That’s both figuratively, as parties call foul on opponents’ manifestos, and literally, as posters erected on lamp and signposts in every town and village around the country scale new heights, block out the sun, and gather all of us meagre voters in the crepuscular uncertainty over which candidate to vote for.

They’ll go up, in the cover of darkness, arriving like snowdrops or daffodils. Suddenly, one morning, they will appear, featuring a host of smiling (rarely with their eyes) candidates in smart and formal attire, with less ethnic and gender diversity than a game of Guess Who?.

The election poster is a mainstay of democracy around the world, appearing before (and often lingering after) every important vote in any country’s electoral cycle – despite its obvious failings. They run counter to what the advertising industry has been telling us for decades; that leaflets, posters, and junk mail are the worst performing of all offline media.

That’s not to say that posters are not linked with brand recognition, it’s just that it seems that election posters’ call to action generally underperforms. A 2016 paper in the Journal of Electoral Studies on the effect of lawn signs on voter outcomes in US elections concluded that a poster willing the electorate to get behind one candidate only boosts the votes polled by him or her by 1.7%.

“It appears,” the study reads, “that signs typically have a modest effect on advertising candidates’ vote shares – an effect that is probably greater than zero but unlikely to be large enough to alter the outcome of a contest that would otherwise be decided by more than a few percentage points.”

But when done right, an election poster can be a powerful weapon. Take the 1979 UK election that saw Margaret Thatcher lead the Conservatives to a historic victory. The iconic ‘Labour isn’t working’ campaign, created by Saatchi and Saatchi and featuring the children of Tory Party members queuing for the dole, generated countless column inches in newspapers and became the talking point of the entire campaign. And all that from only 20 billboards dotted around the UK.

Like a phoenix, the posters will rise again in the coming days and weeks so here are the dos the don’ts of making the perfect election poster...

  • Do... pay attention to how the poster is tied to the post

Trying not to alienate the conservative voters in your constituency? Maybe don't loop a cable tie so it looks like a giant spliff coming out of your mouth.


  • Don't... leave lots of blank space around your head if you have a name that's ready for vandalism

You thought you'd cracked it, Crystal? Now you have a running mate...


  • Do... understand the power of a slogan

If it rhymes, your polling climbs? We'll leave that for the political anoraks to work out, but there's no denying that a catchy slogan can do wonders. 



  • Don't... forget to clear the rights to use someone's photo

Ahead of the 2014 European elections, the far-right Hungarian party Jobbik, appealed to its base with a poster asking them to choose traditional Hungarian ideals over... Eurovision-winning drag queen Conchita Wurst. Only they forgot to ask model Anna Zsíros could they use her image, and she promptly sued them.


  •  Do... understand what your voters like

Sweden's Pirate Party was formed in 2006, running off a platform that hopes to reform copyright and patent laws, while encouraging more openness on the Internet. What do people on the Internet like? Cats! They like cats! "Dare to be different," the slogan reads. And they went with it...


  • Don't... lean too heavy on the pop culture references

Nothing says forward thinking like running your campaign for office off the back of a 2003 page-turner nobody has thought about since 2005.


  • Do... go easy on the airbrushing

While everyone wants to look their best, it's probably better to leave the retouching to fashion spreads. Why should people vote for you? Because you're worth it.

[Labour Party]

  • Don't... forget that less is sometimes more

In 2008, street artist Shepard Fairey scaled back the Obama campaign with a brilliantly simple poster that became so iconic of his historic victory that only two months after the election, the original was acquired by Washington's Smithsonian museum's National Portrait Gallery.

[Wiki Commons]

  • Do... remember that less is sometimes less

While voters appreciate a candidate that's willing to lay it all out there, that's not to be taken literally, as evidenced by Copenhagen candidate John Erik Wagner...

[John Erik Wagner]

  • Don't... share the limelight

Is this an election poster? Or the publicity shot for our new favourite Japanese sitcom about a canine coalition?


  • And finally, don't... base your entire campaign around paedophiles

Well, it did help Clifford T. Reid go international, in fairness... (starts at 6:45)

For more general election news, please click here

Live from @ElectionNT