labuor-not-working Labour Isnt Working (1978)
Image via vintageposterblog.com

In the past campaign art and posters have had particular influence in encapsulating a campaign or creating news headlines for political parties. 'Labour Isn't Working', conceived by Saatchi and Saatchi for the 1979 election campaign is perhaps the most famous. Purportedly Thatcher did not 'get it' initially and it caused a furore when Labour uncovered the fact that the dole queue consisted of members of the Conservative youth association. Yet it encapsulated where Labour was perceived to have gone wrong, and the chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi estimated that it created around £5m of free publicity for the Tories.

Labour-Tax-Bombshell-1024x517 Labour Tax Bombshell (1992)
Image via ibdemvoice.org

89-040412154245 New Labour, New Danger (1997)
Image via protestandsurvive.com

In 1992 and 1997 Saatchi & Saatchi again created the most memorable campaign posters of the election with 'Labour's Tax Bombshell' (1992) and 'New Labour, New Danger' (1997). The latter depicting Tony Blair with his eyes being replaced with a pair 'Demon Eyes'. Although it was deemed to be the most successful poster of the campaign, particularly in questioning Blair's credibility, it was largely seen in the end to have the opposite of the desired effect.

CIS:E.1403-2001 ‘Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid’ – an election poster now in the V&A collection.
Image via vam.ac.uk

By 2001 Labour was beating the Tories at their own game as Blair recruited the man behind Wonderbra and French Connections FCUK advertising campaigns, Trevor Beattie. The poster he created depicted Tory leader William Hague with the hair of Thatcher with the tag line 'Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid'. Alistair Campbell noted 'It was tough, in your face, but the humour of the poster meant we could get away with it'.

In 2010 and in the current campaign there have been few memorable images and the parties have spent little money on billboard campaigns, preferring to focus their attentions on social and digital advertising. Instead posters act as brief sound bites focusing on single issues, usually malicious and last for a few hours after a new issue launch.

So does this mark the death of the campaign poster?

Looking over the pond for inspiration, the Obama presidential campaign of 2008 proved that the art of the political poster still has tremendous power and influence. The campaign produced countless artistic contributions including Gui Borchert's 'Words of Change'.

gui-borchert Gui Borchert's 'Words of Change' (2008)
Image via img.weburbanist.com

However, Shephard Fairey's 'Hope' poster for the presidential election has largely been described as the iconic image of that campaign, epitomising his message. Three versions were produced with a portrait of Obama in blue, red and beige above either the word 'change', 'progress' or 'hope'.

2008-10-11-BarackisHope Shephard Fairey, ‘Hope’ (2008)
Image via huffingtonpost.com

The artist commented:
'I created the poster with the understanding that people in office can only achieve so much. I originally made it just as a grassroots thing, and at the time it said 'progress'. Then someone showed it to the campaign team, and they asked if the word could be changed to 'hope', because right wingers associate progressives with socialists. But it was never officially adopted by the campaign."

The poster symbolised a moment in time and a reinvigoration with politics, in its clear and stark message. Given it's iconic status perhaps unsurprisingly it has become a collector's item – these limited edition posters can make as much as £1500  at auction – and has raised Fairey's status spawning many imitations and variations.

Although it is difficult to quantify how influential campaign posters are, they are still important when they can convey a clear, simple and compelling image. Perhaps it's time to forget the ad-men and for artist's to come to the fore creating posters epitomising and satirising the campaigns.

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