Posters. No one likes them. The public don’t like them. Politicians really couldn’t be bothered with them. Yet it’s one of those things – if one party does it, they all have to for fear of losing ground. However, the scale of the annoyance – right across the island of Ireland in fact (if anything more so in the Republic) – grows every time.
What can be done to stop it?
Most obviously, parties have to realise that the vast majority of posters they put up make no difference whatsoever, even accounting for the above!
Parties seem to have forgotten to ask themselves – what is the point of a poster?
Of the main parties, the Alliance Party genuinely does it best (although it is fair to say plaudits for the Che Guevara-style image of Anna Lo have not been universal on the doors). It places the posters at intersections where people are naturally slowing or waiting anyway; it produces them in a clear, bright yellow colour so they are unmistakeable; and they generally include just the name of the candidate, the party, and a single slogan. It’s not perfect – the names of both the candidates and the party are too small.
At this election, I’ve also found the Ulster Unionist posters pretty good. Again, many have been placed at sensible intersections; and they are clear – the name of the candidate and the party. To be slightly picky, I find the range of party logos the party uses confusing, as well as the apparent addition of the word “Unionist”; and the banner posters were hopeless, with white lettering on a white background (hopeless when the whole point is that, unlike lamp post posters, they are supposed to be read at speed). I also think (a point I will come to) that face-posters are not necessary for local elections.
The DUP usually does posters fairly well too, although I’ve been confused this time by the range of local versions. There are also far too many of them, randomly put up at the side of the road.
Sinn Fein’s are astoundingly gloomy, particularly the European ones. They are also awful at randomly putting posters up everywhere, with no thought to effect. I have also spotted one or two in the wrong electoral area, albeit marginally (not a mistake I’ve noticed anyone else other than NI21 make – aside from Fianna Fail, with its incongruous poster in Botanic, in the wrong jurisdiction, perhaps to match the Fine Gael one at the Broadway exit in 2011!)
The SDLP’s are the worst of the five, I fear – committing almost every offence imaginable! Firstly, they are randomly scattered everywhere. Secondly, too much space is taken up on the European poster (and some others) by the slogan rather than the name (and the slogan even varies from place to place). Thirdly, the local posters are inconsistent – some refer to running mates, some don’t; some highlight the candidate’s name, some (unbelievably) don’t; some are red-green (a strange if understandable colour scheme), some are predominantly white; and random but actually meaningless slogans (“Stronger”, “Change for the Better” etc) are given too much space. Absolutely how not to do it!
Of the smaller parties, TUV‘s are probably the best of all – a straightforward, clear and familiar European poster (matched by banner posters) accompanied by orange local candidate posters placed predominantly at intersections which draw your attention solely to the candidate’s name. The Greens’, unfortunately, aren’t great – too little space is given to candidate names and it is far from immediately obvious whose posters they are (given that they are blue and white). NI21’s European banner poster is terrific, but its lamp post posters (predominantly for local candidates) fall foul of similar problems to the SDLP’s – a variety of shapes, sizes and slogans; at their best, they’re attractive and clear, but at their worst they are unreadable and thus pointless. UKIP’s are generally too small, although some of the straightforward “Vote UKIP” posters are effective. Of the non-Assembly parties, Eirigi may have done better with name-only posters; the Workers’ Party’s are too small; and the Conservatives’ are generally well positioned but otherwise unfortunately are worst of all – far too much space given to a pointless slogan on the European poster, and a variety of equally ridiculous colour schemes (rendering them near illegible) on local posters.
This piece has been vastly longer than I’d intended, but it does demonstrate a simple point about Northern Ireland election campaigns: most (not all, but most) posters are completely pointless!
Parties need to ask themselves a few obvious questions before next May:
- What is the point of a whole raft of successive posters on lamp post after lamp post?
- Can we agree the objective of a poster is to remind your supporters or nearly supporters the name of your candidate (not to convert them with an illegible or inconsistent slogan)!
- If we can’t agree on just not doing them, can we at least agree on a maximum permitted size (smaller than the current average)?
And, of course, I look forward to them all being down by the end of the month without fail…