Writer: Sharyn Shufiyan
Published: Fri, 04 May 2012
On April 20, @woonkingchai tweeted, “Incredible looking British election campaign posters from 1905-1910:http://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/3269532550/in/set-72157613396150105/ Are posters still relevant in today’s politics?”
The link would take you to the London School of Economics Library Flickr account. Even though the posters were more than a hundred years old, the designs were still visually appealing and the use of intelligent swipes at political opponents were timeless.
The question @woonkingchai posed was interesting, are campaign posters still relevant? What with the advent of social media and the instantaneous dissemination of news and access to information? Is the public easily swayed by captivating visuals, still? Let us first explore briefly the history of the printing press.
The invention of the printing press in the 1400s has allowed for knowledge and information to be disseminated widely. Originally invented to print small Latin textbooks and the Gutenberg Bible, the printing press had allowed for knowledge to move beyond the realms of the elitist first estate and made it publicly available to the general public of the third estate.
The printing press eventually proliferated and sparked the Printing Revolution in the 1500s, mass producing and circulating books throughout Europe. The emergence of the first recognised newspaper in 1605 was thought to be due to the Printing Revolution.
Thompson (1994) argues that the significance of printing was that it was able to produce and disseminate symbolic forms throughout society on a previously unprecedented scale.
As more works were printed and circulated, readers were able to access different views and were able to form their own opinions which eventually sparked the public sphere, where individuals were actively engaging in public debates and discussions.
Ever since printing was made popular, the ‘political’ was not only confined within the elitist and the academia.
Politics of the world have resorted to the usage of strong visuals to drive home their message or to defame their opponents.
Both government and opposition made use of pamphlets, leaflets and newsletters to further their political agendas. Political parties and ideologies also used images to ‘brand’ their movement; indeed, political campaigns are branding campaigns. The swastika branded Nazi Germany, the hammer and sickle branded Communism, the keris branded Malay supremacy. These images are associated with a certain ideology or movement that, once seen, are immediately recognised.
Steven Heller wrote in his introduction to Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State that, “Despots and businessmen alike strove to establish branding narratives, supported by visual images – logos and trademarks – that were used to trigger instantaneous recognition of their ideas and products.”
Recognition of ideas and products are then intensified by visibility. Why do we choose one product over the other? Perhaps because we see that product being advertised more often than others, that there is a perceived trust in that product. It is also about accessibility. The more we are able to access an image, or news piece, the more we see them in our everyday lives, the more they stay within our psyches – their existence validated. Heller further wrote that “even the smallest quotidian objects were stamped with the symbols and signs that made the regime seem omniscient and thus integral to the individual’s life.”
When I first read the news about the Barisan Nasional flags being propped up at KTM stations across Selangor, instantly I thought, increase visibility via quotidian means.
Taking the train is a daily occurrence for many. Imagine taking the train everyday to work and going past lines of flags sporting the scales, asserting their political ideology onto the receiver, sub-conscious or otherwise.
Regardless whether KTMB had anything to do with it, it was a strategic brand placement. Like corporate branding which produces memorabilia, political parties produce them too; from umbrellas, caps, t-shirts, pens to lighters.
Owning such memorabilia is a sign of allegiance, of ‘brand loyalty’ and because these products are practical products (unlike a snow globe, for example), they can be used daily.
Then we have the1Malaysia stores. Anyone who truly believes the stores were set up to help alleviate the high cost of living must still think that Malaysia has never been colonised. Branding basic needs with a political ideology is perhaps one of the paths to a regimented state, in the worst case scenario, that is. In the best case scenario, however, you’ll get people so indebted to the government that they wouldn’t think twice to vote for you. For me, that’s psychological regimentation.
So I guess it has come to this. Perhaps we have moved away from the days of distributing pamphlets and leaflets with the advent of social media that even newspapers can’t survive without their online counterparts. But utilising various forms of communication materials are still essential in promoting and furthering one’s political agenda, especially when reaching out to the rural, where access to the internet may be limited.
I’ve been to rural villages dominated by Barisan Nasional flags and banners, because someone in that community had access and actively participating in the political agenda and thus executing branding means by ways of the early 20th century is still relevant. For the rest of the community who have not been exposed to other means, it is what they see constantly and their trust in the ‘product’ validated.
Campaign posters may be more rampant nearing elections, but political parties tend to employ dumbing down visuals, usually featuring blown up bubbly faces of politicians or politicians in the act of doing good, which is boring and unappealing really. I believe you can still be creative whilst being political because strong images, in the past as well as today, have an added advantage to capture attention and interest, especially if ‘competition’ (hereby meaning other political parties) in the ‘market place’ (hereby meaning voters) is fierce.