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Is social media killing the election poster?

February 23, 2010

Billboard political advertising is a mainstay of election campaigns the world over. A generation ago, the ‘Labour isn’t working’ poster was credited by Conservative party Treasurer Lord Thorneycroft with winning the 1979 election for Margaret Thatcher. But might the advent of social media mean that its days are now numbered?

Alastair Campbell, Labour’s director of election communications at the last election, thinks political advertising is losing its effectiveness:

“…public resistance to heavy messaging has grown, and for politics in particular there is no guarantee that the rewards of a well-funded, well-crafted and well-executed ad concept will outweigh the risks. The internet and, in particular, social networking have changed the terms of the relationship between the parties, the media and the public, taking at least some of the power to influence away from parties and media, to the benefit of the public.”

Rising doubts over the power of political advertising have been underscored by the emergence in recent weeks of sites and social network groups aiming to channel the wit of party supporters to disrupt the expensively created messaging of centralised political campaigns.

First came, set up in the wake of a high-profile poster launch featuring what some critics thought was an airbrushed photograph of the Conservative party leader.  Visitors were invited to add their own captions.

The Conservatives’ second campaign, which targeted voters who hadn’t previously voted for the party, switched focus from the party leader to ordinary people and reasons why they might consider changing allegiance. But it  was swiftly parodied on This time there was a counter-attack in the form of a blog from the Conservative Home website — mylabourposter — shifting the focus onto Labour.


It’s early days in the run-up to the general election and no-one is expecting this bout of social media satire to entirely kill off the art of political billboard posters. But something has changed and campaign managers have one more thing to think about — the scope for online corruption of their messaging. And might it at least add some fun to the campaign?

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