During election season, every voter’s mailbox gets filled to the brim with a smorgasbord of political mailers. In this post, I was going to walk you through what goes into a successful persuasion piece and examine some of the pieces to cross my hands recently. If you are looking for my advice and endorsements about who to vote for this election, please see my 2011 Voter’s Guide.
I have already touched on this subject this year with my earlier fact-checking of a terribly misleading mailer put out by the Pike Campaign. I will be fact-checking these mailers as we examine them. However, I would like to point out that graphic design work is essentially non-partisan. I can love a candidate’s campaign pieces and passionately disagree with them. You can also click any of the pictures for a bigger view. Alright, enough preamble. Let’s dive in.
Positive Campaign Introduction Piece: This is by far the most common, especially for local candidates where there are few sources for information and voters are largely unfamiliar with the people running for these offices. These pieces usually have a large picture of the candidate, usually a shot of their family, the office they are seeking prominently displayed and their platform in a couple bullet points.
I received two pieces from County Executive candidate Jack Louws this year, and was impressed by both of them. I am an unabashed fan of his graphic designer, who did some work for Tony Larson last year, and whose touch is sorely missing from Larson’s current campaign material.
This piece has a strong front. Jack Louws looks calm, confidant yet business like. His face, name and office dominate the piece and he even teases a bit about his platform. The back however, is CHOKED with text. It is well organized, with bolded topics, and pictures lining up with the website prominent, but it suffers from having too many words. Most people only glance and mailers, they do not read them.
However, this piece is divine ambrosia compared to his opponent. I give you, Doug Ericksen’s mailer.
Right off the bat, you can see a problem. One side is oriented vertically while the other is horizontal, letting to confusion. Let’s take a look at the front. We have the slightly tacky flag motif but points for getting his name out there. His name appears no less than TEN TIMES on this piece, three of those times in bold letters on the front. His image might be a little smaller but his giant name makes up for it. I’m not really sure about the funky font choices. Usually the rule of thumb is try not to do more than two things to your font.
Which is why I am baffled as to the random PAPYRUS font on the cover. That’s the part that says “Why voters are turning out for Doug”. Papyrus is cranberry sauce of the font family. You pull it out of the cabinet once a year for a very specific purpose. Try and serve it any other time and people look at you like you are crazy. It is like a chunk of a whole seperate piece got left in the middle of this, and they decided just to leave it there. Weird.
The back is stronger. A simple couple of eye-catching images, not much text, clear bullet points. By the way, it wouldn’t be a political junkie post about Doug Ericksen without mentioning his attempt to have a citizen journalist arrested or his disdain for the working people of Whatcom County.
Negative Attack Pieces
The second most popular piece of political mail is directly attacking another candidate. These can be funded by a campaign, but most often they are handled by independent groups. Here is a great piece by Washington Conservation Voters
Again we have the horizontal/vertical problem, but for some reason, it doesn’t bother me as much here. Notice the heavy black and reds, colors that are hardwired as negative in our minds after years of conditioning. It is light on text, heavy on visuals, you can quickly and easily grasp the main point, and best of all, it is true, which is a rarity among negative pieces.
Personally, my favorite part of this mailer is that it cited this blog (see right there, the first check point) as one of its resources. I did some research about Sam Crawford’s ethical problems and compiled them here. Now I have been quite critical of Washington Conservation Voter’s political efforts this year, and after I spoke out about the misguided focus of Dan Pike’s mayoral campaign and Dan Pike’s attempts to mislead the public about his opponent’s positions, I received calls from two of their board members asking for me to delete the posts. So I was highly amused to see that I was the most credible source when it comes to Sam Crawford’s unethical behavior, but fact-checking my own party? Irresponsible!
Here is an uglier attack piece that arrived today.
First of all, in terms of effectiveness, this is a really strong piece. Heavy black imagery, the coal-filed trains and the bulldozer, really consistent font and layout. Well done. Too bad it is misleading. Similar to the misleading piece that Dan Pike’s campaign put out, this piece tries to twist Kelli Linville’s pretty clear cut position (I’m against a coal port, I’m for some sort of facility up there, but this project is not the right thing for our county) into support for coal trains. The Pike campaign’s efforts have been so overt that the Cascadia Weekly, who endorsed Dan Pike, called him out on it in his latest column.
One candidate is willing to make unequivocal statements on coal transport, and is willing to mischaracterize the other candidate’s nuance on the topic. But as managers of city assets, the on-the-ground, practical response each candidate offers is essentially identical.
But back to the piece itself. By putting die-hard conservative Sam Crawford next to lifelong Democrat Kelli Linville, this piece is connecting them in people’s minds. I imagine that this mailer was NOT sent to Republicans but rather just to Democrats to try and persuade them that Kelli Linville is secretly a conservative, coal-loving Republican. Disappointing but effective.
In an attempt to end on a positive note, here is my favorite piece this year.
They say that a mail piece should reflect a candidate, and this could not be more true for Steve Oliver. His piece is straight forward and direct. His name, his office, a small boring picture and the command (“Re-elect”). Boom. Nothing more, nothing less. Even his picture supports this. Look at that haircut. It literally says, “I’m level-headed!” The back is even better. Family picture, a couple of simple bullet points but not too much text and the endorsements at the bottom. He doesn’t even get into details on the endorsements because it doesn’t matter. He has already told us all we need to know. He’s a no-frills sort of guy who gets straight to the point and is by the book. Exactly the qualities you look for in a County Treasurer.
Okay folks, that’s it for today. More posts coming. I will be doing a live-blog this Tuesday from a variety of election night parties, and hope that you will tune in.