On a typical off year election, the Sweeney household receives 3-4 mailpieces before election day. This has been anything but a typical year. Starting two days before ballots arrived, I have received at least two piece every day. I have a stack of over thirty mailers sitting on my kitchen table (a fact about which Mrs. Sweeney has been very understanding).
To digest all this material, I’m going to pick out a few choice mailers that stood out and evaluate them on three criteria (from 1 being the worst and 10 being the best)
- Design: Are the mailers effective at conveying the information to the reader?
- Accuracy: How accurate are the mailers? Do they stretch, bend or obliterate the truth?
- Gut Factor: Frankly put, how brutal are the mailers? A high number means that these potent mailers, while effective and true, hit a little too hard for the delicate sensibilities of the voters.
Enough preamble, let’s dive right in. As always, you can click on the images to see a larger version, and for the record, I did not have a hand in designing any of these.
This was the first flyer I received this year, sent by SAVEWhatcom, the PAC funded by Coal money supporting the conservative candidates this year. Two things stick out for me. First, the use of really cheesy stock photos on the front left. Second, the wall of statistics on the backside – blurring together into a slushy of information. Having six candidates on a single mailer definitely diminishes the effectiveness of this ad and the text underneath all those stats is sketchy at best. “Their opponents are backed by groups that want to de-industrialize Cherry Point and make it harder for local farms to survive.” This is a rather twisted reference to the Cherry Point resolution that the Whatcom Dems passed in July supporting Lummi Nation in their efforts to prevent FUTURE industrial development at Cherry Point, and a reference to the slaughterhouse ordinance, I think. I’m not really sure where SAVEWhatcom is getting the anti-farm material. UPDATE: Ralph Schwartz challenges the poverty stats in the comments below.
Design: 4 – The weird stock photos plus tiny faces take away from the strong front text.
Accuracy: 5 – Most of this is the same boilerplate conservative arguments we’ve heard over the last year. Irritating but not blatantly false.
Gut Factor: 6 – With many Whatcom residents struggling to get by, the poverty stats hit hard.
Now this is a well-made flyer. Ben Elenbaas has one card in his deck, he owns a farm, but he plays it well. The solid red motif explicitly connects with red barns. The flannel picture on bales of hay borders on overkill, but as usual, Elenbaas pulls it off with a sly grace. The text on the front reinforces his “aww shucks” persona and the text on the back is clear and easy to read. The only blatant lie is his third bullet point, “Responsible Stewardship of our Environment.” On the Whatcom County Planning Commission, Elenbaas repeatedly voted to gut environmental protections and railed against environmentalism on the campaign trail.
Gut Factor: 4 – While an impressive design, there is nothing to really grip the audience. It just a well-executed positive flyer.
This piece was targeted toward young or new voters this year. The design is excellent for this purpose, featuring young people interacting with the candidates while clearly having fun. The front conveys an empowering message, making the voter feel how important this vote has become. The colored circles around the candidates heads almost imply a googlechat room icon and the endorsements on the side are tailored to that younger audience. With so little text, there is little to evaluate in terms of accuracy – aside from the usual campaign hyperbole (this is the most important election EVER!).
Gut Factor: 6 – the laughing picture has a real positive impact on the viewer, grabbing them on an emotional level
While I have no proof, I suspect this mailer may have been designed by the same people who designed the Pontiac Aztek, Windows Vista and the Sixth Doctor’s costume. The heavy black makes the picture of Robbins look overexposed while the giant wall of endorsements in tiny type become completely meaningless. There are no falsehoods on this mailer simply because it does not say anything other than “these people like me!” Well, they might like you, but they will hate the layout of this mailer.
Gut Factor: 1
This piece is brilliant in its design and implementation. If I knew nothing about these candidates and I picked up this mailer, I would think that Knutzen, Kershner, Elenbaas and Luke were flaming liberals. Look at the soft (Democratic?) blue, the pretty environmental background, the farming and fishing on the front – this looks like a piece that Washington Conservation Voters would put out about their own people. While the text showcases the candidate’s commitments to jobs, the imagery is solidly environmental – a dangerous irony considering all four of these candidates have campaigned hard and voted against against complying with the growth management act and protecting our drinking water. While there aren’t any blatant falsehoods – the whole premise of the piece is aimed at presenting a false image.
Design: 8 – I would give it a 10 but the two construction workers look like they are ready to burst into song and dance at any minute
Accuracy: 10 (3) – Ack! Technically true but built on a false premise. Hard to evaluate.
Gut Factor: 8 – The images and words speak straight to the concerns of the electorate making this a highly effective piece.
So far, I believe that this mailer has provoked the strongest reaction this year. Dripping blood, the imagery of this mailer is instantly ghoulish – aiming straight past the brain to the stomach and heart of the viewer. This whole piece makes two very clear points, over and over again. First, that all four of the conservative candidates this year started with the Tea Party – definitely true. Knutzen, Kershner and Luke openly embraced the Tea Party during their first run for office in 2009 while Ben Elenbaas was holding fundraisers for Tea Party Republican Jason Overstreet. The second point is the damage of the slaughterhouse ordinance that was written by Luke and Elenbaas and passed by Knutzen and Kershner. All the points listed in this mailer are true – the ordinance allows blood and other waste to be sprayed on fields, removes restrictions so that slaughterhouses can be built on farmland and does not give neighbors an avenue to stop them. Does that mean these candidates favor slaughterhouses over farms? That is an opinion call.
Design: 8 – Effective, if gruesome
Accuracy: 7 – Mostly true, just a few extrapolations from the candidate’s expressed positions
Gut Factor: 10 – Ofta. This hits hard, provoking a strong visceral reaction.
In case you can’t tell, this piece is targeted to female voters. It is rare that you see a combination hit piece and promotional piece. The two messages provoke some mood whiplash if done poorly. The front is well designed. The out of focus woman is almost the universal sign for domestic violence victims and having Kathy Kershner’s name bolded with the “vote against” drives home the point. In terms of accuracy, this mailer is true; Kathy Kershner did vote against the Domestic Violence Commission in 2010. After I raised a fuss on this blog about it, she tried to justify her vote by saying, “We were spending more than we were bringing in and I could not vote to continue to spend money that we did not have.” She noted that she did support the commission in 2011.
Design: 7 – The dueling positive/negative images make this piece feel a bit schizophrenic.
Accuracy: 9 – All the text is correct, it only misses the slight context that she reversed her decision after public pressure.
Gut Factor: 8 – Domestic violence is an incredibly emotionally-potent issue, especially when addressed by a female candidate.
That’s all for now – if I get any more standout pieces in the next week, I will do a follow-up post. In the meantime, share your thoughts in the comments below. What are you receiving, what stood out to you?