What does a sign say about an election candidate?

Election signs! They seem to be everywhere these days.

Is it just me or can you tell a lot about an election candidate by their communications materials? I’ve seen more than my share of election materials this year due to a personal project and I can quickly assess a candidate based upon the quality of their materials. While I look at election signs, brochures and websites with the eye of a professional communicator who has been politically active, I’d suggest that the vast majority of voters are influenced by the quality and professionalism of this material.

Voters across Ontario are being asked to elect Mayors, city, township or regional councillors and school board trustees. We are literally being bombarded by candidates trying to get our attention. We’re seeing a wide range of material from those that are polished to the DIY–but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the professional material is necessarily better.

Let’s take a look at the humble lawn sign today.

Here’s what I’m seeing:

  • There are many more full colour signs this year than ever before. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It’s very easy for a full colour sign to quickly get too busy to be effective. What might work for an ad or a brochure, does not always translate to a lawn sign and is where I’ve seen some designers let their clients down. I am also not a fan of having the candidate’s picture. Too often they turn out poor and they seldom add enough to take away space from higher priorities.
  • Many signs have too much information. Keep it simple. Don’t worry about including slogans or cramming in platform bullet points.
  • Other signs lack enough information. We need three basic pieces of information. All three must be there.
  • Few signs are effective.

Many signs look great on a computer screen or even printed out. They often continue to look great when you pick them up from the printer or admire them on the lawn of one of your supporters. But they are ineffective with a key target audience–people driving cars who have only a split second to take in a sign. So don’t try to do too much with your election signs.

The purpose of an election sign for voters to get people to vote for you. They accomplish this by showing how strong is your support and helping undecided voters learn about you.

Here’s all you need to accomplish these objectives:

  • The candidate’s name: Emphasize the first name or last name. In fact, you may be best to use just the first name or the last name.
  • The position desired: You might be tempted to work in a Ward name or number but if your signs are only in your ward, resist. If you are running for Mayor or Regional Chair, you can assume that people know what City or Regional Municipality they live in.
  • Contact information: It’s surprising the number of candidate’s that don’t tell you how you can get ahold of them or learn more about their platforms–or get a sign. At one time, I recommended it be a phone number but now its a website address that is a must. Forget the “www” because people recognize website addresses without it. And keep the URL as short as possible so that it can be as large as possible on the sign and print material.

But that doesn’t mean that your sign needs to look just like everyone else’s signs. Try to stand out from the pack with a creative design. For example:

  • Let your designer loose to present these three pieces of information in a creative, legible fashion.
  • Horizontal signs are conventional so consider a vertical sign.
  • Look at unconventional sizes or turn that square into a diamond.
  • One candidate stands out by using fluorescent paint but don’t do something like that if everyone else is.

But don’t let being innovative or different get in the way of effectively delivering your three key pieces of information or they won’t help you get elected.

A final piece of advice is to only put your signs on the property of voters or businesses that support you. Signs connected to a voter speak the loudest. Sure you might increase your name recognition by randomly placing them in high traffic areas. But what will voters associate with your name? That you don’t have supporters to take a sign? That you support visual pollution in public places?

What does your sign say about you?

A well designed sign grabs my attention and makes a positive impression on me. The best signs reflect a candidate that knows what they are doing. They show who is capable has a strong organization, funds and knows how to source and use expert talent. The humble lawn sign can be your first clue about if a candidate deserves your support.

What do the signs of the election candidate’s in your area say about them? And what does the signage for your business or organization say about you? Many of the same principles apply. Good effective design is important to more than just election candidates.

More on what elections teach us about effective communications to come

Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to offer a similar analysis and advice related to candidate’s websites and brochures.