But in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties the bulk of this money was devoted to press ads, which often featured substantial closely argued text. In the Nineties we have witnessed the growing "posterisation" of political advertising, as parties increasingly focus their efforts on simplistic slogans.
From the local elections last May to the end of March, the Conservatives spent an estimated pounds 5. Labour spent an estimated pounds 2. This represents an intensification of the emphasis on posters started at the election, when 69 per cent of Tory ad spend and 53 per cent of Labour's went on billboards. And the political poster war is escalating.
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Both parties have thousands of hoardings booked until polling day. According to industry sources, the Tories are splashing out a further pounds 3m-plus on posters this month, and Labour pounds l. While the Conservatives used a few press ads last week to launch quickfire tactical attacks on Labour over Europe, this does not affect the trend. The Referendum Party, which has been the biggest overall spender so far, is alone in ignoring this trend: pounds 5. The cash- starved Liberal Democrats have been spending next to nothing on any form of advertising. The two main parties' concentration on billboards partly reflects the increasing efficiency of the poster industry.
In the Eighties, advertisers who booked poster campaigns could never really feel sure that their posters were going up in the right places at the right times. Posters are the visual equivalent of soundbite politics - a striking image accompanied by a stark slogan.
Loughborough University Research Repository
They reflect the need for parties to communicate with many voters superficially; and simultaneously they reinforce it. Labour, for example, has reduced its five pledges to the most simplistic of summaries, such as "Young offenders will be prosecuted". The latest Tory posters simply says "Boom" with a blue background, and "Gloom" backed by red. If you were selling something complex with detailed explanation, then you should be better off advertising in the press. But most people won't read in-depth political coverage. That's sad and it worries me.
From Soapbox to Soundbite: Party Political Campaigning in Britain since 1945
It's one thing the parties agree on. It's our duty to reduce things to a central core. The admen for both sides agree too. We believe in blunt instruments. We are the hammer of the campaign.
Posters also communicate with the parts of the electorate that other media can't reach - the election avoiders, who don't want to watch TV news about the campaign or read about it in the papers. Viewers have already been abandoning the extended Nine O'Clock News with its detailed election coverage, but these people will only be able to evade party posters at the cost of staying indoors until polling day. And they tend to be crucial floating voters.
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Soundbites versus socialism : the changing campaign philosophy of the British labour party
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