Made you look: Here's why there's an art to campaign signs at election time

·5 min read
Made you look: Here's why there's an art to campaign signs at election time

Suddenly, they're everywhere.

They're atching your eye as you drive through a busy intersection, popping up on lawns and street corners, calling out for your attention — and your vote.

As soon as the provincial election was called, candidates got busy putting up campaign signs. But each sign has to compete with other signs that a voter may see on a given day, including countless signs that have nothing to do with the election.

There's an art to making your sign stand out.

We asked three experienced candidates to share their tips for making a great campaign sign. David Brazil is a PC candidate running his fifth campaign, Siobhan Coady is a Liberal candidate on her sixth run, and Sheilagh O'Leary is an NDP candidate, also running the sixth campaign of her career.

All about the name

Our three candidates may disagree on the issues, but these veterans are unanimous on the most important part of a campaign sign: the name.

"Making sure your name is bold and big, because of course you want it to correspond with the name on the ballot," said Coady, who has won federal and provincial elections during her career. "So you want to make sure the last name is really well established on the sign."

Zach Goudie/CBC
Zach Goudie/CBC

Brazil seconded that.

"The key thing is your last name," he said. "Your first name is not as important. When people start thinking about, in a general conversation, who they're going to vote for, generally it's the last name that comes up."

O'Leary — currently the deputy mayor in St. John's — agrees the name should be prominent, but says it doesn't have to be the last name. On her signs, she puts her first name in bold.

"I think people know me as Sheilagh. I think Sheilagh is more personable." she said.

Keep it simple

A candidate may be tempted to squeeze as much info onto a signs as possible. But O'Leary, a professional photographer, says clutter can muddle the message.

"The information needs to go out in other sources. You just need to get the name recognition out there at this stage of the game," she said. "With the flyers and the other supportive materials, the web sites, that's how people can mine down and find out what's going on."

Zach Goudie/CBC
Zach Goudie/CBC

Brazil agrees it's best to keep it simple.

"You don't want a big story board that people gotta read, because that's not what this is about," said Brazil. "You don't want to interfere with their — if they're driving for example, that they take their eye off the road."

At most, Brazil says a campaign sign can make room for a few small embellishments.

"Sometimes you put the graphic, sometimes it could be a little catch-phrase, it could be your picture attached to it. It could be the way the lettering is done. So you try to look at what catches people's eyes."

Colour scheme

The colours of a campaign sign are another way to catch eyes, but they also convey a political message.

"When we're talking about partisan politics, we're talking about brands. So there are existing colour schemes," said O'Leary. The orange background on her signs quickly lets voters know that O'Leary is an NDP candidate. Coady's signs are mostly Liberal red, Brazil's signs mostly PC blue.

To see our candidate's sign-secrets in action, check out the video below.

But using bold, bright colours also makes a sign more visible, which can be helpful during a campaign leading to a mid-February election.

"You really want to have a very vibrant colour," said Coady. "You want to have it so that it stands out against the background. Especially in winter, you want it to stand out against white."

Location, location, location

Just as there is an art to crafting a campaign sign, there's also a strategy for where to place them.

Brazil says that high-traffic intersections are the best spots for the largest, most expensive signs.

"For example, right here, this takes in 70 to 80 per cent of my traffic volume," said Brazil, pointing to a large sign at a busy spot on Portugal Cove Road.

Zach Goudie/CBC
Zach Goudie/CBC

Coady says there's a cumulative effect to putting up many signs in a given area, and adding more throughout the campaign.

"You also want to make sure you have some momentum," she said. "Building your signs around the community is also part of that strategy."

For O'Leary, a small sign in someone's front yard sends the biggest message.

"These are the ones, in my opinion, that matter," she said, hammer in hand. "The ones that you nail into the lawns of people who are supporters. And when you go around the neighbourhood and you see those, you know that, that's a vote, that's a vote, that's a vote."

A message in a flash

A political campaign may be all consuming for the candidates, but for most people, it's just one of a million things happening in their daily lives. Smart politicians know they have precious few chances to make an impression, and to fight for a tiny slice of someone's attention.

Zach Goudie/CBC
Zach Goudie/CBC

Having well-designed, well-positioned campaign signs can make the difference between being elected, and being overlooked.

Each of our three candidates say their signs need to deliver a message at just a quick glance.

"First of all, that my name is on the ballot. Second, that I'm here to work for them." said Coady.

"I want them to know that I've represented them for the last ten years, and I want to continue to do that." said Brazil.

"I want you to say, there's Sheilagh O'Leary! I can call her if I have a problem." said O'Leary.

On Feb. 13, we'll find out if those messages were received.

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