What makes a great political poster?

As the General Election campaign kicks off in the UK, we ask designers and commentators to tell us about the most memorable political campaign poster they have seen.

Mike Dempsey, founder, Studio Dempsey
Mike Dempsey, founder, Studio Dempsey

“The 1979 General Election saw the first serious ‘creative’ piece of political advertising to appear in Britain. It was a ballsy 48-sheet poster stating ‘Labour isn’t working’ produced by Saatchi and Saatchi for the Conservative Party. Although it only appeared on a handful of poster sites it has gone down in history as one of the most affective pieces of political advertising ever. It was the beginning of a run of sophisticated presentations created by Saatchi and Saatchi for the Conservatives and in my view it has never been surpassed, as the current round of pre-election amateur night publicity is demonstrating. Saatchi’s treated the project with classic advertising thinking.”


Nick Asbury, co-founder, Asbury & Asbury
Nick Asbury, co-founder, Asbury & Asbury

“The obligatory copywriter answer is ‘Labour isn’t working’ – a rare example of a poster being both witty and politically effective. In terms of influencing policy, my favourite poster is by Crosby Fletcher Forbes in 1970. The headline reads “We, the undersigned, deplore and oppose the Government’s intention to introduce admission charges to national museums and galleries.” Underneath were the signatures of Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Bruegel and others. Three decades later, Labour minister Chris Smith put an end to museums charging and cited the poster as an inspiration – he still remembered seeing it in his student days. As effective as a poster can get.”


Sam Delaney, author of Mad Men And Bad Men – What Happened When British Politics Met Advertising (Faber, £14.99)
Sam Delaney, author of Mad Men And Bad Men – What Happened When British Politics Met Advertising

Labour’s Tax Bombshell, 1992. This was probably the most effective political poster of all time. John Major was odds-on to lose in ’92 before Saatchi creative director Jeremy Sinclair advised the Conservatives to focus on tax as their key campaign issue. Tory wonks calculated the spending pledges in Labour’s manifesto as costing £35 billion. Sinclair ‘basically divided that figure by the number of tax-payers in Britain’ and conjured this spurious but immensely powerful message.”


Michael Evamy, independent copywriter
Michael Evamy, independent copywriter

“Labour were up against it in 1945. Winston Churchill had seen off the Nazis and Labour needed a strong message to displace his government. This poster, designed by John Armstrong, captured it, visually and verbally. While the Tories dwelt on the past, Clement Attlee caught the national mood with his great notion of winning the peace. Armstrong’s poster looked ahead to new, modern homes beyond the rubble and reflected the public’s sense of pride and optimism with Attlee’s famous words and a pristine ‘V’ for victory. Labour won by a landslide.”


Dr Rathna Ramanathan,  head of programme, visual communication, Royal College of Art
Dr Rathna Ramanathan, head of programme, visual communication, Royal College of Art

“In India, where you can be lynched for going out with someone from another caste or religion and harassed by the police for public displays of affection, the Indian Lovers Party aims to protect lovers. The poster carries the party’s logo (an arrow through a heart symbol that encloses the Taj Mahal!), uses symbolic colours: pink (love), orange (Hindus), green (Muslims) and blue (Dalits) and carries the slogan ‘Lovers of the World, Unite’. It is a reminder for me that politics can still be charming, idealistic and seek to bring good to our world.”

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