Capturing the public eye
‘‘You can tell whether they have a team behind them, if they are organised, an idea of howmuch money they are putting into it, and if they know what it takes to have a public presence.’’ Anthony Behrens
Electoral billboards are probably the main source of interaction Palmerston North voters have with this cast of city council candidates.
From sign-farm hoardings, fences and at major intersections, faces and names quietly clamour for attention. Hopefully when it comes to electors filling out the voting papers, these signs will prompt recognition and a top STV rating.
Designer Anthony Behrens has cast his professional eye over the crop of electoral signs, and said voters could learn a lot about a candidate from a billboard.
‘‘You can tell whether they have a team behind them, if they are organised, an idea of how much money they are putting into it, and if they know what it takes to have a public presence. It all goes to build a candidate’s profile.’’
Given that passing drivers may only give each sign a splitsecond of largely unintended attention, makes the billboard message and how it is conveyed hugely important.
Behrens doesn’t like it if the photographs are tinted too red or too blue, or if candidates look as if they are about to ‘‘cark it’’.
‘‘If you don’t care about what you look like, should you be in charge of our city?’’
In 2013, Behrens, who publishes the ezine Swampthing, decided to analyse the billboard campaigns of Palmerston North’s local body candidates in a tongue- in-cheek way. Behind the humour was the serious purpose of promoting better sign design.
These elections he has only commented on new billboards, with the critiques introducing some light-heartedness into a largely lacklustre election as far as issues go.
The billboards at least provide some colour and talking points, whether it’s the red ‘‘gang of four’’ Labour campaign, the ‘‘No Paine no gain’’ tagline, or Billy Meehan’s ‘‘Vote Meehan again’’.
Behrens said Meehan’s billboard in particular was highly effective, quickly conveying its message in a witty way, while voters at least have an idea of what to expect from candidates labelled Labour or Green.
‘‘It doesn’t have to be expensive to be good,’’ he said
‘‘’We’ [his design ‘team’] love Abi’s [Symes] billboard. It’s smaller than many of the others, reflecting her budget, but it conveys her character - although it’s not a good font.’’
The font he explained lacks drive-by punch, but the quirky image of the bow-tie wearing candidate is picture perfect.
Behrens said billboards helped provide an introduction to a candidate’s Facebook page or website where their views should be accessible to voters in more detail.
‘‘Budgets are tight, so if you are going to spend the money on signs, you may as well do it right.’’
Designer Anthony Behrens has posted ‘critiques’ of Palmerston North electoral billboards in his online ‘‘Swampthing’’ column The Bromide Room.