Cap­tur­ing the pub­lic eye

The Tribune (NZ) - - FRONT PAGE - RICHARD MAYS

‘‘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.’’

PHOTO: DAVID UN­WIN/FAIR­FAX NZ

De­signer An­thony Behrens has posted ‘cri­tiques’ of Palmer­ston North elec­toral bill­boards in his on­line ‘‘Swampthing’’ col­umn The Bro­mide Room.

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