by Artwell Nwaila (@artwelln) Imagine a world where political parties attempt to get creative when it comes to voting season. A place where thought is put into a tagline beyond the dull call to action: “Vote for me”. A world where campaign posters capture your attention like a well-crafted full circle campaign.

One has to admit that South African political parties are mastering the below-the-line space and this is because our history has made it vital for leaders to get down on the ground and talk to the people.

Shining star

One of today’s BTL shining stars is defiantly the EFF. Building a house for a (supposedly) poor lady right next to Nkandla is a brilliant tactic! It bursts with talkability, great PR value and should also impact the community immensely (not so much for the lady as she may be in danger, according to various newspaper reports, but impact, nonetheless).

Be that as it may, the organisations need to put equal energy into their through-the-line and above the line tactics. It must be noted that there is a gradual improvement brewing from within the DA and ANC as they get creative with how they use of Twitter, Mxit and Facebook to talk to the masses (when I say “creative”, I mean creative for them and that’s not very creative).

Today’s article will focus on the trends of boring political posters from various past campaigns.


Political parties claim to offer unique views from their counterparts and it’s really hard to see this in their posters.

DA campaign poster English
Image source: Voice of America.
Vote ANC Zuma campaign poster
Image source: Spindrifting South African seamonkey.

Let’s be honest: placing a picture of a political leader accompanied by “VOTE ***” is blatant laziness and says nothing about their intentions. You’d think now would be a good time to be specific as the tech-savvy ‘born frees’ step into to the voting booth for the first time.

This type of poster is actually a good symbol of how detached political parties are from the people. Imagine if Coke did a print ad with the tag line “BUY COKE”. It’s arrogant and in no way inspiring.

The difference with Coke and political parties is that one offers you a reason to support it in an emotional and personal way; the other doesn’t.

We get the ‘I’m trying to be controversial because I’ve got nothing to say’ poster. This type is worse than the above-mentioned example as it makes the organisation more critical than visionary.

VF Plus campaign poster
Image source: Philip van Staden.

We also have the not-so-clever ‘play on words’ poster (which also falls in the ‘trying to be controversial because I’ve got nothing to say’ poster space).

DP Stop intolerance campaign poster. Image source: Northwestern University Library
Image source: The Northwestern University Library: African Poster Collection.

Then there is the design of the posters. Honestly speaking, this is not the most important thing in this space and it’s driven by who they are talking to. The IFP would need to focus on good copy in the language of its target market, the DA on both good copy and design.

IFP campaign poster 2011
Image source: Charles Apple, visual journalist.

The above poster from 2011 is not designed in the latest design style, which is okay for this target market. If the copy is translated into all relevant languages, it would be more impactful than “VOTE X”.


History has seen political posters being beautifully crafted, with stunning copy to match. As the years have gone by, we have been subjected to substandard work due to the complacency of political parties globally.

ANC undated campaign poster
Image source: Political Archives.

The above undated poster is an interesting piece (even though it is not a voting poster), as no copy is needed; the image says it all. This is the perfect example of the eventual evolution into complacency.

Abraham Lincoln US presidential campaign poster 1860
Image source:

The above Abraham Lincoln poster from 1860 is a good example of the stunning design standard of past years.

Nixon US presidential campaign poster
Image source:

Although a little risky, the 1968 Richard M Nixon camp tried different ways to connect with different communities.

Robert Kennedy presidential campaign poster from 1968
Image source:

Robert “Bobby” Kennedy’s campaign poster, also from 1968 helped him become popular with young voters. This is a good example of knowing your audience.

Inspiring messages

The goal for political parties when creating posters is to produce content which connects with their targeted audience. Campaigns that provide inspiring messages through the use of smart copy and good design generally cut cleanly through the clutter —provided that it is woven strategically into the rest of the campaign.

A good example of this is the 2008 Barack Obama campaign:

Obama presidential campaign poster: "Hope"
Image source:

The campaign team created an iconic design that has gained cult status and will live on for years to come. The proposition is one word, one word that is more impactful than 10.

Obama presidential campaign poster: "Progress"
Image source:

The Obama campaign team continued this trend across all its material by using a winning formula: one powerful word accompanied with stunning design.

So, this is a shout out to political parties to find their formula and be professional about it — it’s just not right to be subjected to the current visual pollution. Down with bad posters, down!

Artwell Nwaila


Artwell Nwaila (@artwelln) is a creative director at Offlimit Communications and publisher of the award-winning creative publication SA Creatives (@thesacreatives). His monthly column on MarkLives, “Creation”, will take a look at creative work from around the world and what we can learn from it in South Africa.


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