The art of an effective political yard sign
Experts divulge the science behind the poster campaign
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Clean lines. Primary colors. A bold design.
While these characteristics might suggest spring fashion trends, they are also major components of a successful political yard sign.
Three weeks before the April 9 local election — just as signs are popping up on lawns from Antioch to Addison — Harper College's marketing director, Mike Barzacchini, took the Daily Herald through some key advice that candidates should be following.
Red signs, blue signs
"I'd try to avoid colors that have some negative connotation," Barzacchini said, noting Illinois residents have a "visceral reaction" to orange after enduring long seasons of road construction.
Similarly, he said, bright, neon colors can call into question whether a candidate can be taken seriously.
"I think that's one reason candidates generally use some form of red, white and blue," he said. "If you think of the major national (presidential) campaigns, you have very clean white backgrounds with blue and red accents." Republican Mitt Romney's presidential logo, for instance, featured a white background with blue lettering and a red accent. President Barack Obama's campaign used a blue background with white lettering and a red accent.
A sign that is prominently white and blue, versus red, resonates well, Barzacchini said, because people sometimes associate all red signs with stop signs.
With the emphasis on environmental issues, Barzacchini said, green can also communicate strength and balance — Gov. Pat Quinn's successful 2010 gubernatorial campaign featured a green sign with basic white lettering.
Keeping it simple
"(The) big secret that everyone seems to forget," Barzacchini said, "is what works best is simplicity. People have a nanosecond attention span and in the age that we live in, there's a lot of visual clutter."
While there are thousands of fonts to choose from, Barzacchini recommends a classic Arial font or sans-serif type "because they stand out better from a distance. It's all about simplicity, how many words you use, how you use color," he said.
Many candidates seem to have gotten at least part of the message. In the three-way Arlington Heights mayoral race, for instance, Ron Drake's navy blue signs with dramatically large white capital letters make his name jump out. Thomas Hayes' white signs with red and blue lettering make clear that he is seeking the office of village president, and give his website. Mark Hellner's red signs, while visually busier, utilize the same check mark logo as his website.
A question candidates should ask, Barzacchini said, is "can someone see my sign from 20 yards away (while) driving down the street?"
Candidates with long last names can run into trouble. Former Republican state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger of Elgin got around that issue by buying extra-long yard signs.
"It kind of became a signature," Rauschenberger said, joking that his last name "worked really great on combs and ice scrapers."
Signs should strive to make a strong statement, with a name and an office. An added bonus, Barzacchani said, is to connect yard sign designs with a candidate's mailers and website. "As a candidate, you are a brand," Barzacchini said. "There needs to be some type of visual linkage. Otherwise, you're really not doing yourself a service."
Some towns have so many signs it seems like they must be dirt cheap. Not quite.
Standard two-sided 24 by 18 inch yard signs, featuring two to three colors cost about $5.25 each, Mallik Nanna of Grace printing in Chicago said. Standard political orders are usually placed in batches of at least 250, which would add up to $1,312 — a big dent in campaign budgets that often run about $5,000 to $10,000.
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