U.K. sees return of the campaign poster

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Stacey Vanek-Smith: Next week, British voters will go to the polls for a general election. It's shaping up to be a nailbiter. Now politics are little different across the pond. For instance: Britain doesn't let political ads air on TV, so politicians have to resort to more traditional methods. From London, Christopher Werth reports.


Christopher Werth: This is supposed to be the U.K.'s first "digital election". No one had even heard of Facebook or Twitter the last time the Brits voted in 2005. But as opinion polls have narrowed, the good old-fashioned political campaign poster is back, and being used to full effect.

Paul Bainsfair: It's the one area of political campaigning in this country when we see the teeth bared, and the blood dripping from their mouths as they really have a go at each other.

Paul Bainsfair is with Iris, a company that's designing posters for the U.K.'s third-largest party, the Liberal Democrats. He says campaign posters have a long tradition in British politics. Right now, the Conservative party is blitzing the U.K. with billboards lampooning Prime Minister Gordon Brown's handling of the economy over the past 13 years.

Bainsfair: Big headlines saying things like, "I've sold all of Britain's gold reserves, vote for me."

But Brown's Labour party warns that the budget cuts the Conservative leader, David Cameron, is proposing will jeopardize the economic recovery.

Nicholas O'Shaughnessy is an expert in political marketing at Queen Mary University of London. He says for political parties, unveiling a new poster is a good way to get onto the evening television news.

Nicholas O'Shaughnessy: The poster is immensely economic because it's replicated by the mass media. The newspapers print the posters as a news item, and so you get a lot of bang for the buck.

He says that kind of media publicity alone can add up to about $3 million worth of free campaign advertising.

But as new media expert Clifford Singer has shown, in the age of the Internet, the message of posters can be easily turned against the party that's putting them out there. Earlier this year, he launched MyDavidCameron.com, a website that allows visitors to create spoof versions making fun of the Conservative party's original posters, and have everyone see them online.

Clifford Singer: Within a week, we had tens of thousands of visitors, and hundreds of people were making their own posters and sending them around on Facebook and Twitter and other social media.

And the Conservative party started its own website parodying the Labour party's posters. So this really is the U.K.'s first digital election, just not the one politicians were expecting.

In London, I'm Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

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