is the art of influence that seeks to manipulate an attitude of a group of
people toward a cause or political position. By its nature, it not impartial
and is usually biased. It is often selective with the facts or truths it
presents, and will often appeal to fears or concerns of the group it is
targeting. Over time, propaganda has acquired strongly negative connotations
and can seem quite outdated by today’s standards. However, during both World
Wars I and II, propaganda posters caught the eye and influenced the populace,
with their striking artistic style still rippling through art to this day. We
have taken a look at some prominent and interesting examples from both sides.


World War I was the first conflict in which the illustrated color
lithographic poster was used as propaganda. Illustrated posters had proven the
most effective means of advertising yet invented.  During the war, the
poster’s accessibility and impact made it the single most important means of
mass communication

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In World War One, posters were one of the most
important means of spreading propaganda, and some of them became symbols of
national resolve. In 1914, artist Alfred Leete, created one of the
most iconic British propaganda posters, and to this day is one of the most
recogniseable/famous posters in the world. The poster features a large portrait
illustration of Lord Kitchener, a British military leader, who as secretary of
state in World War One, organised armies on a scale that had never been done
before. The poster uses an integration of text and image to create a
significant impact on the country.


Alfred Leete, a magazine illustrator,
put together the design in a few hours using a postcard dating from 1895 as
inspiration. In the process of drawing, Leete made some changes to Kitchener’s
facial elements making the face squarer and thickening the moustache. However,
the original version of the Kitchener drawing was not originally meant for a
poster, the image first appeared in the front cover of the London Opinion
magazine on 5 September, 1914.


The striking image of Kitchener appears to interact with the
audience in several different ways. Firstly, the stern expression and
concentrated gaze looking directly into the eyes of the viewer, gives the
effect that Kitchener is talking personally to the viewer. The slightly
squinted gaze can be interpreted as intimidating to many of its audience, thus
therefore leaving a deep impression on the men that it was aimed at,
evidently resulting in guilt if they failed to sign up to fight for their


At the time of WW1 there was a strong
class system in Britain and the Commonwealth. The use of a Lord, and one in
military uniform, gives the impression that it is an instruction, or order,
rather than a request. The poster was aimed at getting large numbers of working
class men to enlist in the Army, to boost the ranks. By using a high profile
figure from the Upper Class, aristocracy, pointing and telling the reader, the
image pressurises those used to working for and taking orders from the upper


Alfred Leete edited some features of Kitchener such as a
wider, squarer face, along and a thicker moustache. According to Marc Fetscherin, a professor at the
international business school, a recent study shows correlation between facial
shapes and leadership performance. Fetscherin states: “Facial width to height ratio correlates with
real world measures of aggressive and ambitious behaviour and is associated
with a psychological sense of power. It is therefore possible that it could
predict leadership performance.” (Fetscherin, 2015, p.227) This shows that not only
are there scientific studies and evidence that shows facial correlations with
leadership, to some this could mean that it makes Kitchener
appear more dominant, ambitious and powerful. As well as the change in facial
shape, Leete also gave the appearance of a thicker moustache. The moustache has been known to represent a man’s virility. In the
1900’s men not only considered the moustache an expression of masculinity,
strength and courage but also a symbol of style and sophistication. All of
these changes put together helped encourage young men to sign up, showing that
the leaders and soldiers are perceived as masculine, dominant figures meaning
more people will want to follow suit.

Arguably one of the most iconic
elements of the poster is Kitchener’s finger
pointing straight out fixing the reader with his gaze. In some cultures
including British, it is considered rude to point your finger at others. The hand image as a metaphor makes the poster more
effective and attractive by strengthening and enriching its language of
expression. This
is a hand gesture that shows indication of dominance upon someone in a lower
position. Pointing of the finger is a way of singling out an individual and
making it personal. The gesture is often seen as aggressive and usually used by
someone that wants dominance. Here Lord Kitchener is using his finger as a
weapon of persuasion. Kitchener was seen as an authoritative
figure therefore viewers of the poster felt as though they had to comply with
what they were being told to do. In his book, Robert Caialdini, (Cialdini, 1948, p.163) suggests
that “conforming to
the dictates of authority figures has always had genuine practical advantages
for us. Early on, these people (for
example, parents, teachers) knew more than we did, and we found that taking
their advice proved beneficial—partly because of their greater wisdom and
partly because they controlled our rewards and punishments.” This shows that
obeying orders from an authoritative figure usually would prove great beneficial
for the individual thus therefore encouraged men to sign up to the army however
on the other hand they may
be obeying because of the fear of consequences if they refuse to do so.

The absence of other body parts in
the image means that the reader focuses on the finger, and the authoritarian
face. If the rest of the body were there, then the reader’s eye might start
wandering, looking at the uniform, the gold braid or the medal ribbons. By only
having the head and hand, the artist has limited the amount of content and
focuses the reader attention completely.


The other main feature of this poster
that grabs peoples attention is the word ‘YOU’. The word is in large capital
letters, and along with the illustration, it dominates the poster. This is
designed to capture the reader straight away, and make them relate the message
to themselves. If the poster had said ‘Your Country Needs MEN’ then there is no
ownership of the issue for the reader. The fact that is says ‘YOU’ and has the
finger pointing at the reader, gives a powerful message with instantly places
responsibility onto the reader using manipulation of emotion. The typography and
wording of the poster plays a huge part in the way the audience reacts.


While the original version
of the poster was drawn by hand, a second poster was
unique among, British designs in that it used a photograph for its portrait of
Lord Kitchener. It was
reproduced adding some extra text and colour. The poster now featured large
writing at the top which read “BRITONS” this helps to enhance the fact that the
people of Britian needed to come together in order to help protect the country.
The invention of lithography and letterpress enabled printers to produce huge
numbers of the poster, allowing them to plaster them on every surface they
could find.  


Secondly, by omitting explicitly stating the
desired response to this poster (i.e. to enrol in the army) self-generated
persuasion is being used. This means that the audience reads the message and
comes up with their own solution (Pratkanis, 2007). Research suggests that
self-generated persuasion has more lasting implications because the individual
feels a greater responsibility for the decision made (Pratkanis, 2007). In
other words, the statement ‘Your country need you’ should promote more internal
evaluation than if the tag line had been ‘Enrol to the army’ and hence is more
likely to result in the desired outcome.


Colours have been used for psychological purposes for
centuries. Colour was first used in advertising during the industrial revolution and its use initially attracted
a lot of attention because the ads that utilized it stood out from the black
and white crowd. Not only do the colours make the poster stand out more, they
are also closely linked to the patriotic colours of Britain. The colour red has
many semiotic meanings, which can suggest there was a deeper meaning for the
use of red. For example love, seduction, violence,
danger, anger, power and wealth. Our
prehistoric ancestors saw red as the color of fire and blood – energy and
primal life forces. To this day, most of red’s symbolism arises from its
powerful associations in the past.


The poster sought to ‘cash in’ on the patriotic
hysteria at the beginning of the war, with the anti German feeling, and the
belief that ‘it will all be over by Christmas’. Kitchener was trying to raise a
volunteer Army, quickly. For this he needed willing volunteers, and the poster
was used to recruit ‘Kitchener’s Army’. The Army knew that peer pressure would
be a good recruiting tool, so they created what became known as ‘Pals
Battalions’, these were Battalions within the Army where men from local areas
could join together, train together and fight together as one unit.




time went on, and the war didn’t ‘end by Christmas’, the large numbers of dead
and wounded had the effect of reducing the number of volunteers that came
forward to join the Army. With conscription not yet in place, the government
sought new recruiting campaigns to persuade men to join up. Instead of
patriotic hysteria, the Government recruiters decided to try emotional
blackmail instead. The poster ‘Daddy, what did YOU do in the great War’ shows a
father with his daughter and son, at some point after the end of the ‘Great
War’ as it had become known. The son is playing with toy soldiers, to show that
he enjoys the glamorous image of war, whilst the daughter is sat on her
father’s knee. The word YOU is again capitalised, to reinforce the ‘personal
responsibility’ aspect of the message. As Liz
Mcquiston (McQuiston, 1995,
p.20) states, “British posters had a much tougher psychological grip on
their audience. Britain entered the war with no conscription and relied on
volunteers, and consequently British posters often employed scare tactics
(claiming atrocities commited by the enemy) or attempted to shame men into
colunteering with implication of cowardice and loss of honour”. This
poster seeks to shame the reader into thinking that they will not respected if
they haven’t taken part in the war, and make them want to join up, in order to
save face in front of their family, or future family.

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