Propagandais the art of influence that seeks to manipulate an attitude of a group ofpeople toward a cause or political position. By its nature, it not impartialand is usually biased. It is often selective with the facts or truths itpresents, and will often appeal to fears or concerns of the group it istargeting. Over time, propaganda has acquired strongly negative connotationsand can seem quite outdated by today’s standards. However, during both WorldWars I and II, propaganda posters caught the eye and influenced the populace,with their striking artistic style still rippling through art to this day.
Wehave taken a look at some prominent and interesting examples from both sides. World War I was the first conflict in which the illustrated colorlithographic poster was used as propaganda. Illustrated posters had proven themost effective means of advertising yet invented. During the war, theposter’s accessibility and impact made it the single most important means ofmass communication In World War One, posters were one of the mostimportant means of spreading propaganda, and some of them became symbols ofnational resolve. In 1914, artist Alfred Leete, created one of themost iconic British propaganda posters, and to this day is one of the mostrecogniseable/famous posters in the world. The poster features a large portraitillustration of Lord Kitchener, a British military leader, who as secretary ofstate in World War One, organised armies on a scale that had never been donebefore. The poster uses an integration of text and image to create asignificant impact on the country. Alfred Leete, a magazine illustrator,put together the design in a few hours using a postcard dating from 1895 asinspiration.
In the process of drawing, Leete made some changes to Kitchener’sfacial elements making the face squarer and thickening the moustache. However,the original version of the Kitchener drawing was not originally meant for aposter, the image first appeared in the front cover of the London Opinionmagazine on 5 September, 1914. The striking image of Kitchener appears to interact with theaudience in several different ways. Firstly, the stern expression andconcentrated gaze looking directly into the eyes of the viewer, gives theeffect that Kitchener is talking personally to the viewer.
The slightlysquinted gaze can be interpreted as intimidating to many of its audience, thustherefore 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 theircountry. At the time of WW1 there was a strongclass system in Britain and the Commonwealth. The use of a Lord, and one inmilitary uniform, gives the impression that it is an instruction, or order,rather than a request. The poster was aimed at getting large numbers of workingclass men to enlist in the Army, to boost the ranks. By using a high profilefigure from the Upper Class, aristocracy, pointing and telling the reader, theimage pressurises those used to working for and taking orders from the upperclasses. Alfred Leete edited some features of Kitchener such as awider, squarer face, along and a thicker moustache. According to Marc Fetscherin, a professor at theinternational business school, a recent study shows correlation between facialshapes and leadership performance. Fetscherin states: “Facial width to height ratio correlates withreal world measures of aggressive and ambitious behaviour and is associatedwith a psychological sense of power.
It is therefore possible that it couldpredict leadership performance.” (Fetscherin, 2015, p.227) This shows that not onlyare there scientific studies and evidence that shows facial correlations withleadership, to some this could mean that it makes Kitchenerappear more dominant, ambitious and powerful.
As well as the change in facialshape, Leete also gave the appearance of a thicker moustache. The moustache has been known to represent a man’s virility. In the1900’s men not only considered the moustache an expression of masculinity,strength and courage but also a symbol of style and sophistication. All ofthese changes put together helped encourage young men to sign up, showing thatthe leaders and soldiers are perceived as masculine, dominant figures meaningmore people will want to follow suit. Arguably one of the most iconicelements of the poster is Kitchener’s fingerpointing straight out fixing the reader with his gaze. In some culturesincluding British, it is considered rude to point your finger at others.
The hand image as a metaphor makes the poster moreeffective and attractive by strengthening and enriching its language ofexpression. Thisis a hand gesture that shows indication of dominance upon someone in a lowerposition. Pointing of the finger is a way of singling out an individual andmaking it personal.
The gesture is often seen as aggressive and usually used bysomeone that wants dominance. Here Lord Kitchener is using his finger as aweapon of persuasion. Kitchener was seen as an authoritativefigure therefore viewers of the poster felt as though they had to comply withwhat they were being told to do. In his book, Robert Caialdini, (Cialdini, 1948, p.163) suggeststhat “conforming tothe dictates of authority figures has always had genuine practical advantagesfor us.
Early on, these people (forexample, parents, teachers) knew more than we did, and we found that takingtheir advice proved beneficial—partly because of their greater wisdom andpartly because they controlled our rewards and punishments.” This shows thatobeying orders from an authoritative figure usually would prove great beneficialfor the individual thus therefore encouraged men to sign up to the army howeveron the other hand they maybe obeying because of the fear of consequences if they refuse to do so. The absence of other body parts inthe image means that the reader focuses on the finger, and the authoritarianface. If the rest of the body were there, then the reader’s eye might startwandering, looking at the uniform, the gold braid or the medal ribbons. By onlyhaving the head and hand, the artist has limited the amount of content andfocuses the reader attention completely. The other main feature of this posterthat grabs peoples attention is the word ‘YOU’. The word is in large capitalletters, and along with the illustration, it dominates the poster. This isdesigned to capture the reader straight away, and make them relate the messageto themselves.
If the poster had said ‘Your Country Needs MEN’ then there is noownership of the issue for the reader. The fact that is says ‘YOU’ and has thefinger pointing at the reader, gives a powerful message with instantly placesresponsibility onto the reader using manipulation of emotion. The typography andwording of the poster plays a huge part in the way the audience reacts.
While the original versionof the poster was drawn by hand, a second poster wasunique among, British designs in that it used a photograph for its portrait ofLord Kitchener. It wasreproduced adding some extra text and colour. The poster now featured largewriting at the top which read “BRITONS” this helps to enhance the fact that thepeople of Britian needed to come together in order to help protect the country.The invention of lithography and letterpress enabled printers to produce hugenumbers of the poster, allowing them to plaster them on every surface theycould find. Secondly, by omitting explicitly stating thedesired response to this poster (i.e. to enrol in the army) self-generatedpersuasion is being used.
This means that the audience reads the message andcomes up with their own solution (Pratkanis, 2007). Research suggests thatself-generated persuasion has more lasting implications because the individualfeels a greater responsibility for the decision made (Pratkanis, 2007). Inother words, the statement ‘Your country need you’ should promote more internalevaluation than if the tag line had been ‘Enrol to the army’ and hence is morelikely to result in the desired outcome. Colours have been used for psychological purposes forcenturies. Colour was first used in advertising during the industrial revolution and its use initially attracteda lot of attention because the ads that utilized it stood out from the blackand white crowd. Not only do the colours make the poster stand out more, theyare also closely linked to the patriotic colours of Britain.
The colour red hasmany semiotic meanings, which can suggest there was a deeper meaning for theuse of red. For example love, seduction, violence,danger, anger, power and wealth. Ourprehistoric ancestors saw red as the color of fire and blood – energy andprimal life forces. To this day, most of red’s symbolism arises from itspowerful associations in the past. The poster sought to ‘cash in’ on the patriotichysteria at the beginning of the war, with the anti German feeling, and thebelief that ‘it will all be over by Christmas’. Kitchener was trying to raise avolunteer Army, quickly. For this he needed willing volunteers, and the posterwas used to recruit ‘Kitchener’s Army’.
The Army knew that peer pressure wouldbe a good recruiting tool, so they created what became known as ‘PalsBattalions’, these were Battalions within the Army where men from local areascould join together, train together and fight together as one unit. Astime went on, and the war didn’t ‘end by Christmas’, the large numbers of deadand wounded had the effect of reducing the number of volunteers that cameforward to join the Army. With conscription not yet in place, the governmentsought new recruiting campaigns to persuade men to join up. Instead ofpatriotic hysteria, the Government recruiters decided to try emotionalblackmail instead.
The poster ‘Daddy, what did YOU do in the great War’ shows afather with his daughter and son, at some point after the end of the ‘GreatWar’ as it had become known. The son is playing with toy soldiers, to show thathe enjoys the glamorous image of war, whilst the daughter is sat on herfather’s knee. The word YOU is again capitalised, to reinforce the ‘personalresponsibility’ aspect of the message. As LizMcquiston (McQuiston, 1995,p.20) states, “British posters had a much tougher psychological grip ontheir audience.
Britain entered the war with no conscription and relied onvolunteers, and consequently British posters often employed scare tactics(claiming atrocities commited by the enemy) or attempted to shame men intocolunteering with implication of cowardice and loss of honour”. Thisposter seeks to shame the reader into thinking that they will not respected ifthey haven’t taken part in the war, and make them want to join up, in order tosave face in front of their family, or future family.