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Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind

Interpreting the sign language of Calgary's mayoral Candidates' ad campaigns

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For some Calgarians, election campaign signs are just flashes of colour on the drive home. "A civic election," they think, "hmm, interesting." The plethora of billboards, lawn signs and banners mean little to them, and under-standably so.

However, for the first time in a long while, Al Duerr is not running, ending his 12-year tenure as mayor, leaving the field wide open. Nineteen candidates are vying for the job and four of them--Dave Bronconnier, Ray Clark, Bev Longstaff and Richard Magnus--are ahead in the polls. The result of Duerr's decision is now a bumper crop of ads.

Signage plays a bigger part in civic elections as it is a different species than a provincial or federal election. For these reasons, we asked the following questions: What are these billboards saying? Why do they use colour or a certain slogan? Because we were interested only in the prolific signage, only candidates with prominent signs were analyzed. For a full list of candidates, please refer to the box below.


Billboards:
Bronconnier: 30
Clark: 0
Magnus: 100

Lawnsigns:
Bronconnier: hundreds
Clark: 6,500
Magnus: 5,000

Longstaff's campaign staff refused exact numbers, but said 50 per cent of all Calgarians see her face daily.

Why billboards?

Because they are stable images people see during their commute, billboards give candidates presence. In civic elections, there are no political parties forcing candidates to rely on name and face recognition when voters hit the voting station.

"They attempt to associate people with their campaign slogan," said Associate Dean of Communication and Culture Doug Brent. "Billboards tend to be very, very sparse. Often the ones on people's front lawns suggest their owner's support of the candidate. You're attempting to create a sense of community around a particular candidate's support."

Communications

One good way to analyze billboards is by using rhetorical theory from the field of communications. According to Brent, it was first used for public speaking and then extended to visual and other media.

"It's a set of theories that surround how a speaker can join his or her interests with those of an audience by using arguments, images and metaphors," said Brent. "A rhetorical analysis of an ad would look at the way in which the components of the ad were constructed and work with each other in an attempt to reach an audience."

A speaker tries to connect with the audience using three proofs: ethos or credibility, pathos or emotion and logos or logic. A candidate must establish ethos using several techniques.

"First, by sheer good looks--the most standard mass media criteria--[they establish ethos]," said Brent, elaborating with an example. "Standing in a pose where you can meet the gaze of the observer with a trustworthy look. Sometimes the candidates may be depicted with family, trustworthy colleagues or with other people the audience might support. Simply the fact people have given up their lawns suggest they support the candidate."

Brent said establishing credibility is 90 per cent of the battle as most arguments are the same. It is a foregone conclusion, for example, that traffic woes are an issue. No sane candidate opposes that.

However, some issues have actual arguments, and candidates will employ different techniques.

"Enmax is a hot button that can go either way," said Brent. "There's an outcome. We can sell it or not. Along with that comes a powerful package of political ideology. That's one area in which people can go after sustained argument and that's where you'd find logos being used in pamphlets and in public forums."

According to Brent, emotion (pathos) plays a part in every argument but in this campaign the emotions are subtle. Candidates do not evoke strong emotions like pity or fear but feelings of civic pride, unlike in federal and provincial campaigns.

"Certainly, in provincial politics, when the Klein government was in the process of taking power, there was a strong shift in ideology," said Brent. "There was a desire to get the populous more emotional, more afraid of deficit, more afraid of what might happen if we didn't re-elect the Tories. When things are going well [the candidates] try for subtlety, try to incubate fairly warm, fuzz feelings."

The Main Event

University of Calgary Political Science professor Stan Drabek and Brent examined pictures of the billboards. The Gauntlet contacted the campaign offices of the candidates to ask specifics about the billboards.

Slogans

Both Drabek and Brent agree Magnus and Bronconnier play on a similar theme of moving on from previous councils.

"[Magnus' slogan 'Shift out of neutral'] indicates the past mayor and past council weren't doing anything," said Drabek. "He says it differently from Bronconnier. Magnus negatively says these people haven't been doing much to solve problems. Bronconnier says, 'Yes, I'm moving Calgary forward based on what I've done already.'"

Magnus employs a different strategy than the other candidates. Instead of a single slogan, Magnus uses 15 different slogans ranging from opinion polls to traffic snarls, a concept Brent finds intriguing.

"It seems to be a curious strategy," said Brent. "He's accentuating the problems that need fixing, which is probably not a bad strategy for someone who's trying to run on a reform platform rather than a stated course platform."

Mark Kastner, Magnus' Executive Assistant, supports Brent's speculation. Kastner said Magnus focuses on issues instead of names with the intent of stirring up discussion.

"Basically, it was a number of people, campaign volunteers, Richard [Magnus], some of the Push people [Magnus' communication agency Push Communications] and we all sat around and looked at different ideas," said Kastner. "We had a number of slogans and picked the top 10."

Bronconnier did not use any communication agencies, relying instead on friends and colleagues.

"'Moving Calgary Forward' was chosen because Calgary is a great place to live, it's a wonderful city as it is right now," said Brenda Nenechetti, Bronconnier's Campaign Coordinator.

Clark's slogan of "People First" is clearly a populist play by both professors' appraisals. But Clark has chosen not to buy billboard space, relying instead on lawn signs. Clark's Campaign Manager Doug Caswell believes they'll have 6,500 lawn signs up, with a majority of them on private property.

"That's always the way he's operated himself as an alderman for Ward 10," said Caswell.

Bev Longstaff's campaign slogan is "Strong Vision, Strong Record."

"She's wisely trading on the fact she's been around quite some time and interestingly is resisting--as far as I can tell--any urge to hook herself up with Duerr," said Brent. "That certainly would be very tempting because he's so popular. I'm sure she wants to win with a sense that she's her own person and she's not toddling along after Al."

According to Longstaff campaign manager Alec Milne, it was an advertising company that picked the slogan.

Photos

According to Brent, photos are a good way of creating ethos. All candidates attempt to project a composed quality, as voters would like to know.

Bronconnier is smiling, posed in front of the Calgary skyline, connecting his slogan to the city. Brent feels he is focusing on familiarizing his name, face and slogan.

Clark focuses on his personality and reputation, using a photo larger than the text. He accentuates his warm, friendly smile.

"With [focus] groups three years ago and this time, that particular shot of him has gone over very well," said Caswell. "It's almost like you're looking deep into his eyes."

Longstaff employs a different style. To compensate for the high billboards, she looks downwards and stands with a pen in her hand.

"The other[can- didates] are staring directly at the audience," said Brent. "They are trying to interact directly with the audience. She's presenting herself as interacting with other people. She's not only talking to them, she's writing down what they say, again projecting the image of a doer."

Magnus also plays up the image of a chummy politician. His photo, where he leans his chin on his fingers, is a direct correlation of politicians becoming more intimate.

It's not all black and white

The four candidates campaigns range from black and white to full colour. However, the billboards are sparse, containing minimal text in the form of slogans and contact information.

Drabek likens the colours to those of football teams.

"Colours will attract the eye," said Drabek. "You think of Liberal red, Tory blue, Alliance green. Colours are attached to parties. But [the candidate] first off the mark gets to choose the colour scheme."

Candidates must choose carefully, as they walk a fine line between cheesy and stingy in use of colour.

"Non-colour tends to be projecting a feeling of being very sober, non-flashy, business-like," said Brent. "Done poorly it can project an image of being cheap. [Colour] is also a little bit more risky by being received as really loud or clashing. Candidates typically try to get colours... different enough from other candidates, enough that people, from a distance, spot a particular sign and think it belongs to a certain candidate."

Magnus picked black and white for a particular reason.

"It's more shocking," said Kastner. "When you look at it you're reading it as opposed to getting blended in. The black and white is a shock form. It's a little different, it stands out."

But don't equate Longstaff's and Magnus' colour schemes.

"In my opinion, hers doesn't stand out as Magnus' does," said Kastner. "When you drive down the street, you find that the yellow, in the fall, tends to blend a little too much."

Longstaff's crew disagrees, as they picked the black, white and yellow as they were the strongest colours visually and were not affiliated with any party.

Clark picked his orange based on his past history but orange is his favourite colour, too.

Like Clark, Bronconnier used his colours throughout his aldermanic campaign.

"They've been his colours since day one when he ran for alderman nine years ago," said Nenechetti. "He had those colours before there was a [Canadian] Alliance or Reform party. Nine years ago those were his colours."

Conclusion

Campaigning of all sorts plays an important role in this election because of the open positions. Whereas there wasn't much of a mayoral race in the past decade, this election--regardless of the campaigns--will likely have record turnout.

Everything in the candidates' campaign is planned down to the last smile in the photo. Even if voters haven't considered billboards, politicians have.

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