Propaganda posters

Propaganda posters often remind people of the wars of the 20th century. They used structures and techniques from the world of advertising to rally support for war efforts and influence public opinion. As you study and analyse propagada posters, it helps to know several terms and understanding how they aim to persuade their audiences.

  1. Study the example propaganda poster below, the defining features of propaganda posters and the propaganda techniques as listed below. Then study Texts 1-7. For each poster, describe which features and techniques are apparent. 

  2. Feature Example
    Call to action: The copy or caption of a propaganda poster is always persuasive, appealing to logic, emotion or both. A call to action in posters may make use propaganda techniques. They usually involve the reader through the use of pronouns or imperative verbs. Citizens are told to buy ‘war bonds’ in this poster. By doing so, they will stop Nazism from spreading.
    Use of font: The colour, style and size of font contribute to the poster’s message. Contrasting colours, styles and sizes help a message stand out.  Notice how this poster uses three fonts. The sharp angles of the bold, sans serif font for ‘Don’t Let...’ are used to describe the fear of Nazism. ‘Buy’ seems hand written and upbeat. ‘War Bonds’ is written in yellow and all capitals, which is both forceful and noticeable.
    Symbolism:  Symbols are images that represent abstract ideas. Their meanings are social and cultural constructs. Symbols are effective for communicating one’s message and an integral part of propaganda posters. In this poster the US flag, the Nazi swastika, the model aeroplane and the doll are all symbols that represent abstract ideas, such as patriotism, death, bravery and innocence respectively.
    Idealisation: An idealisation is a depiction of person, place or thing, which focuses on the abstract and perfect qualities of the object.  The Children in in this poster are idealised. They are made to look like ideal children, well dressed, playing together and helping each other. They represent family and innocence, ideals that the reader wants to protect.
    Style of artwork: The style of artwork in a propaganda poster contributes to its effects on the reader. Style may be described along a continuum of abstract to realistic art. Because ideals and symbols are depicted in propaganda posters, objects are often 'stylised,' meaning that their general, abstract qualities are depicted. The degree of cartoonification or stylizing in this poster makes the little girl appear like a porcelain doll. By painting in this style, the artist suggests children are pure and perfect.

    Technique Example
    Bandwagon effect: The bandwagon effect is an appeal to audiences that suggests 'everyone is doing it' and therefore the reader should 'hop on the bandwagon' before it's too late, even though there is no evidence to support the idea, product or event.  While the example text does not use the bandwagon effect, one could argue that one should buy war bonds, because everyone is buying war bonds. 
    Glittering generalities: Glittering generalities are arguments or ideas that are difficult to disagree with, because they refer to broad, positive values shared by most people in society, such as freedom, democracy and rights.  This example poster refers to the general value that family is important, by depicting three playing children. 
    Plain folks: This kind of argument suggests that the speaker of a message represents the 'average Joe', a common person with whom everyone can empathise.  In this poster, it is import for the children to look like average children, so that all parents can relate to the situation. 
    Name calling: Verbal abuse and name calling are often used in propaganda to turn other people into something inhumane, so that audiences can no longer sympathise with them and develop a hatred for them.  In the example poster, the Nazis are referred to as 'That Shadow', which dehumanises them and makes them an enemy for Americans to hate. 
    Association fallacy: By placing two things, people or ideas in close to each other, they become 'associated' with each other, even though they may have no logical connection.   In the example poster, the boy holds a toy bomber aeroplane near the American flag, which associates the bombing foreign countries with patriotism. 
    False dilemma: A common propaganda technique called the 'false dilemma' presents the viewer or listener with a binary choice, suggesting that if they do not choose one option the second option is inevitable and third options do not exist.  This example poster suggest that if the viewer does not buy war bonds, the shadow of Nazism will fall over their children. 
    Argument to authority: This technique implies that if someone with in a position of authority makes a claim, it must be true.  The example poster appeals to the audience's respect for authority, as the poster was created by the US government for the (financial) support of national war efforts.


  3. How do the following posters use the stylistic and structural features of propaganda posters to construct their criticism of the US government in the early 2000's? 


  4. For your portfolio, create your own propaganda poster! It does not have to be artistic, as long as you show your understanding of propaganda techniques and structural features. Use your poster to comment critically on a global issue, like Micah Wright has done with his posters.   
Last modified: Thursday, 6 February 2020, 3:49 PM