Sentimental sells. But are we ready for the motivational poster Renaissance?
As Covid-19 lays waste to marketing and media plans, the majority of outdoor advertising space in most cities is carrying filler from media companies. It seems perhaps the only paying client in the UK for outdoor advertising right now is the UK government, selling us instructional safety messaging.
Most of the filler posters seem built around the sentiment of community and thanking those who are in the deep end of the health crisis – essential workers keeping the country moving. Or, just trying valiantly to distract us from the grim reality of the death toll, or reminding us that we should love posters.
These are prime advertising spaces; prominent sites that would normally host campaigns from the world’s most powerful banks, airlines, tech and fashion brands. For months, the media companies who own them have been rolling out a random selection of feel-good posters, some poetic, and some saccharine. And some better designed than others.
It’s testament to the power of the poster, and its (mostly) analogue glory, that this simplicity has seemed to resonate, and keeps inspiring designers, who are putting more and more ideas into circulation. Including the inevitable (and maybe unauthorised) co-brand for the National Health Service.
Beyond these seemingly random acts of non-commercial kindness, will the advertising industry successfully navigate the murky waters of ‘brand purpose’ and help clients not fall into the traps that some already have?
At the start of UK restrictions, the press and social media shifted quickly into their lockdown-self-help modes. Since then, as we have seen the narrative of mental health and the self-awareness of “getting through it” becoming front and centre, will people yearn for the motivational feel-good messaging days of yore?
Will we see the return of the motivational anthem in retail goods? A new generation of customers willing to wear their heart on their sleeve, or a coffee mug.
Do we all just need a hug? Or is it time for a reissue of the original meme – the ‘Hang in there, baby’ poster?
Victor Baldwin’s original “Hang in there, baby” poster featured a black and white photograph of a Siamese kitten clinging to a bamboo pole and was first published in late 1971. By 1973, Baldwin had sold 350,000 copies at $2.00 each. The poster’s popularity spawned imitators, and for a time, dozens of versions were available, with different cats – all with some variation of the “hang in there, baby” text.
Some were bootleg copies of the original, and some were produced by major greeting card and poster publishers. Baldwin had held the copyright to the original photograph since March 1, 1970, and to the poster with text since December 7, 1971. “As a matter of integrity” Baldwin sued each infringement he could find, winning every case. He was awarded just enough to cover legal fees. By the time the poster’s initial popularity had waned, Baldwin estimated over 10 million unauthorised versions and direct copies of the poster had been made.
Power to the poster, indeed.
Damian Totman is a writer and designer based in London. Semi-famous studio works on projects all around the world. In his former lives, Damian was the global creative director of tech giant, Bloomberg. He has owned and run an agency in New York, and worked in lots of creative companies with long sets of initials on the door. He's selectively opinionated.