Political communications are packed with semiotic signs and symbols and are some of the clearest examples out there of how semiotics makes communications persuasive. Over about 13 years, Lawes has delivered several research papers to industry conferences showing how to decode political advertising and also how to make sense of consumer responses to political issues. These responses can range from very serious debates about national and class identity through to spoof ads which are powerful tools that consumers – and sometimes rival professionals – use to tell politicians how they really feel. Titles include The semiotics of political advertising (2015), Understanding engagement with political advertising (2007) and Unamerican: The semiotics of national identity (2005).

Did you know?

  • ‘Labour isn’t working’, a campaign poster for the Conservatives by Saatchi and Saatchi is one of the clearest examples ever seen of a phenomenon called ‘the Western visual semiotic’. According the WVS, Western audiences expect that the past should appear on the left hand side of a frame and the future should be on the right. The Saatchi ad expertly used this principle to show Britain under a Labour government, with a long line of people in a dole queue, all facing towards the left, implying that a Labour vote would be a vote to take Britain back down the path of civilisation and away from prosperity and progress.
  • Politics in the United States particularly lends itself to semiotic analysis because the US is possibly the world’s most binary culture. It is a culture which is at its happiest when everything has been reduced to two, clearly differentiated and competing sides. A challenge for politicians who want to introduce change is to find ways to reconcile change with the components of political and national identity that people want to protect and hold stable. For example, patriotic Americans do not want to give up being patriotic, so liberal reformers have to find ways to reconcile programmes of social change with patriotic instincts.
  • Younger consumers can be quite politically engaged but they are very issues-focused and personality-focused. They believe in direct action but they also trust themselves and hold themselves in higher esteem than they do establishment figureheads. It’s important to address them at the level of consequential, real-world causes and not rely on corporate branding to get the message across. One reason why Islamic State was successful in recruitment was because it promised to be very empowering for individuals who did not necessarily feel that democracy was offering them a lot of advantages.

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