Iraq’s electoral ad campaign: No winners !

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اضغط هنا للقراءة بالعربية

Published by Al Rai, a Kuwaiti newspaper  on April 12, 2014

Nearly 9020 Iraqi parliamentary candidates on Tuesday (April 1st) kicked off their campaigns in preparation for the elections due to take place on April 30th.

Thousands of posters adorned the streets of the Iraqi capital Baghdad and other provinces. The war of the posters is expected to worsen as the date of election approaches, even though many observers have little faith that these would change voters’ convictions in a country ruled by sectarian and tribal loyalties.

There has been great deal of criticism of these ad campaigns in the traditional and social media that also included Iraq’s Independent Higher Commission of Elections (IHCE).

Choosing April’s fool day as a date to launch the official campaigning was certainly not the ideal choice. Some local newspapers and social media users mocked the choice saying it speaks for candidates’ personalities whom they described as “liars”.

Choosing the right timing is a highly specialized art. It can help or hinder any campaign. Planners need to check holidays, special days, and events in order to take advantage of specials days, which can bring added incentive to accelerate or disrupt the candidate’s   momentum if poorly chosen

A glimpse at these posters reveals that the ad professionals, if any, who were behind these designs failed to demonstrate any creativity to cut through the political fog.  It also shows that many of them have opted for an easy way to win the voters’ approvals by simply highlighting their candidate’s tribal and sect affiliations.

Tribal and families ties with well known social figures or political officials were recurrent in many posters. For instance, one poster for a candidate from Kerbala province indicated that he is a nephew of Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki. Likewise, some conservative female candidates used photographs of their male relatives instead of their own, abiding to strict tribal and religious customs that forbid women from showing their faces.

Endorsement of grand clerics and senior army officers were another common theme that many candidates sought to include in their printed materials or Facebook pages.  One candidate, who is part of PM Nuri Al Maliki’s list “State of Law,” published on his Facebook page a photo of himself presenting an appreciation plaque to an Iraqi army brigade commander, something which many saw as a violation of the rules set by the IHEC.

In a clear indication of how sectarian basis and religious convictions rule the country, some candidates included in their printed material religious symbols such as the book of Qu’ran while some posters indicated that the candidate was ordered by prophet Mohammed to run. One poster suggested that the candidate was originally a Christian and chose to convert to Islam.

School credentials, particularly the candidate’s field of study or job title were a recurrent line in many posters, yet some had spelling or typo mistakes.

However, the most notable thing about candidate’s banners and posters their usage of slogans and designs which many of which seemed boring and staid affairs.

In an election campaign, slogans are highly important as they usually mirror and underscore the candidate’s ideas and thought process, i.e. it should tie to the campaign message and explain in few catchy words why this candidate is running for election.

It is also highly preferable that slogans would tie to core human values that everyone should desire such as fairness, equality, safety, and stability.

A slogan must be memorable. It needs to be short and snappy.

Few electoral lists and alliances remained consistent with their poster design. Members of these alliances seem to have different slogans, logos, colors and fonts, from those used by the leaders who had a better quality of design.

It is important however, to emphasize that actions speak louder than words.  No matter how good the ad campaign is, there is little it can do to improve a politician’s credibility among voters who have had enough time over the past years to test his potential and real capabilities.

Many of 2014 candidates are part of the current government or parliament, which is widely seen by the people as corrupt. Accordingly, the credibility of these candidates is severely damaged by their failure to accomplish what they have been promising over the past years.

Source credibility plays a big role in communications. PR specialists believe that people are more likely to be persuaded if the person doing the persuading is seen as an expert and trustworthy and someone with goodwill.

In this context, Iraqi candidates need to highlight in their ad campaigns these three factors in mind. To persuade the public since many of them seem to have unfavorable record in all three areas, their mission is going to be difficult. Those with certain physical attractiveness or charisma should emphasize these characteristics In fact; some communication theories suggest that attractive communicators are more successful than unattractive ones in changing beliefs, as are people who are generally likable.  The same can be said about gender and ethnicity of the candidate which PR theorists say matters highly in political communication.

In the context of Iraqi elections, in which ethnicity and sectarian lines are of supreme importance,  the smartest PR specialists may find it challenging to overcome sectarian affiliation.

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