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Opinionista

Julius Malema is the best poster boy for local elections

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Ian von Memerty is a Zimbabwean-born South African entertainer, actor, singer, musician, writer, director and television presenter.

Ask any businessman: it doesn't matter how good the product is if you don't know how to sell it. As the political parties' recent registration drive campaign posters prove, the EFF are by far the best political communicators in the country.

Why does the EFF get so much media coverage? One of the reasons is because as communicators, they are streets ahead of the competition. Check out the registration street posters and you will understand exactly how the EFF leaves the DA and the ANC playing catch-up when it comes to sales and marketing. The three registration posters of the main SA parties are very useful if seen side by side.

The ANC has the most insightful poster. For the first time in 22 years their poster is faceless. Obviously, this is because the face that does lead their party is likely to be a liability at the polls later in the year. Even when their poster was designed back in January/February, long before the current Zupta debacle, there was obviously uncertainty about whether JZ was going to be around to lead them into an election. And if he is still around – how much damage will he do to the party if he is featured?

But: they do know how to design a street poster. So back to the basics they went. That brand of yellow, green and black is historically powerful. The image of the ID document has a subliminal message about personal rights, and the call to action is clear. Unemotional and dry, but clear.

The slogan “The future is in your hands” is empowering and personal, and tackles the issue of getting new voters to feel like they matter, which is always the real battle, especially with young voters (and this is not just a South African problem).

The loser is (again) the DA. Their poster campaigns over the last two elections have been so badly executed as to verge on the amateurish. This is their best attempt yet but it is still filled with basic errors.

What did they get right? Well, by taking the SA flag and adapting it they are saying they are a party for all South Africans, and the converging lines have a real sense of momentum. For the first time they managed to get black on to the poster as part of the design – which for subliminal messaging is vital.

But there is still a lot wrong. The brightest and most dominating image on the poster? The white shirt that Maimane is wearing – which is wrong for two reasons. First, the DA is fighting an outdated perception about being a “whites only” party, and it may seem trivial but that big bland slab of white hanging around his neck sends the wrong message. Second, from a technical point of view, Maimane has a very dark skin, so a white shirt will dominate his face. There are specific techniques needed to photograph black skin against pale clothes, and the choice of background and lighting are vital to ensure very dark skin has impact.

The biggest mistake is what should be the most important thing on the poster: Maimane’s face, which is small and dark. He has a great smile, and passion, and the women say he is the best-looking leader in the country – so use that. About 20 percent of the poster is a grey suit and white shirt – could they be more boring? To crack cool, which is what I think they were aiming for, takes a real understanding between the balance of understatement and boldness. His face needed to “lead” the whole poster.

The message is ambivalent. Change is not necessarily change for the better, and change can also be about going backwards (which is what the ANC and EFF want potential voters to believe). Compare the size of the word Register on the DA poster with the ANC and EFF posters – the call to action is the smallest text on the DA poster.

The EFF has the most exciting poster and from a technical design perspective it achieves nearly everything that the EFF stands for. Malema’s confident, smiling face is the strongest and brightest image on the poster. It is a party built around his personality and they are using it. The yellow design behind him has energy, youth and movement. And that confident smiling image projects hope and power.

By simply adjusting the vibrant red of the party to a rust red they ensure that JuJu’s face stands out brightly, and that the text is clearly seen. And the call to action is unequivocal – REGISTER TO VOTE EFF. The poster tells you why you should register, who you should support when you register, and the face tells you how you will feel when you do that.

And ultimately that is what all the parties want. They don’t want new voters to register, they want new voters to register who will vote for them. How is it that the youngest, most chaotic and most inexperienced party in the country gets that right? Ask any successful businessman, you can have the best product and the strongest brand in the world, but if you don’t sell it right you will fail. And one of the reasons the EFF is in the headlines, despite a set of policies that have failed everywhere else, is because they know how to sell. DM

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