In this essay I am going to be discussing how WW1propaganda posters were composed in order to guilt and persuade men to join thearmy. The invention of lithography, a printing process where a treatedflat surface repels the ink expect where it is required for printing, allowedcountries to mass-produce advertising posters to reach a wide audience,resulting in a huge response.
This essay also looks at how the famous “LordKitchener Wants You” British propaganda poster by Alfred Leete inspired othercountries to create a similar poster, which had been proven to work incredibly well, withmore than 1 million joining the armed forces voluntarily. Propaganda is theart of influence that seeks to manipulate the attitude of a group of peopletowards a cause or political position. By its nature, it’s not impartial and isusually biased.
It is often selective with the facts or truths it presents, andwill often appeal to fears or concerns of the group it is targeting. Over time,propaganda has acquired strongly negative connotations and can seem quite out-datedby today’s standards. However, during both World Wars, propaganda posterscaught the eye and influenced the populace, with their striking artistic style thatstill ripples through art to this day. World War I was the firstconflict in which the illustrated colour lithographic poster was used aspropaganda. Illustrated posters had proven the most effective means ofadvertising yet invented. During the war, the poster’s accessibility and impactmade it the single most important means of mass communication.
Figure 1. Lord Kitchener “Your Country Needs YOU” (Leete, 1914)In 1914,artist Alfred Leete, created one of the most iconic British propaganda posters,and to this day is one of the most recogniseable/famous posters in the world. Asshown in Figure 1, the poster features a large portrait illustration of LordKitchener, a British military leader, who, as secretary of state in World WarOne, organised armies on a scale that had never been done before. In 1914 theBritish Army had approximately 710,000 men at its disposal. Lord Kitchener recognised that the British Army wasfar too small in comparison to the French and German forces and wanted to buildan army of 70 divisions (a large military unit or formation,usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers).
In August 1914 the British Government called for an extra 100,000volunteer soldiers to come forward. However due to such huge success of theposter they got 750,000 men by the end of September, and by January 1915 morethan 1 million had joined the armed forces voluntarily. The poster uses a combination of textand image to create a significant impact on the country. Alfred Leete, a magazine illustrator, regularlycontributing to Punch magazine, the Strand Magazine, Tatleretc. put together the design in a few hours using apostcard dating from 1895 as inspiration.
Originally the drawing of Kitchenerwasn’t meant for a poster, in fact, the image first appeared in the front coverof the London Opinion magazine on 5 September 1914. The striking image of Kitchener appears to interact with the audience inseveral different ways. Firstly, the stern expression and concentrated gazelooking directly into the eyes of the viewer, gives the effect that Kitcheneris talking personally to the viewer.
The slightly squinted gaze can be interpretedas intimidating to many of its audience, thus leaving a deepimpression on the men that it was aimed at, evidently resulting in guilt if theyfailed to sign up to fight for their country. At the time of WW1 there was a strong class system inBritain and the Commonwealth. The use of a Lord, and one in military uniform,gives the impression that it is an instruction, or order, rather than arequest. The poster was aimed at getting large numbers of working class men toenlist in the Army, to boost the ranks. By using a high profile figure from theUpper Class, aristocracy, pointing and telling the reader, the imagepressurises those used to working for and taking orders from the upper classes. Alfred Leete edited some features of Kitchener such as a wider, squarerface, along and a thicker moustache.
According to Marc Fetscherin, a professor at the international business school, arecent study shows correlation between facial shapes and leadershipperformance. Fetscherin states: (Fetscherin, 2015, p.227) “Facialwidth to height ratio correlates with real world measures of aggressive and ambitiousbehaviour and is associated with a psychological sense of power. It istherefore possible that it could predict leadership performance.”This shows that not only are there scientific studies and evidence that showsfacial correlations with leadership, to some this could mean that itmakes Kitchener appear more dominant, ambitious and powerful. As well as thechange in facial shape, Leete also gave the appearance of a thicker moustache.
Themoustache has been known to represent a man’s virility. In the 1900’s mennot only considered the moustache an expression of masculinity, strength andcourage but also a symbol of style and sophistication. All of these changes puttogether helped encourage young men to sign up, showing that the leaders andsoldiers are perceived as masculine, dominant figures meaning more people willwant to follow suit. Arguably one of the most iconic elements ofthe poster is Kitchener’s finger pointing straight out fixing the reader with hisgaze. In some cultures including British, it is considered rude to point yourfinger at others. The hand image as a metaphor makes the poster moreeffective and attractive by strengthening and enriching its language ofexpression.
This is a handgesture that shows indication of dominance upon someone in a lower position.Pointing of the finger is a way of singling out an individual and making itpersonal. The gesture is often seen as aggressive and usually used by someonethat wants dominance. Here Lord Kitchener is using his finger as a weapon of persuasion.
Kitchener was seen as an authoritative figure therefore viewers of the posterfelt as though they had to comply with what they were being told to do. In hisbook, Robert Caialdini, (Cialdini, 2006, p.163) suggests “conforming to the dictates ofauthority figures has always had genuine practical advantages for us. Early on, these people (for example, parents,teachers) knew more than we did, and we found that taking their advice provedbeneficial—partly because of their greater wisdom and partly because theycontrolled our rewards and punishments.” This shows that obeying orders from anauthoritative figure usually would prove great beneficial for the individualthus therefore encouraged men to sign up to the army however on the other handthey may be obeying because of the fear ofconsequences if they refuse to do so. The absence of other body parts in the image meansthat the reader focuses on the finger, and the authoritarian face.
If the restof the body were there, then the reader’s eye might start wandering, looking atthe uniform, the gold braid or the medal ribbons. By only having the head andhand, the artist has limited the amount of content and focuses the readerattention completely. The other main feature of this poster that grabspeoples attention is the word ‘YOU’. The word is in large capital letters, and alongwith the illustration, it dominates the poster. This is designed to capture thereader straight away, and make them relate the message to themselves.
If theposter had said ‘Your Country Needs MEN’ then there is no ownership of theissue for the reader. The fact that is says ‘YOU’ and has the finger pointingat the reader, gives a powerful message with instantly places responsibilityonto the reader using manipulation of emotion. As Liz Mcquiston (McQuiston, 1995, p.
20) states,”British posters had a much tougher psychological grip on their audience.Britain entered the war with no conscription and relied on volunteers, andconsequently British posters often employed scare tactics (claiming atrocities committedby the enemy) or attempted to shame men into volunteering with implication ofcowardice and loss of honour”. The choice in typographic hierarchy and wordingof the poster plays a huge part in the way the audience reacts. To get thedesired response to this poster (i.e. to enroll in the army) self-generatedpersuasion is being used.
This means that the audience reads the message and determinestheir own solution. Anthony Pratkanis states that (Pratkanis. 2007, p.41) “Oneof the most effective means of influence is to design the situation subtly sothat the target generates arguments in support of a position and therebypersuades herself or himself.” This suggests that self-generated persuasion hasmore lasting implications because the individual feels a greater responsibilityfor the decision made.
In other words, the statement ‘Your country need you’should promote more internal evaluation than if the tag line had been ‘Enrollto the army’ and hence is more likely to result in the desired outcome. Figure 2. “Britons Join Your Country’s Army!”(Leete, 1914)While the original version of the poster wasdrawn by hand, a second poster was uniqueamong, British designs in that it used a photograph for its portrait of LordKitchener. It was reproduced adding someextra text and colour.
The poster now featured large writing at the top, whichread “BRITONS” this helps to enhance the fact that the people of Britain neededto come together in order to help protect the country. The invention oflithography and letterpress enabled printers to produce huge numbers of theposter, allowing them to plaster them on every surface they could find. Colours have been used for psychological purposes forcenturies. Colour was first used in advertising during the industrial revolution and its use initially attracteda lot of attention because the ads that utilized it stood out from the blackand white crowd. Not only do the colours make the poster stand out more, they arealso closely linked to the patriotic colours of Britain.
The colour red hasmany semiotic meanings, which can suggest there was a deeper meaning for theuse of red. For example love, seduction, violence, danger, anger, power andwealth. Our prehistoric ancestors saw red as thecolour of fire and blood – energy and primal life forces. To this day, most ofred’s symbolism arises from its powerful associations in the past. The poster sought to ‘cash in’ on the patriotic hysteria at thebeginning of the war, with the anti German feeling, and the belief that ‘itwill all be over by Christmas’.
Kitchener was trying to raise a volunteer Army,quickly. For this he needed willing volunteers, and the poster was used torecruit ‘Kitchener’s Army’. The Army knew that peer pressure would be a goodrecruiting tool, so they created what became known as ‘Pals Battalions’, thesewere Battalions within the Army where men from local areas could join together,train together and fight together as one unit.Figure 3.
Uncle Sam “I WANT YOU FOR U.S. ARMY” (Flagg, J. 1917)Alfred Leete’s design proved soeffective that it was picked up in other countries, such as the US to advertisetheir own recruitment campaigns. The most enduring imitation is the Uncle Samposter (Figure 3) used to encourage recruits into the United States army –reproduced three years later in time for the American entry to the First WorldWar in 1917. JamesMontgomery Flagg was an American artist and illustrator.
He worked in mediaranging from fine art painting to cartooning, but is best remembered for hispolitical posters. Flagg was responsible for bringing the character of Uncle Sam alive,modelling the character on himself and adding some elements such as a beard,longer hair and an older face, this could have been seen to create more of afather figure look as well as showing slight vulnerability/fragility. Once the character had been created, Flagglooked for inspiration for the rest of the poster and came across AlfredLeete’s poster, which had been proven to work incredibly well for therecruitment process. Flagg gave Uncle Sam the same pose as Lord Kitchener andadded some similar persuasive text. However, due to the way the Uncle Samposter has been composed, it feels a lot less aggressive compared to the LordKitchener poster.
More colours have been used giving a playful affect on theposter as well as the typography being mostly all the same size, which doesn’tcreate a big personal impact like Britain’s poster. The poster was printedmore than 4 million times in the final year of World War I, according to theLibrary of Congress. In conclusion to this essay, from my analysis it is evident that the wayin which propaganda posters were composed had aprofound impact on its audience with the use of commanding illustrations,typographic hierarchy/wording and patriotic colours. These posters featured inmy essay, succeeded in persuading men to join the army resulting in recordnumber of volunteers.