Hamilton municipal election: Do election signs matter?

Federal election signs for competing parties in Markham in the Greater Toronto Area. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Rachel Verbin

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign” – the words of The Five Man Electrical Band’s song Signs come to mind as Ontario municipal election campaigns ramp up.

Election lawn signs certainly seem to be everywhere in and around Hamilton these days.

But in today’s highly digital marketplace – where every message is an online or social media post – do the analog signs still work?

Marketing expert Mike Leon of Brand Heroes Marketing says he thinks signs are losing some of their appeal, but he doesn’t think they are without merit.

“What it does that a social badge or a tag doesn’t do, it creates a very visible, ‘friendly for everyone’ kind of message.”

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He adds that “people will walk or drive past an election sign every day, while people may not necessarily see an online message, or a YouTube video.”

He says that when you talk about classic marketing techniques – lawn signs gets the job done.

“When we talk about reach and frequency – can people recall something when they make a decision?” He says if you see a brand often enough, when it comes time to buy the product, you’ll think of that brand.

“It sends a message to people that ‘I’m seeing that name again and again,’ which if they’re not fully decided on who they’ll vote for, that can actually help lead them to that, so I think the influence level is very high.”

Click to play video: 'Municipal election sign rules vary from one Ontario municipality to another'
Municipal election sign rules vary from one Ontario municipality to another

But if you are putting out lawn signs, don’t overdo it. Leon says if you put out dozens of signs on public land, you run the risk of people ignoring them.

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“Because of the ubiquity of social media, they’re used to having so many messages coming to them so if they’re in an environment where it’s a given you’ll see a lot of signs you’ll say ‘so what, that doesn’t say anything about the individual.’ But if you walk down the street and you see someone’s lawn and has a large lawn sign, that may say something.”

In that way, Leon says, physical lawn signs could be actually more effective that online ones.

“It’s entirely possible that a digital asset may pass somebody by and not get on their radar – while an actual physical sign somebody will remember.”

The highly visible, often colourful displays beacon out to residents as voting day approaches. But unlike the federal or provincial elections, municipal candidates can use whatever colour they wish.

“Colour has meaning behind it,” says Leon. “People will often associate themselves with certain colours because that’s a shortcut to help get someone who doesn’t know them understand what they’re like.”

“If I ask a candidate why did they choose a colour, the answer should not be ‘because I like that colour.’ The answer should be ‘this is my personality and this is the message I want to send out into the world.'”

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Election day is Oct. 24.

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