Friday 13 December 2019

Fergus Finlay: the Mary Robinson poster that we got right and the Brian Hayes smile that glows in the dark

Brian Hayes. Photo: Barry Cronin.
Brian Hayes. Photo: Barry Cronin.
Mary Robinson's 1990 election poster
John Meagher

John Meagher

Fergus Finlay knows more than most about the power of an election poster, having advised the Labour Party from the Dick Spring years of the early 1980s through to the late 1990s.

He was part of the team that created one of the most memorable images in Irish electoral history – Mary Robinson's black-and-white poster for the 1990 presidential campaign.

"It was a striking image of her and had a really strong slogan – 'A President with a Purpose' – that was written by the advertising copywriter Catherine Donnelly. Like all the best posters, it had a simple, clear, honest message."

But its conception was not without its problems. "Mary Robinson's people didn't want to use Labour's rose symbol and we insisted on it, so a compromise had to be reached," he says. "They went off and redesigned the rose and presented it to us in a colour I thought was brown and they considered terracotta. We insisted it be changed to red because the original they came up with looked like a cow pat."

Finlay believes election posters remain important because, he argues, "it is simply not an option to opt out of putting them up. You have to let the electorate know you are standing. Every other candidate is doing it – you can't not."

He believes they are especially important for local elections because they help introduce candidates to the populace for the first time. But he feels the Euro election posters have a negligible impact on voters. "It's a waste of money, to be honest. I was in Kildare the other day looking at all those Brian Crowley posters and thought 'what's the point?'"

Finlay reckons bad posters are those that are "obviously touched up" and he says the worst example on the streets today is to be found on the poster of Fine Gael's European candidate, Brian Hayes. "It looks nothing like Brian Hayes. And the teeth seem to glow in the dark. It's never a good thing when people are laughing about your poster. A good poster should never look funny."

Sometimes, he says, the simplest things can conspire to make poster design difficult. "You want as few words as possible on a poster so it's not ideal when candidates have double-barrelled names. I found that when I worked with [former Kerry TD] Breeda Moynihan-Cronin. Try squeezing all that onto a poster."

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