A sign of the times?

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Written by Scott Schmidt for the Sun Times   
Wednesday, 06 October 2010 19:58


The signs are everywhere.
   Another civic election is upon us and whether you’ve had multiple knocks on the door from candidates or you’ve debated recycling and/or arts funding while in line at the grocery store, the signs of democracy are unmistakable.
Of course you may have noticed another sign or two. Or 52. Or 252. Or, well, you get the idea. The real signs of civic election time are clearly signs themselves, as tiny supportive billboards take over city streets in an attempt to sway your vote as you drive by.
Unfortunately, while not every candidate uses signs in their campaign, a high percentage does and with six mayoral hopefuls and 30 more running for alderman, the word “cluster” comes to mind awful quickly.
Well, that congestion has sparked quite an election sidebar, as debate is surfacing regarding the necessity and effectiveness, as well as the waste the signs potentially create.
The use of signs is certainly not new and the theory behind them is obvious. Candidates — especially those vying for an alderman spot — have a major challenge in their campaign in terms of making a name with voters and a sign is an inexpensive way of doing that. And there are also likely voters who only check the box of those names they have seen on every street corner. However, regardless of the point behind all the signage, there seems to be an increasing number of those who find them to be a real nuisance. A recent letter to the editor in The Lethbridge Herald by city man Harry Sugimoto stressed his concern with the waste created and suggested a way to keep everyone happy.
“Would it not be a refreshing change if each candidate was restricted to a minimal, fixed number of signs to display around the city,” the letter asked. “Then truly the creativity and innovation demonstrated by that candidate to maximize his or her exposure under such a restriction may become a meaningful decision making tool for some of us.”
His letter stated he might even choose the candidate who uses the least amount of signs. Sugimoto declined to comment further in a phone interview, stating he’d made his point but did re-clarify that he isn’t completely against the use of signs, just the excess of it all.
Kim Siever, an active voice in the voting community, who has been involved in multiple conversations through social networking such as Twitter over the subject, says what’s worse is the corrugated plastic most candidates use for the signs is headed straight for the city’s landfill.
“The materials they are made out of aren’t recyclable like paper and so the only way they’d be able to reuse them is if they run again,” says Siever. “But if you don’t, the only other option is to store them forever or throw them away.
“Some use paper and other recyclables but the traditional plastic ones are not recyclable. But then there is also the issue of the visual environment; the clutter they leave.”
Another issue Siever brought up is the distraction to drivers being caused by the pure volume, as some of the busier sections of roadway have signs posted every 10-15 feet and it would be relatively impossible to successfully read them all.
And it’s that fact which Sameer Deshpande stresses as being what truly works against the candidates using signs as a marketing tool.
“If you are going to look at the ways to market yourself, you can look at three media options: electronic, print and outdoor,” says Deshpande, an associate professor in marketing at the University of Lethbridge. “Each of them has a role to play and each has some strength and weaknesses. But of the three media options, outdoor is the least effective. If an entire campaign relies on outdoor advertising, that would be problematic.
“Election signs are mostly a medium for cars and am I going to see them as I’m driving by? There are so many of them many drivers will just ignore them.”
Deshpande says if inexpensive is what candidates are after — as signs are in terms of advertising dollars — then social networking is where they should be focused.
“Social media is the place to go right now. It can do a wonderful job for you and it’s free. Plus people are spending more time online than they are watching TV or listening to the radio.”
Deshpande says a broadened approach to marketing is the most effective, where one uses various forms from various mediums but said he didn’t believe a candidate was in any way missing out if they don’t have any signs up.
And who knows, with more citizens like Sugimoto starting to make their voices heard, they might even gain a few votes because of it.



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