“In the future there will be a world with no flags,” proclaimed Schmidt, played by actor Hugo Weaving, as he tried to hold off imminent defeat. As some of you can already figure out, I recently watched Captain America: The First Avenger, the much anticipated film release from Marvel Studios. I will admit that I had a lot of skepticism about the quality of this film while going to see it. I worried it was going to be yet another corny, poorly executed action film that would that would lack the quality needed to be taken seriously, let alone be enjoyable. What did eventually bring me to see the “Captain America” was part of its promotional campaign: posters designed in the style of propaganda posters from the early World War II era – the period in which the film is set.
This clever use of the design style was a brilliant marketing strategy: it used effective graphic design which was also relevant to the film (see below for examples). This enabled the production of effective visual communication pieces that not only got the message of the film out, but it was part of the user experience that allowed the viewer to quickly get a sense of the world they would be stepping into with the film. This approach is far more clever than those typically employed with film promotion posters. These designs were not seen in theaters (as far as I saw) but circulated around the web. It is also to be said that not all films can use this strategy – or can they? I can recall several films who attempted this approach, such as Wall-E, but did it half-heartedly or gave it so little public exposure it was ineffective. (Examples). An example of a film that used this strategy and did it well? Cars 2 (posters by artist Eric Tan).
At the end of the film also came another surprised relating to this promotional strategy. No, it was not the teaser at the end of the credits. The surprise was actually the credits themselves. To continue the user experience and tie the promotional material more strongly into the film (not to keep design geeks in their seats) the film producers used 3D rendering, animation, and depth effects on classic American propaganda posters from the World War II period and tied them in with the credit typography. Bravo, Marvel, bravo!
So what makes propaganda posters so great in the first place? Simply put, a majority of posters from the World War II are some of the most effective examples of visual communications in existence. (Okay, a close tie to classic Swiss graphic design). As one of the best users of propaganda, Adolf Hitler said, “By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise.” And these pieces achieve just that. See some brilliant examples below.
As the first poster demonstrates. There is a very clear and clever use of both the typographic and graphic elements of the design: the color choices are high contrast, the illustration and type provide an easy flow throughout the piece, and the copy is written very clearly however leaves room for to sometimes carry deeper meanings than initially found at first glance. The second poster “(2)”, which is from the same series, follows all of these design principles and takes it further by playing with the type for the word “England” and putting it onto an active graphic element within the composition thus better tying the copy, the graphic elements, and the meanings together in a more visual, yet stronger way.
(2) World War 2 Propoganda poster "Careless Talk"
What these posters are doing is what every piece of advertising you see everyday attempts to accomplish: a clear message, a well executed image, and something clever for the mind to latch on to and thus increase the retention of the message. Think about it, does a lot of the advertisements you see achieve this? Sadly, no. The execution of many pieces seen today is ruined by artists adding fluff (effects, too many graphic elements, etc.) to the visuals and as minimal copy as possible.
The visuals here are well executed, and often well detailed, but were done so with great care given to the delivery of the message. Follow the illustration of the arm in the next image – it provides a very clear direction for the eye to travel. Even down to the vain in the hand plays a part in moving the eye through the image and connects it to other details in the composition that can be used to move the eye from the top left corner of the poster to the bottom right. Even the details play a role in achieving a successful execution all the while adding great visual detail. See below for even more great posters that demonstrate these concepts.
To conclude this all together – referring to classic print design pays off. The execution of the propaganda style promotional poster, which both fit the time and style in which the film was set, brought a skeptical consumer and converted them into a paying consumer. Which means someone’s marketing dollars were well spent. I hope more designers take notice of this strategy, and the artists who do it brilliantly, and move in this direction. It helps start the customer experience far before stepping into the venue. However, when doing it, look at the classics and understand why they are just that. Step away from pretty details that don’t contribute to the experience of the end product. Remember, the promotional poster is to drive the user experience of the product in which it is promoting, it is not to drive it’s own unique consumer experience. And to those who are curious – yes, I enjoyed Captain America. Go see it!
Images: Various sources all found through this search on Google.
Eric Tan posters: http://erictanart.blogspot.com/
Learn more about my work and connect with me.
CONNECTIONS: Flickr | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Tumblr | Zerply