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Photos of Candidates in Political Campaigns

Here at The Insight Company, we’re all about the behavioral sciences. That's how the brain reacts and interacts with the world around it. Our job (it’s more fun than work) is to help design spaces and products to navigate through the biases of the human brain and be truly human proof.

It turns out political candidates are products too.

And so we have been approached by candidates standing for election to help them bridge the gap between what they want to say, and what their constituents tend to hear. After they agreed to our terms (we are not here to manipulate but to help the people fully understand the message), we decided to give it a go.

There are a great many steps to the process of designing a political message. They are fascinating but extensive, so we will get to them all in the upcoming posts. For now, let’s begin with what happened when we asked to see their current graphic material.

As our inbox began to be filled with images, a theme became clear. The same posters with a torso and awkward smile tilted half away from the camera, with no background or context to be found. There is no way our primal, hunting, mating, tribe breathing brain responds to this. Research was required.

The research revealed two things: First, it made it clear that these sorts of images are common practice in municipal elections just about everywhere in the world. Second, as we thought, research showed this is just about the worst possible image of a political candidate possible.

Believe it or not, the human brain finds it difficult to make up its mind about most things. So much so, that it actively searches for external cues to tell it what to think. The most important element in our enjoyment of wine is the label on the bottle. When ready meal, microwaved lasagne is served to us in a gourmet restaurant setting, we consider it the best lasagne we have ever eaten, rather than the inedible gloup we eat at home. Candidate images are no different.

Is our candidate smart? How about confident or well respected in the community? Are other people voting for him or her? Does he or she care about the things I care about? Which of these questions can be answered by a torso image, smiling at the camera with the background photoshopped out?

Now that we established what is wrong, let’s talk about how we corrected the problem.

The task of giving a political candidate context is simple. Choose images with a narrative. Action is required to create context. An image of a candidate listening to people like us (working parents, pensioners, blue collar workers). A crowd of people like us listening to the candidate. The candidate commanding respect from figures of authority (police officers, business people, community leaders). All of these fit the bill.

The narrative should always be one of these three options: The candidate listens to people like you (part of my tribe), The candidate is followed by many people (social proof), and the candidate is a strong leader (potents).

These options are not much different to those placed on a digital landing page. A good banner image depicts the user’s hopes and dreams. A university registration website would have students happily sitting on the campus grass laughing, for example (that’s still my academic fantasy despite never doing so over the many years I spent in academia). Customer logos and news articles links show social proof, and screenshots show how amazing the product actually is.

I’m not sure why conventional wisdom is so far off base with reality, but it just lets us know there is still a lot to do. As of the time of writing this post, the campaign is still running strong. Soon, we hope, results will come in and we will see how many of these solutions actually pan out. It’s a behavioral experiment in election form.

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