Election Days

Page 5 – Peddling politicians

Early election campaigns were dominated by public meetings, with candidates speaking from the hustings or in local halls, and face-to-face contact with electors. Given the printing technology of the time, election posters, hoardings and leaflets were invariably simple. Many offered nothing more than a message to 'Vote for ____' or vague descriptions of candidates as 'Independents' or 'Liberals'.

From the late 19th century, though, electoral advertising gradually improved in sophistication to include stylistic flourishes, symbols and photographs of candidates. Even so, content was still more important than form, and as late as the 1920s it was common for posters to contain very detailed information outlining candidates' policies, experience or character.

'Coats off with Coates'

The Reform Party's successful campaign in 1925, which was run by Bert Davy, set a new benchmark in New Zealand electioneering. Davy used the latest techniques from the commercial advertising industry to fashion an American-style presidential campaign. Instead of explaining detailed policies, Reform's advertising focused on the character of Prime Minister Gordon Coates, and employed bold imagery and simple slogans such as 'Coates and Confidence', 'Coats off with Coates' and 'Safety, Stability, Progress'.

Labour politician John A. Lee was a candidate in the 1925 election. He recalled how:

We had the Prime Minister's photo coming to us in the morning news, in the evening news, wrapped around sausages, wrapped around fish. The Reform Party advertised the Prime Minister much in the same way that an advertising agency would peddle pills, soap, corn-cure, or backache plaster.

How to cite this page

'Peddling politicians', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/election-day/peddling-politicians, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012