Did you know that this year is a landmark year as it marks 100 years since the end of the first World War? Between 1914 and 1918, most of Europe, Russia, the USA and the Middle East were involved in what is considered to be one of the bloodiest wars ever, with approximately 35 million casualties.

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The UK rallied together as the community spirit soared and people from all occupational backgrounds pooled together to contribute towards the war effort. Back in the day, they didn’t have the internet, and the media presence was far less efficient and slower than what we are used to today. Advertisements became an essential component of mobilising moral and letting everyone know how they could help their country.

With the expert assistance from Where The Trade Buys, a UK outdoor banner printing company, this guide features some of the most creative and iconic World War I posters — including how successful or unsuccessful they were! See how many you recognise.

The Women’s Land Army

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Some of the most recognisable wartime memorabilia from World War I and II come from the Women’s Land Army (WLA) recruitment posters. By the end of the first year of World War I, more than one million men had been recruited to the British Army. By the end of the conflict, that number had hit around five million. To help feed those citizens left at home and help with the workforce shortage, women were employed and formed the Land Army.

What made it do so well?

Launched in World War I, the advert was created to encourage young women to begin work in agriculture. Often referred to as ‘Land Girls’, some farmers were hesitant or even completely against using female workers, despite the dire situation. Others even felt that the choice of WLA uniform was too masculine.

So why was this advert so powerful? Women who were sick of their domesticated lifestyles and dress codes relished the opportunity to ditch their mundane lives and prove themselves, as well as actively helping out with the war effort. The image of a woman dressed in loose dungarees and working in a field showed that this was the perfect time to prove that they were equally as strong and capable as male labourers. Just two years after its launch in 1915, there were over a quarter of a million women working on British farms, with approximately 23,000 in the Women’s Land Army.

Keep Calm and Carry On

We are all familiar with this poster – it’s legacy lives on today. The Keep Calm and Carry On poster, launched in 1939, was part of a huge motivational campaign, which included ads featuring the slogans: ‘Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might’ and ‘Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory’. The punchy phrase and crown image of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster were designed to quell hysteria and instil a collective feeling of togetherness, community spirit, and, most importantly, ‘Britishness’ to help people cope with the tragedies of war.

What made it do so well?

Surprisingly, this poster never reached it’s intended potential. Around 2.45 million posters were printed, yet ‘Keep calm and carry on’ was never actually authorised for display. The other two designs also only had a very limited showing before they were scrapped.

The poster was actually negatively received by a large group of people. It turns out that the slogans were the issue, with many people finding them patronising, ambiguous and inappropriate. The were designed to rally moral as the government expected the nation to be hit by bombing after bombing. However, when the mass destruction and countless casualties didn’t actually happen, the dramatic mottos didn’t make much sense. Many people also interpreted the ‘your courage will bring us victory’ as soldiers and the general public must make sacrifices on behalf of the upper classes and high-ranking army officials, which added to their lack of appeal.

Luckily, for the sake of preserving an otherwise archaic piece of history, an original copy of the ‘Keep calm and carry on’ poster was rediscovered in Alnwick in 2000 and the saying has been reused on mugs, pens, t-shirts and other merchandise with much success ever since!

Britons Join Your Country’s Army

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My favourite wartime poster and probably the most recognisable, due to its ‘less is more’ approach, this WW1 poster was designed by Alfred Leete. It features the British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, pointing at the reader above the slogan ‘wants you’. At the time, Lord Horatio Kitchener was a well-known and very respected military leader and statesman to the public — an opinion not necessarily shared by all of his cabinet peers.

Despite what the critics said, this poster went on to do exceedingly well. The government were able to encourage millions of men to enlist. It’s also reported that there was a significant spike in volunteers putting themselves forward to join the army immediately after the poster’s launch in September 1914.

What made it do so well?

There is more than meets the eye with this poster. It design went through a strategic design process. This recruitment design cleverly uses a selection of tactics to evoke the response it wants from its audience. The emboldened ‘BRITONS’ text and insertion of ‘God save the king’ had a massive influential effect and inspired patriotism. The image of the Lord Kitchener pointing made the poster seem personal to each viewer. The call-to-action — ‘Join your country’s army!’ — is also clear and concise, while the use of red text grabbed the reader’s attention.

Dig for Victory

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The demand for home grown produce was skyrocketing during the war effort, and in 2018, most people still recognise the slogan ‘Dig for victory’ and it’s association with the war’s agricultural push. During the 1939-1945 conflict, feeding those left at home became a great concern and something needed to be done to reduce the country’s reliance on imported produce.

About a month before the outbreak of World War II, the Ministry of Agriculture launched the ‘Dig for victory’ poster in order to encourage the public to grow their own food to ease the pressure on rationing. This campaign was international, with ‘victory gardens’ proving just as popular in countries like Canada, Australia and the US.

What made it do so well?

Amazingly, before too long, the busy urban landscape underwent a serious transofrmation. Many of the city’s parks, sports fields and back gardens were used as makeshift allotments; even the lawn next to the Tower of London was used to grow vegetables!

Simplicity was the secret ingredient to this posters success. The slogan ‘Dig for victory’ has all the tools to inspire a response: a simple action (dig) to secure an essential outcome (victory). Again the poster utalised the eye-catching bold red font and a simple close-up of a ‘Brit at work’, ensuring the poster grabs the viewer’s attention and implants a sense of ‘taking action’ to make a difference. Reportedly, the number of allotments across the country reached around 1.75 million following the launch of the ‘Dig for victory’!

Air Raid Shelter warning poster

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Things weren’t just happening on the ground during the war – attacks were also coming from the skies as aircrafts would bomb entire cities in just once sweep. Because of this, preparations needed to be made. Air raid shelters became essential for public safety and there were lots of temporary shelters set up all over the cities. In fact, up to 300,000 people used underground stations from 1915 onwards!

You would see one of these posters on or near to any nearby air raid shelters to make it clear where these sanctuaries were — and what you could take in with you.

What made it do so well?

Despite this being less of a visual advertisement and focusing more on text-based instructions, this was still a vital poster during the war. It had an important purpose and it served it well. The poster used different sized fonts and separate information into levels of importance – the first line is the location of the shelter, the second is that any injury obtained is the fault of the wounded persons and the last informs the reader that some creatures and objects are forbidden.

Around double the number of people used tube stations to shelter from bombings between May 1917 and May 1918 than during The Blitz attacks of 1940.

Are You in This?

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Created by Scouts founder, Robert Baden Powell, this poster was first produced in 1915 and features a mix of people carrying out various war-related jobs, with the slogan ‘Are you in this?’.

The use of the rhetorical question had a big impact on the British people. The advert effectively asked you to evaluate your personal war effort — are you helping the wounded, working in munitions, building vital machinery, fighting in the armed forces, or simply strolling around with your hands in your pockets?

What made it do so well?

This poster was another example of ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’, relying on the simplicity to impact the public. A strong image immediately provokes an emotional response and is able to achieve the desired effect faster than text would.

Additionally, due to this poster being target towards everyone, rather than a specific gender or worker, it was largely successful. Due to the fact this ad was not targeted at any particular gender or worker, rather more an open net, it ended up being largely successful. Relegated to the edge of the poster with his hands idly in his pockets is a man that few viewers would feel a positive connection to as he’s not contributing.

 

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