In 1915 more than 1 million had joined the

In this essay I am going to be discussing how WW1
propaganda posters were composed in order to guilt and persuade men to join the
army. The invention of lithography, a printing process where a treated
flat surface repels the ink expect where it is required for printing, allowed
countries to mass-produce advertising posters to reach a wide audience,
resulting in a huge response. This essay also looks at how the famous “Lord
Kitchener Wants You” British propaganda poster by Alfred Leete inspired other
countries to create a similar poster, which had been proven to work incredibly well, with
more than 1 million joining the armed forces voluntarily.


Propaganda is the
art of influence that seeks to manipulate the attitude of a group of people
towards a cause or political position. By its nature, it’s not impartial and is
usually biased. It is often selective with the facts or truths it presents, and
will often appeal to fears or concerns of the group it is targeting. Over time,
propaganda has acquired strongly negative connotations and can seem quite out-dated
by today’s standards. However, during both World Wars, propaganda posters
caught the eye and influenced the populace, with their striking artistic style that
still ripples through art to this day.

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World War I was the first
conflict in which the illustrated colour lithographic poster was used as
propaganda. Illustrated posters had proven the most effective means of
advertising yet invented. During the war, the poster’s accessibility and impact
made it the single most important means of mass communication.

Figure 1. Lord Kitchener “Your Country Needs YOU” (Leete, 1914)

In 1914,
artist Alfred Leete, created one of the most iconic British propaganda posters,
and to this day is one of the most recogniseable/famous posters in the world. As
shown in Figure 1, the poster features a large portrait illustration of Lord
Kitchener, a British military leader, who, as secretary of state in World War
One, organised armies on a scale that had never been done before. In 1914 the
British Army had approximately 710,000 men at its disposal. Lord Kitchener recognised that the British Army was
far too small in comparison to the French and German forces and wanted to build
an army of 70 divisions (a large military unit or formation,
usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers).

In August 1914 the British Government called for an extra 100,000
volunteer soldiers to come forward. However due to such huge success of the
poster they got 750,000 men by the end of September, and by January 1915 more
than 1 million had joined the armed forces voluntarily. The poster uses a combination of text
and image to create a significant impact on the country.


Alfred Leete, a magazine illustrator, regularly
contributing to Punch magazine, the Strand Magazine, Tatler
etc. put together the design in a few hours using a
postcard dating from 1895 as inspiration. Originally the drawing of Kitchener
wasn’t meant for a poster, in fact, the image first appeared in the front cover
of the London Opinion magazine on 5 September 1914.


The striking image of Kitchener appears to interact with the audience in
several different ways. Firstly, the stern expression and concentrated gaze
looking directly into the eyes of the viewer, gives the effect that Kitchener
is talking personally to the viewer. The slightly squinted gaze can be interpreted
as intimidating to many of its audience, thus leaving a deep
impression on the men that it was aimed at, evidently resulting in guilt if they
failed to sign up to fight for their country.


At the time of WW1 there was a strong class system in
Britain and the Commonwealth. The use of a Lord, and one in military uniform,
gives the impression that it is an instruction, or order, rather than a
request. The poster was aimed at getting large numbers of working class men to
enlist in the Army, to boost the ranks. By using a high profile figure from the
Upper Class, aristocracy, pointing and telling the reader, the image
pressurises those used to working for and taking orders from the upper classes.


Alfred Leete edited some features of Kitchener such as a wider, squarer
face, along and a thicker moustache. According to Marc Fetscherin, a professor at the international business school, a
recent study shows correlation between facial shapes and leadership
performance. Fetscherin states: (Fetscherin, 2015, p.227)  “Facial
width to height ratio correlates with real world measures of aggressive and ambitious
behaviour and is associated with a psychological sense of power. It is
therefore possible that it could predict leadership performance.”
This shows that not only are there scientific studies and evidence that shows
facial correlations with leadership, to some this could mean that it
makes Kitchener appear more dominant, ambitious and powerful. As well as the
change in facial shape, Leete also gave the appearance of a thicker moustache. The
moustache has been known to represent a man’s virility. In the 1900’s men
not only considered the moustache an expression of masculinity, strength and
courage but also a symbol of style and sophistication. All of these changes put
together helped encourage young men to sign up, showing that the leaders and
soldiers are perceived as masculine, dominant figures meaning more people will
want to follow suit.

Arguably one of the most iconic elements of
the poster is Kitchener’s finger pointing straight out fixing the reader with his
gaze. In some cultures including British, it is considered rude to point your
finger at others. The hand image as a metaphor makes the poster more
effective and attractive by strengthening and enriching its language of
expression. This is a hand
gesture that shows indication of dominance upon someone in a lower position.
Pointing of the finger is a way of singling out an individual and making it
personal. The gesture is often seen as aggressive and usually used by someone
that wants dominance. Here Lord Kitchener is using his finger as a weapon of persuasion.
Kitchener was seen as an authoritative figure therefore viewers of the poster
felt as though they had to comply with what they were being told to do. In his
book, Robert Caialdini, (Cialdini, 2006, p.163) suggests “conforming to the dictates of
authority figures has always had genuine practical advantages for us. Early on, these people (for example, parents,
teachers) knew more than we did, and we found that taking their advice proved
beneficial—partly because of their greater wisdom and partly because they
controlled our rewards and punishments.” This shows that obeying orders from an
authoritative figure usually would prove great beneficial for the individual
thus therefore encouraged men to sign up to the army however on the other hand
they may be obeying because of the fear of
consequences if they refuse to do so.

The absence of other body parts in the image means
that the reader focuses on the finger, and the authoritarian face. If the rest
of the body were there, then the reader’s eye might start wandering, looking at
the uniform, the gold braid or the medal ribbons. By only having the head and
hand, the artist has limited the amount of content and focuses the reader
attention completely.


The other main feature of this poster that grabs
peoples attention is the word ‘YOU’. The word is in large capital letters, and along
with the illustration, it dominates the poster. This is designed to capture the
reader straight away, and make them relate the message to themselves. If the
poster had said ‘Your Country Needs MEN’ then there is no ownership of the
issue for the reader. The fact that is says ‘YOU’ and has the finger pointing
at the reader, gives a powerful message with instantly places responsibility
onto the reader using manipulation of emotion. As Liz Mcquiston (McQuiston, 1995, p.20) states,
“British posters had a much tougher psychological grip on their audience.
Britain entered the war with no conscription and relied on volunteers, and
consequently British posters often employed scare tactics (claiming atrocities committed
by the enemy) or attempted to shame men into volunteering with implication of
cowardice and loss of honour”. The choice in typographic hierarchy and wording
of the poster plays a huge part in the way the audience reacts.


To get the
desired response to this poster (i.e. to enroll in the army) self-generated
persuasion is being used. This means that the audience reads the message and determines
their own solution. Anthony Pratkanis states that (Pratkanis. 2007, p.41) “One
of the most effective means of influence is to design the situation subtly so
that the target generates arguments in support of a position and thereby
persuades herself or himself.” This suggests that self-generated persuasion has
more lasting implications because the individual feels a greater responsibility
for the decision made. In other words, the statement ‘Your country need you’
should promote more internal evaluation than if the tag line had been ‘Enroll
to the army’ and hence is more likely to result in the desired outcome.

Figure 2. “Britons Join Your Country’s Army!”

(Leete, 1914)

While the original version of the poster was
drawn by hand, a second poster was unique
among, British designs in that it used a photograph for its portrait of Lord
Kitchener. It was reproduced adding some
extra text and colour. The poster now featured large writing at the top, which
read “BRITONS” this helps to enhance the fact that the people of Britain needed
to come together in order to help protect the country. The invention of
lithography and letterpress enabled printers to produce huge numbers of the
poster, allowing them to plaster them on every surface they could find.  


Colours have been used for psychological purposes for
centuries. Colour was first used in advertising during the industrial revolution and its use initially attracted
a lot of attention because the ads that utilized it stood out from the black
and white crowd. Not only do the colours make the poster stand out more, they are
also closely linked to the patriotic colours of Britain. The colour red has
many semiotic meanings, which can suggest there was a deeper meaning for the
use of red. For example love, seduction, violence, danger, anger, power and
wealth. Our prehistoric ancestors saw red as the
colour of fire and blood – energy and primal life forces. To this day, most of
red’s symbolism arises from its powerful associations in the past.


The poster sought to ‘cash in’ on the patriotic hysteria at the
beginning of the war, with the anti German feeling, and the belief that ‘it
will all be over by Christmas’. Kitchener was trying to raise a volunteer Army,
quickly. For this he needed willing volunteers, and the poster was used to
recruit ‘Kitchener’s Army’. The Army knew that peer pressure would be a good
recruiting tool, so they created what became known as ‘Pals Battalions’, these
were Battalions within the Army where men from local areas could join together,
train together and fight together as one unit.

Figure 3. Uncle Sam “I WANT YOU FOR U.S. ARMY” (Flagg, J. 1917)

Alfred Leete’s design proved so
effective that it was picked up in other countries, such as the US to advertise
their own recruitment campaigns. The most enduring imitation is the Uncle Sam
poster (Figure 3) used to encourage recruits into the United States army –
reproduced three years later in time for the American entry to the First World
War in 1917. James
Montgomery Flagg was an American artist and illustrator. He worked in media
ranging from fine art painting to cartooning, but is best remembered for his
political posters. Flagg was responsible for bringing the character of Uncle Sam alive,
modelling the character on himself and adding some elements such as a beard,
longer hair and an older face, this could have been seen to create more of a
father figure look as well as showing slight vulnerability/fragility.  Once the character had been created, Flagg
looked for inspiration for the rest of the poster and came across Alfred
Leete’s poster, which had been proven to work incredibly well for the
recruitment process. Flagg gave Uncle Sam the same pose as Lord Kitchener and
added some similar persuasive text. However, due to the way the Uncle Sam
poster has been composed, it feels a lot less aggressive compared to the Lord
Kitchener poster. More colours have been used giving a playful affect on the
poster as well as the typography being mostly all the same size, which doesn’t
create a big personal impact like Britain’s poster. The poster was printed
more than 4 million times in the final year of World War I, according to the
Library of Congress.


In conclusion to this essay, from my analysis it is evident that the way
in which propaganda posters were composed had a
profound impact on its audience with the use of commanding illustrations,
typographic hierarchy/wording and patriotic colours. These posters featured in
my essay, succeeded in persuading men to join the army resulting in record
number of volunteers.