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The real war for Auckland: billboard supremacy

Which of the mayoral candidates have the most effective hoardings, and what hidden meanings do they reveal? The Spinoff’s chief billboard semiotics correspondent, Toby Manhire, reports.

It’s just like Christmas but without anything remotely joyful. All across the country, the mugs of the brave individuals hoping to represent their communities in local body politics have sprung into our eyelines, tacked serviceably to bits of timber and sledge-hammered into sodden earth.

On a slow day some time in the coming weeks we intend to power-rank the billboards New Zealand-wide, but right now our focus is the big job in Auckland. The only mayoral candidates we’ve seen glaring gormlessly at us as we go about our business have been the Goff, the Crone, the Palino and the Thomas. Are there others out there? Is Penny Bright flapping in the wind? Is Chloe Swarbrick festooned along the pink cycleway? If so, send them in to ashleigh@thespinoff.co.nz and we’ll grudgingly append.

Phil Goff

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Look at him! Phil of Roskill! This one says “Let’s sort out our transport” – note the careful use of the first person plural – but there are a series of other slogans, which keeps the casual voter entertained as he or she travels across the isthmus. Importantly, however, all of them are blue and contain no red, although Phil is a proud voice of the centre-left and closely associated with a party that he can’t for the moment recall the name of.

The other slogans are “Let’s sort out housing” (why not “our housing”? Is this significant? Don’t know) and “Let’s get council spending under control” and “For a better Auckland” and “Nobody mention the Labour Party”, although maybe not the last one.

Phil himself is pictured with his trademark half-bemused smile, a look that seems to say, “I like you and I’m listening but the truth of the matter is you have no idea how to efficiently load a dishwasher.”

“Making Auckland a city where talent and enterprise can thrive” is fine, but consistent with the mostly don’t-frighten-the-horses approach from Goff (and all the main contenders really). I mean, who can argue with that?

Also there is no red on it.

Victoria Crone

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No red here, either, but a decent splash of orange; thank goodness, at very least, for a break from the bluewash of most of the rest. Looks a bit like an advertisement for health insurance but that’s not necessarily less interesting than the mayoral election so far.

Over there on the left there’s an example of what graphic designers call a ribbony thing with a sort of reverse chevron cut out of the bottom of it, and just the other side of Vic there’s a big tick, which is one of your classic voting symbols, doubling as the letter V in the word “vote”. Hardly a surprise to learn she used to be the MD of startup superpower Xero, which sounds like Zero but begins with an X. Take a moment to think all that through.

Probably there was some weeks back a high-level Team Crone meeting that went late into the night debating whether to go with Vote Vic or Tick Vic – a kind of rhyme versus alliteration battle to the death, eventually decided when one of the typographic whizzes suggested the whole V-tick device.

Hard to argue with the white suit, a look so effective it was copied by Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, and putting Fresh Ideas in orange rather than black is in itself a fresh idea. Interesting, if only mildly, too, that Team Crone have gone for Vic over Victoria. Is this to avoid confusion with the queen or the university or the banging 1982 hit by the Dance Exponents? Possibly; more likely, however, it is to keep the name short and memorable – eight letters and two syllables, just like the other guy.

John Palino

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Three syllables and 10 letters puts John Palino at an obvious disadvantage. What he does have, however, is a book. No ordinary book, either. On TV3’s The Nation last weekend, he held it high on several occasions as if to dazzle his debating opponents into subservience with his having-written-a-book-ness.

The book, the magic Book, it turns out, according to JoPa at least, is the source of many of the good ideas of recent years. The Labour Party have taken entire policy platforms from it. Many of the core concepts in the Unitary Plan were lifted from The Book. Jack Tame and Hilary Barry are poring over the Book now, trying to get some breakfast television ideas.

There is, to be fair, a bit of colour on Palino’s billboard. So many fonts. A tick, which is good, but disappointingly not incorporated into the typography, although we like what he’s done with the big John Palino letters amid the “authorised by” fine print, and doesn’t the rule under the URL just make you want to run up to the sign and click it?

“MY PLAN INCLUDES YOU,” is well intentioned, but try reading it when you’re walking home in the half-light, absorbed by dark, dystopian thoughts. MY PLAN INCLUDES YOU, says the smiling man. Still, at least he went to the effort of putting a tie on.

But it’s hard to stay angry at, or cold-sweat terrified by, JoPa for long, not with that ageless surf-livesaver physiognomy. Here he is again, a little bonus treat from his website gallery, shopping list in breast pocket, hand casually tucked into trouser.

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Breathe it in. Breathe it.

Mark Thomas

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Behold. The one from Campaign.

To clarify, that’s a selfie as posted on an internet social medium by Mark Thomas, with the billboard for Mark Thomas behind him.

And, just between us, it would be a lot better if the billboard was the selfie itself, because the billboard is not a good billboard. On the one hand, it is a designer’s wet dream, what with all that glorious white space. On the other hand it is a designer’s nightmare, what with it being a terrible billboard.

Mark Thomas is trying to tell you here that he is not the past but tomorrow’s man, new, the future. This can be deduced by the use of the words tomorrow, new and future. Also, “An Auckland that works” has been stamped on, as if to pay for the postage.

And over there on the left in a little box under a lot of white space which is itself under the word “Yesterday” is what appears to be a sort of pencil drawing of someone eating an invisible ice cream. Who is it? Is it Larry Elliott, the former great economics editor of the Guardian newspaper? That’s who it looks like to me. Here’s Larry:

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Larry Elliott has no known connection with the Auckland mayoralty apart from really vaguely resembling that thing on Mark Thomas’s billboard

That’s whom I immediately thought of when I looked at it. But I don’t think it is Larry. I think it must be meant to be Len Brown, the current mayor, who is definitely “yesterday” insofar as he’s not standing again.

(Update: apparently it’s in fact meant to be Phil Goff.)

There are a lot of capital letters here, a range of colours and let nobody say Mark Thomas has anything but excellent teeth.

Emmett Hussey

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He’s not actually in the race this year, but he still wins for this from 2014.

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