Nightmare on Henry Street: Vermonters First’s graphical horrorshow

If you spend any time at all on certain Vermont news websites, you’ve seen the latest offerings from our buddies at Vermonters First, the conservative, secretive Super PAC funded by the Howard Hughes of Vermont politics, Lenore “Cameras Will Steal My Soul” Broughton.

VF’s first round of web ads was a graphical freakshow, with clashing colors, a myriad of type fonts, and, most famously, the illegal use of the State Seal.

Well, VF ordered up a new round of web ads from its out-of-state consultants. And while they aren’t quite as awful as its first round, they’re pretty damn obnoxious nonetheless. Of course, I suspect that that might be the point: if you subscribe to what might be called the Charmin theory of advertising, an obnoxious ad can do the job better than a well-designed, creative one, because the obnoxious one sticks in your head like a bad song*.

*Specifically, “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks.

So maybe they know what they’re doing. I prefer to think that they’re just clueless about quality ad design. But here’s where you get the chance to decide for yourself.

For the sake of the kiddies, I’ll present the images after the jump, so you have time to shield impressionable young eyes. I’ll also offer some comments, and suggest some ideas for their next round.  

Strikes a nice ominous tone, what with the fully-lit but very empty House chamber in a kind of fish-eye view. The black background is a nice trigger for a feeling of menace, and it also makes the message pop.

The blue shafts of light give it a creepy sci-fi invasion vibe, as if the Borg have occupied the Statehouse and begun turning lawmakers into cyborgs compelled to obey every command from Governor Shumlin. Or Keith Ellis, or someone.

Some of the fonts actually match, thank goodness. And the text expresses the core message while carrying just a touch of Rhymin’ Simon whimsy.

A pretty good effort, all told.

Not at all true, of course, but that’s beside the point. Vermonters First isn’t interested in the truth, it’s interested in fomenting fear.


This one’s kind of meh. The message is simple, effective, and fundamentally misleading, just as intended. But the color scheme is all over the place, and doesn’t compel attention.

The Benjamins in the background are dark and muddy; it’s hard to tell what they are. The half-arrow phasing from yellow to orange, meaning what? A heightened terror alert?

The ream-sized fake health-care bill is a nice touch, echoing national Republicans’ plaint that Obamacare is Too Big And Confusing. (As if any health care overhaul could be anything but big.)

But I must add a word about this use of Montpelier as a stand-in for all things evil and liberal. Bruce Lisman did this all the time in his Campaign for Vermont (Prosperity?) radio ads, because he wanted to appear bipartisan and so he avoided directly slamming the Democrats.

Why Vermonters First has picked up on it, I don’t know. But as a resident of Montpelier, I object to the conservatives trying to turn my town into another San Francisco, Boston, or Chicago: the civic embodiment of corrupt, overarching liberal power.


Now, here’s an effective little piece of propaganda. The ominous black background, the empty bed in a dark room, a single spotlight aimed at the head. Fairly screams YOU WILL DIE HERE.

Of course, single-payer health care will result in spooky darkened hospital rooms because light bulbs, like everything else, will be RATIONED. And the light will be cold and cruel because warm, soothing incandescent bulbs will be BANNED by the Democrats’ Healthcare Greening Commissar, Bill McKibben.

GOVERNMENT-CONTROLLED all in caps is a nice bit of theatrical text. But in this context, the ovoid “LEARN MORE” button looks like a pill that you’re forcing us to take. Might want to rethink that one.

So, all in all, Vermonters First has pulled off a decent job of smearing Democrats and scarifying their policies.


I can do better.

You want to scare voters? I’ll show you how to scare voters.


First ad, to replace the Borg-in-the-Statehouse number:

Simple. Direct. Memorable. Over the top. Perfect for last-minute fear mongering.


Second ad, replacing the muddled mess of a “tax increase” ad. See if this doesn’t catch your attention better.

I mean, why stop with blatantly misleading the public? Just lay it out for the sheeple: Democrats are vampires!


Third ad, giving the health care pitch.

Yeah, that’s the ticket! If you’re gonna invoke the old “death panels” lie, don’t settle for an empty bed with a single spotlight. You need shackles and blood!

Just like in Canada!

Now see, I whipped these up in a half hour with Google Image searches and a bit of photoshopping. Why spend tens of thousands of dollars on outside agencies when you can DIY it on the cheap and get a much more inflammatory message out there?

Which is obviously what you’re aiming for, right?  

2 thoughts on “Nightmare on Henry Street: Vermonters First’s graphical horrorshow

  1. I was innocently enjoying this article and appreciating your very funny  commentary and assessment of VT1st ads, when all unsuspecting, in spite of being warned ( I guess I thought the real ads were sufficiently nightmarish ) I hit the last part. Oh god, thank you, thank you for the first really good laugh I’ve had since I learned where Lenore’s house is…

    I mean, this really is exactly the effect they’re after , why not just do it right, the way you’ve shown it can be done.

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