Those ‘Keep Calm’ Posters. Where Did They Originally Come From?

Foresight. Here's why the 'Keep Calm' message was developed in Britain in July 1939. This shot was taken in 1941.
Bombed out cities … it’s what Britain feared. So to boost spirits, the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters were created  in July 1939, just weeks before the war began on September 3rd. This photo: taken in 1941.

Apprehension. Worry. Concern. Angst. Fear. Nervousness. Fretfulness. Disquiet. Torment. Trouble. Anguish.

Just a few of the things that pushed the British Ministry of Information to create the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters in July, 1939.

It was only weeks before Britain entered WWII on September 3rd.

The posters were designed as a motivational message for a people under threat from the German Luftwaffe.

To that end, 2.5 million posters were produced to strengthen the resolve of the British public.

The fear was the Nazis would destroy British cities with bombing then step ashore along the Channel coast.

A day out at a seaside fun fair in Margate wasn’t exactly their aim.

But aggression aside, as a marketer you might be wondering … how did the ‘Keep Calm’ message test across all demographics?’

The fact is the posters went mostly un-used.  Bureaucracy is why.

Most of the posters were consigned to a warehouse, reputedly awaiting the moment when Panzer Divisions would clank across British beaches on their way to the Capital.

Later they were pulped for the war effort.

The few posters that were displayed got a cool reception.

‘Patronizing’ was the damning verdict. Their impact fizzled out because of a class thing.

The original 1939 design.
The original 1939 design.

Upper-crust government types got the mood of the British public all wrong.

Which is why the posters were looked upon as an intrusion and thought to be ill judged for their content.

I wonder where we’ve heard that complaint before.

Maybe in present day focus groups?

But no complaints are rolling in these days.

As you’ve probably noticed, the ‘Keep Calm’ theme has been reborn and is being commercialized out of all proportion.

75 Years after being created, the message that was a flop in wartime is a source of humor for us.

Of the latest efforts, ‘Keep Calm and Go Shopping’ rates high in our office.

Also gaining approval is ‘Keep Calm and Eat a Cupcake’.

The last is more than a little appreciated in an office breakroom when a ready supply of  cupcakes are parked next to the cupcake poster.

Now, for you as a marketer, with a keener sense of judgement than the Ministry of Information … how does the following go down as a ‘Keep Calm’ line?

Keep Calm and Make Sure Your Message Is Good Enough To Engage Your Target Audience.

Yeah, I know … too long and un-funny. Bossy, as well.

But suck it up. There’s meaning and direction here for us all, no matter how experienced we may be.

Besides, when you get it just right you can reward yourself.

By having a cupcake.

Like more on the ‘Keep Calm’ story? See how the posters were re-discovered in a used bookstore in the North of England with this video. Thanks for reading, Steve Ulin.



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