Creative vs. Creative Director

There’s an article in CA‘s Interactive Annual by Xanthe Wells called “Promoted to Fail.” It includes  this chart from Rob Schwartz.

I love it. It’s true. Absolutely true.
But if you’re a young creative with aspirations of becoming a creative director, don’t just jump to the right-hand column. Embrace the left side. Be about your book. Have lots of ideas. Worry about now. It’s what you need to do now.
Someday, you’ll realize you’re more concerned about the client than your book. You’ll know what finding the idea feels like. Unifying won’t sound so lame and kumbaya-ish.
Nothing wrong with either column. Just know where you fall. And play your part as best you can.

Perspective in Advertising

Ten years ago, I went to bed really bummed that one of my ads didn’t make it into the Communication Arts annual. The next day, it was September 11, 2001, and getting into CA didn’t seem like a big deal.

Advertising can be a lot of fun. And we’re lucky to be in this industry. But it’s important to keep things in perspective.

For a more detailed post on this story, click here.

Free Lobotomy by Tom Monahan

Just browsing around on issuu, I stumbled upon Tom Monahan’s book The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy. This book is a classic, and I’m a little floored that Monahan’s offering it for free. (For those who don’t know Tom wrote the Advertising section for Communication Arts for years before passing the torch to Ernie Schenck.)

Enjoy the book. And pass on the good news. You can read it here, or on the official issuu page. Should be some great summer reading.

We all gotta learn something

I was just flipping through the Communication Arts first ever Typography Annual and came across this quote from one of the judges:

“We need to teach designers to be better readers. Once they respect the text, they’ll want to set it well.”

I buy that. Here’s my open question to you readers: What do copywriters need to do to better respect design and art direction?

How to Read CA

The Communication Arts 2010 Advertising Annual has hit the shelves. If you haven’t picked up your copy, go get one today. (Seriously, why would you be reading this blog if you’re not already investing in CA?)

When you get your copy, try this:

1. Grab a pad of sticky notes.
2. Tab all the work in the annual that you think is amazing. Not just cool, or funny. But the work that is so good it gives you an inferiority complex.
3. Take a break. Go see a movie. Get some work done. Play Doodle Jumper for a couple hours. Whatever.
4. Come back to the annual and going through only the work you flagged, reflag the pieces you think are smart. Not just clever. But the work that sells. The work that either makes you want to buy what’s being advertised, or recommend it to someone.
5. Spend your time with those ads. Figure out who the audience is. What the planners probably said was “the single most persuasive idea.” Try and determine what the idea was before the execution was created.
6. Try using some of those approaches in your next assignment. Rip them off. Steal them. Make them yours. I’m not talking about the executions. That’s just plagiarism. But when you figure out what the basic starter idea was, you’ll see those themes kicked up over and over in advertising from different agencies for different clients. It’s basic psychology stuff. And it will make you a much better creative.
(All credit to this approach goes to my old copywriting professor Coz Cotzias at the VCU Brandcenter.)

Line and Visual Tension

Generally speaking, if you have a really interesting, bizarre, or fascinating visual, you should keep the line really straight forward. Don’t get too clever with it.

Similarly, if you’ve got a brilliant headline, don’t work overtime trying to make the visual quirkier than it needs to be.

These are rules of thumb. It’s nothing written in stone. But look through the first few pages of the latest CA annual, and you’ll find a few salient examples.

Interesting visual, straight line…

Straight visual, interesting line…
And of course, a couple that defy this advice…

This is possibly the most important lesson I can give anyone in advertising.

Six months into my first job, I was lucky enough to do an ad that got into the One Show. Here it is:

Bolstered by this confidence, my art director and I were certain the same ad would get into the Communication Arts annual. We submitted it. And months later, we got the call. It wasn’t on the shortlist.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I was supremely bummed. The fact that I was in the One Show annual was no consolation. I spent the day in a funk. I was blue. Cranky even. I remember going to sleep that night resolved to work harder than ever. I would never miss an opportunity like that again. I was going to do whatever it took to make award-winning ads.

That was September 10, 2001. The next day, getting into CA didn’t seem so important anymore.

I’ve been fortunate to have great creative directors and great partners and great clients who’ve helped me win awards and appear in annuals and other publications. And I haven’t received a single accolade without reflecting on that experience.

Years before 9-11, Neil French put it another way: “It’s kind of tragic that you can spend an entire lifetime turning out four great pieces of work, and they’re all ads. Nurses and ambulance drivers do something a thousand times as important, five times a day.”

Advertising is a lot of fun. We get paid to think. To come up with ideas. To make people laugh. To change their behavior. We’re very lucky to be in this business. Let’s not be jerks about it. Let’s keep things in perspective. Let’s do good work.