Tag Archives: Advertising Craft

Has the Age of the Amateur arrived?

Sound of MusicAs a young backpacker many years ago, I found myself at the Yoho Hostel in Salzburg, Austria. After perhaps enjoying one too many european beers, I woke the next morning to discover that I’d agreed to go on The Sound of Music tour with some other backpackers who I’d met.

Anyway, apart from visiting sites from the film, singing the odd Julie Andrews song and twirling across clover-covered meadows, we pulled into a beautiful village called St. Gilgen on the shores of the lake Wolfgangsee.

The guide explained that many carpenters lived in the village. As such, many of the homes featured amazing carvings and ornate woodwork. The craftsmanship was amazing but, sadly, it’s something that’s often missing from today’s world.

This lack of craftsmanship is pandemic across many industries. That’s because craft takes time, plus using a professional can be expensive – two things that many now view as being poisonous.
So we’re left with a ‘near enough is good enough’ approach. People have become immune to mediocrity. In rushing to ‘get stuff out’, we’ve lost sight of the fact that  it’s a waste of time if it’s actually the wrong stuff, or if the stuff is crap.

We simply don’t appreciate professional skill sets anymore. Ones that have been learned and honed with experience and time.
Watching a few episodes of MasterChef and knowing what a Croquembouche is, doesn’t make you a chef.
Being able to Google ‘How to fix a leaking tap’ doesn’t make me a plumber.

But perhaps the age of expertise is a thing of the past.
A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a former boss. He recalled when he was a Junior Art Director in London. Back then, once you chose a Director to work on your TV commercial, it was ‘hands off’. The Director would take complete control of the project.
He then said, “But these days, everyone’s a Director. Everyone carries a camera around in their pocket, so they think they can direct.”

So, as mentioned, we’ve devalued expertise because it takes time and it can be expensive. But perhaps even worse, is that many people can’t even identify quality anymore.
A house in St Gilgen may as well be a DIY project for anyone who can pick up a hammer. And the result just isn’t the same.

Why all copywriters should be art directors

I’ve spent a large chunk of my career thus far working alongside one art director. He was a brilliant South African art director (on a side note, I only know 3 South African art directors and they’re all brilliant at their craft). However, we did tend to blur the line between ‘art director’ and ‘copywriter’. That’s not to say we interfered with each other’s craft, but we did offer each other an opinion.
And that brings me back to the heading of this post.

I’ve seen bad art direction murder good copy. And likewise, I’ve seen copywriters that have little consideration for art direction. This is the very reason why you need to have knowledge of the other’s craft.
I never gave it much thought until I worked with a few different art directors.
I thought it was weird when they were surprised by my interest in the line breaks of a headline, or the choice of typeface, or if the look of the ad was suited to the tone of the copy.
It struck me that some teams must still work in a fairly disparate way, with the two crafts somewhat divorced from each other.

For example, look at the following outdoor ad I noticed recently.
Okay, so it’s not going to keep any advertising award juries up at night*, but just look at that line break in the headline.
outdoor ad 1It completely reads the wrong way. The first three words have to sit together for the the intended flow and rhythm.
However, the art director would then be left with ‘LIVE’ as a widow.

So what’s the lesser evil? A weakened headline, or bad art direction?

This is where the team should have worked together. Maybe they could have bumped “LIVE” up in size so it looked ‘less lonely’ on a line all by itself? Maybe they could have amended the copy to have an extra word or two? Maybe they could have indented the word “LIVE” to make it look like it was an intentional art directional move?

Either way, an ad is always stronger when both crafts work together.

*a favourite saying of one of my old creative directors, used when he was less than impressed.