I was quite disturbed and disappointed by the JWT Creative Director’s recent argument on layout vs composition. Disturbed by the level of wisdom demonstrated, and disappointed at the fate of local creativity at the hands of such exceptional intellectual or creative authority.
“In the good old days there was headline, body copy, subheads, logos... all those things, flashes... (but) now really all you have is one big picture area and a logo. So, I mean, where’s the layout in this? Because all you really have to decide is where does the logo go.”Quite shocking, really. A creative director not familiar with principles of design. Or in simple, in print advertising “composing” is “laying out” (or layouting) in layman’s language. Composition and layout are like hand to the glove; inseparable, one doesn’t mean much without the other.
“So here’s my point of contention: In the eighties and the early nineties, there were actually elements that need to be laid-out - like the headline, subheadline, bodycopy... tag line etc. But now all you really see is a picture area and a logo. So there is no layout involved – its just you need to decide where the logo goes. So that’s my point of contention. It’s not about layout anymore, it’s about composition.”
Makes one wonder why does JWT Colombo need any Art Directors in their creative department, at all. International brands are governed by Brand Guidelines that dictate where the logo goes, and the local brands are usually run by marketers who are quite capable of guiding an agency on where to put their logo. Now that’s not rocket science, Einstein, is it? Especially since there is no composition involved in doing an ad.
If this is the calibre of creative thinking found at the top level of creativity in the island, I wouldn’t blame anyone for importing the mediocre, or work-in-progress creative talent from India. The bitter truth is that the expatriates are much better than the above species, by far.
Savior of the mediocre mind: ‘Mother & Child’ Advertising
This also must be the reason why our island is inundated with “mother & child” creativity. Take a picture of a mother & child, add the packshot, slogan and the logo... and viola! – you have a press ad, ready to run. Add a jingle, and you have a television commercial. A mother & child formula:
– works for Pears or Baby Cheramy
– works for Comfort
– works for Anchor, Newdale or Highland
– works for Signal
– works for Astra margerine or Prima bread
– works for Atlas ball-pens
– works for Cherry QQ cars
Works for almost any brand or product, literally. All one needs is to decide on the age of the kid and the scenario: an infant for Baby Cheramy and school-going kid getting in to the Cherry QQ. Get the picture?
Jingles are just half-a-step away from the centuries old, very primitive and the most basic advertising technique in Sri Lanka: the drummer-boy, aka the Viridu kaaraya. How far has the ad industry evolved ever since?
If JWT is a good example of the level of creativity that prevails in the island, I’m not surprised that the ad industry at large has failed to progress any further from the mother & child creativity and the irritating jingles.
Advertising is much more than pretty pictures and catchy slogans.
Open a magazine or a newspaper and you will notice the clever work of our advertising art directors – creative geniuses at their best:
- typography sucks. When Sinhala, Tamil and English fonts are on the same page or the logo, there is hardly any synergy: serif in English, sans serif in Sinhala or Tamil. How many fonts should one use to make an ad “creative” – eight?
- there is hardly any sense of scale in their heads. Newspaper and magazine carry articles written in 8pt and 9pt; their ad next to the article carries copy in 14pt or 18pt. Our eyes are used to picking up 8pt letters on every page – and the 14pt body copy is going to be a definite eye-sore. That’s why a poster should not be “reduced to fit” a newspaper full-page.
- there’s no apparent understanding of the mediums and their differences either. People read magazines and newspapers at leisure, posters just fly-by, on your way from point A to point B. That’s why a press ad shouldn’t be enlarged to a poster. Present the content accordingly, and “compose” the ad logically.
- no one seems to know how to type an apostrophe or a quote, or how to avoid the ‘lifeless’ apostrophe that is set by default. And they call themselves designers and art directors.
- oh, and the bad photoshop jobs? Some are just like the bus graphics – no sense of scale or proportion.
- resolution issues and pixelated images? Not even some Ingrin graduates know how to calculate the image resolution to match the output device.
- how many art directors know the basics in RGB vs CMYK usage? The loss of image detail due to black-substitution? If they knew the importance of colour, they would have demanded Macs long time ago.
Creativity is an inherent talent which cannot be purchased at a road-side “Graphic Design Institute.” Most of the advertising crowd I know in Paradise are not as good as they think, and their biggest problem is their attitude. I haven’t seen such arrogance – not even from advertising greats like Neil French who is known for his ego. In case if you are wondering, yes, I have met the man himself in person while working at the big red agency.
For some reason, we have been encouraging this culture of arrogant ignorance in the ad industry and it makes me ashamed to call myself a creative from the island. Perhaps, for the majority, the attitude is just a camouflage that disguises the vast emptiness that occupies their heads instead of the gray matter.
This is the kind of meritocracy that dominates our media. Originality = 0/10; Conecptual value = 0/10; Art Direction = 0/10... nothing more than an eye-sore. Is it Simple? Meaningful? Appropriate? Relevant? Topical? No, no, no, no, nope. This is just a bad ad, done for a decent client. How sad!
The original ad was done for Nissan Armada – the full size (8 seater) SUV that is “big and spacious” – the whole concept was based on the fact that the Aramada could might as well be an aircraft.
Then there’s the true talent: people with sense of colour, an eye for detail and a nose for great advertising that works.
Who are the truly creative people?People are born with logic or magic in their brains. Creatives are the right-brained ones with the magic, their true genius has the ability to sprinkle a bit of their magic dust on a piece of mediocre work and converting that to outstanding advertising.
Genuinely creative people, are a passionate bunch. They are the kind of people who find absurdities and abnormalities intriguing, not repulsive. They are the ones who thrive amidst limitations and challenges. They are flexible and adaptable, they are open to different ideas and willing to find new routes to success. They think out of the norm, outside the box, looking at problems from a new perspective. They take risks, they go where the average mind is reluctant to wander. They possess the courage, endurance and resilience to keep fighting, accepting the struggles and strife that litter the road to success.
Creativity in the advertising context, is usually linked directly to the number or awards it wins. “Creative without strategy is called art, Creative with strategy is called advertising” – says Jef I. Richards, speaking of the difference between art and advertising.
Brilliant advertising on the other hand, may not necessarily win awards, (except for Effies perhaps) but would move good off the shelf – while leaving a smile on our face. “Big ideas” could come from anyone: all it needs is imagination.
Advertising brilliance is also a direct result of relentless pursuit of excellence. That’s why they say, creativity is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Passion for perfection makes the difference. They say God is in the details.
Brilliant advertising comes out of creatives who are born creative, and are imaginative, passionate and in pursuit of excellence – to state the very least.
Having said all that, how many genuine creative minds do we have in the ad industry in Colombo today, I seriously wonder.