Advertising in Sri Lanka: Part 4 - True Creativity

Is this the quality of the Creative Raw Material?

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.”

“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.”

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.

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.
I can prepare a long list of evidence that demonstrates the true calibre and potential of the creative guru’s in the market. They scream for “craftsmanship” even without knowing the basics of art direction. Not a surprise really, after hearing the JWT epilogue at the Death of Layout.

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.

Previous posts under the same topic:
– Advertising in Sri Lanka: Part 1
Advertising in Sri Lanka: Part 2
Advertising in Sri Lanka: Part 3


  1. I wish I could disagree with you. And yup, I know a lot of people who were disappointed with that JWT presentation.

  2. You know, I think the 'culture of arrogant ignorance' isn't limited to your industry. There seems to be a universal aversion to hard work and attention to detail. I think it's a sign of the times.

    I see it in the UK...a lot of children grow up with the belief that whatever they do is amazing (even if it's mediocre at best) and by the time they enter university (which they do, because exams have been dumbed down to improve pass rates), they have a sense of entitlement and an inflated ego. Surprisingly this ego seems to be sufficient to carry them through to a decent graduate job. I don't understand why.

  3. David, thanks. For the sake of the industry, I wish I could disagree with myself. :)

    Pesudo, very true. It’s obvious – especially in cities where the world meets for job opportunities, the ego and the big mouth wins most of the time over true credentials.

  4. The comment i left there proably wont pass their "moderation".

    Before i even got to the video, those catchy keywords like “Trailblazing, Next big thing, paradigm shift” almost made me puke all over the PC.

    But going through your blog im glad that there are people who realize whats wrong with the ad and design industry in SL.. Its not just the agencies, its the clients as well who have gotten used to the crap that most studios here produce.

    Its hard to change the whole industry, but what i can do is to give clients work that i believe in.. Even though some times it takes some convincing to do so :D

    On a side note, I would’ve expected a big agency like JWT to respect copyright laws, but seems like those guys can use Linkin Park without even giving them a credit... Hmm..

  5. Ah the intellectual masturbation of some has been regional chair warmer and some two bit graphic designer from Nugegoda, Do you guys actually do any work or do you just sit around passing comments on other peoples work? So why don’t you guys post some of your work without hiding behind your blogs? David, done anything of note lately? In this decade?

  6. Really? I would have thought that with such 'trailblazing' directors making so many big changes and bringing about paradigm shifts, it would have been quite the field to be in.

    Also, you might find Smashing Magazine interesting.

  7. Sajith, agree with you. BTW, your comment is there now.

    Arosha, I actually landed a job at the world’s largest agency without any work and without any portfolio. Yes, I do work in advertising for a living, even though I do not have the fortune of working with the likes of you. What a pity.

    Jerry, thank you for the link. Hope the guys like JWT CD and Arosha too find it useful.

  8. Arosha, check adsoftheworld.com. While you're doing it, kiss my arse.

  9. Arosha, If you really cared to look, theres a link to my work on the left side of my blog, and if you dont see it, heres a link: drp7.blogspot.com

    After youre done kissing Dav's arse, you can kiss mine!

  10. Arosha, unfortunately I cannot publish your last comment since it is off-topic and I do not wish to make this blog a platform for personal debate and slander. Hope you understand.

  11. Hi Serendib :-)

    This is one more evidence Colombo lacks good talent. Isn't this pretty basic? Is this the kind of work JWT does? Then how about other smaller ones if this is the kind of work from a (So-called) leading creative agency in town? Anyway this (see below) is what I said to them. Not sure if they will leave my comments unmoderated :-)



    I suggest you take your kindergarten lessons first. Your weird explanation is appalling. I suggest you attend your PRE-SCHOOL lessons here. Just check the links.



    Once you have mastered this stuff and are able to handle any decent work, then please e-mail me at nibrasbawa@yahoo.com. I shall teach you “common sense in advertising” free of charge.

    Sorry about the language. I couldn’t tolerate your crap, let alone your wisdom.

  12. Hey NB, if you are referring to the print ad in this blog, it isn’t from JWT. It’s just a random example.

    Your response to them is so typical of you. Bloody hilarious, hope they see the seriousness of what you are saying.

  13. Hey, Sajith had a look at your work its a bit templatey if thats even a word but you know what I mean, cliparty maybe a better word.

  14. Whats with all the ass kissing?

  15. In my haste I have missed a real gem, the part where you david say

    “ I wish I could disagree with you. And yup, I know a lot of people who were disappointed with that JWT presentation.” and then you Serendib_Isle say...

    David, thanks. For the sake of the industry, I wish I could disagree with myself. :)”, so you mean to say that you two have beens are going to save the industry? That’s rich it really is so do you two often pat each other on the back?

  16. Hey Serendib if your going to let your friends have a go at me, you should let me reply, see if the last comments are on topic

  17. thanks arosha for your comment. i dont really care about what you have to say, but thanks for taking the time anyway. :)

  18. Hi,

    I accidentally stumbled upon your site, and was genuinely surprised to find this post about my old stumping grounds JWT, Colombo. I am talking the 80's now, so all of you who haven't enjoyed sniffing rubber cement while on the job... well you are excused. I work in Canada now and haven't been to Colombo in a decade, so I have no idea about the current state of creativity there. Judging buy the post here, it seems that standards are to be desired.

    Actually the creativity as a whole had dropped a lot all over the world, and Canada isn't any different. I see a few of reasons for it, some were mentioned by others on this comments section. But I think it's mainly due to the technology that has eroded the brains of the AD. I don't know how many AD's today, can actually sketch something that's presentable. The Mac which should be used as a tool, pretty much dictates the design these days, the elements like clip arts, stock photography etc. Earlier we had to come up with ideas even for a shoot (actually sketch them out), but now you get a couple of Royalty Free shots and photoshop them together, pronto you have an idea. Since we worked on actual paper, cut and paste text, we knew about typography and it's rules. We also had to know about the printing industry pretty well. The methods, the short cuts and colour correction all of which seem to be now secondary.

    But what's even worse is that today the client also thinks he is a creative genius... After all with a laptop and some 3rd rate graphic program, he has done so many wonderful presentations to his bosses who think he is the next best thing to sliced bread! So what's the big deal about developing an ad, so he thinks... and there comes his valuable input, that takes up the 90% of the idea anyway...

    There are many more I have endured that I can list over my 20 plus years in the industry, but just add the few I listed and you have what we got today.. Mediocre creativity. Now before you discard me aside as an old-geaser, just remember I started when I was 19... just out of school... No there was no University involved.. everything trained on the job, in fact I considered JWT as my University. Besides creativity can't be taught on a piece of paper... Either you have it or you don't! It's simple as that!