During the founding years of design, designers created brands and strategies only to see them handed over to advertising agencies. And the ad agencies certainly knew what they were doing. They took the beautifully crafted designs to the masses. Great copy, knock-out visuals and a commercial knack of getting inside that Holy Grail – the consumer subconscious. Undoubtedly, the lines have blurred. Nowadays, client budgets are stretched and every media discipline has seen its remit remastered, remoulded and reaching into uncharted territory.
Unquestionably, this has led to some fractious marriages. You can see why – no design consultancy worth its salt would admit to not having some strong thoughts on how a brand could communicate with the wider world.
Now, of course, this situation has little bearing on ‘the real world’ (ask any consumer, they don’t give a damn where the idea comes from – if it’s good, it’s good). It threatens to overshadow a key element of the debate – designers can learn a few lessons from advertising. In fact, my own career has often been steered by the legacy a good ad campaign leaves. I remember going to a meeting at JWT and walking through corridors lined with the original posters for the Guinness campaign. These were posters by my old tutor Tom Eckersley and Abram Games. Illustration and typography were married as one artwork by these commercial artists; their messages were straightforward and direct, weaving the word and the visual masterfully to deliver graphic wit. The careful and economical deployment of copy has given us Saatchi and Saatchi’s unforgettable campaign ‘Labour isn’t working’ and The Economist’s ‘I never read The Economist – management trainee, aged 42’. These are examples of simple advertising ideas where powerful copywriting messages deliver considerable benefits for the brand.
The value of creative collaboration simply hasn’t been capitalised on in design and it is a concept that has always intrigued me. The advertising mix combines strategic planning and a creative team of art director and writer. Who comes up with the big idea? Of course, it’s a combined effort. And working in creative teams is not so ‹ different in design. Except, of course, a full-time writer is often seen as a resources-draining extra. That’s not to say that design hasn’t capitalised on the power of the written word. One look at Elmwood’s work for waste disposal company Serious**, or William Murray Hamm’s use of customer quotes for the 2004 Jaffa Cakes rebrand is proof that design consultancies are well-versed in the power of leveraging copy to build a brand. Do we need to make more by pairing designers and art directors with copywriters?
The other challenge for design consultancies has been truly harnessing the power of a strong, singular concept. No one ever started a mould-breaking pitch with, ‘Well, we’ve got a number of ideas to show you. We’ve come up with five to 15 concepts’. Advertising has always been more confident when it comes to the ‘big idea’. I will never forget Surfer – Guinness’ magnificent commercial based on the idea of waiting. To this day, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up through its restrained colour, pulsating music and perfect voiceover. The surf-spanning horses are timeless because they are a component of the big idea. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Gorilla and Smirnoff’s Purifier ads have the same resonance. Admen have always been more dedicated to worshipping at the altar of the big idea, and design consultancies would do well to follow their example. Ultimately, the big idea is a brand’s most tangible asset and it should be single-minded and confident in its ability to win people over.
The way we value these big ideas should change. While advertising has never been shy about placing a premium on incredible ideas that pay back to a brand’s bottom line, design has been far slower in coming forward. Possibly because it doesn’t value the big idea in the same way, branding and design concepts haven’t commandeered the same budgets. We need to get more value from our ideas in design.
Essentially, confidence is still the biggest challenge. We have not shown the single-minded conviction of our advertising friends and we should be bolder and more aggressive in valuing the big idea. l
Glenn Tutssel is executive creative director of Enterprise IG