Creating scam ads. My controversial theory on who’s most guilty!
September 8, 2009
Three scam ads, conspicuously void of copy.
In the still-breaking wake of the Brazilian scam-ad fiasco I detect a story that is bound to amuse half the population of the creative department and enrage the other.
When it comes to making scam ads I think art directors are guiltier than copywriters. Easy for a copywriter to say, I know. But let’s look at the evidence, which while circumstantial, is still pretty damning. We need only go as far as the nefarious 9/11 ad.
Evil scam in more ways than one
The art direction is stunning while the concept and copy are not. These truths are self-evident: the photograph, the retouching. Even the work’s many, many detractors agree: the ad looks great.
But it’s the ad’s contempt for copy, branding and readability that make it so incriminating to the art department. You can’t read the copy and when you do it’s bad. The tiny WWF logo is about the only thing linking the work to its benefactor. In this case a mercy but the general point remains: the copy has been marginalized to the point of being virtually irrelevant.
As a copywriter, creative director, awards show judge… I see this over and over and over again. And while everyone associated with the ad is culpable, in the end the art director owns the crime.
Is this a gross generalization? Of course. But when you look at the vast majority of award-winning scam ads (and I’ve seen hundreds) they are almost all strong visually. Unless the concept is copy driven, a so-called “headline campaign,” the text (usually one sentence) is down or up and away in the ad, often set in unreadable 8 or 10-point type.
Why? You’ve heard the reasons: 1) nobody reads copy 2) copy makes work “adsy” 3) award-show judges deduct points for work that’s “adsy.” You can refute or debate these reasons but you cannot deny they aren’t real. Even if it’s subconscious, art directors feel their creation is violated by copy.
A majority of art directors study fine art, be it painting, design, photography or filmmaking. Then maybe they go to ad school. By the time an AD gets real work, he possesses an artistic sensibility. Deep down the commercialization of his ideas will always frustrate him.
While many copywriters study literature, they are less inclined to carry its ideals with them into our profession. Copywriting is more clearly a vocation than art direction. We are more comfortable calling ourselves salesmen than art directors. That’s my opinion.
What might be less obvious is the hidden power art directors have in the creation of work. Copywriters are often given credit for an ad’s conception but the art directors deliver the baby. They are the last person to touch the work. Like no one else, they control how an ad enters the world. And how it enters awards shows.
Art directors shrink the type. Art directors make the logo smaller. Art directors accept copy like the mandatory it is. They are bred to make ads beautiful. The temptation to “clean and polish” an ad before submitting it to any given award show gets the better of them. Scam ads happen.
Readers- Take above with a grain of salt. This isn’t the Mitchell Report. I was merely looking for a provocative and fresh angle in which to talk about our industry. Besides, I’ve got nothing against art directors. Some of my best friends are art directors.