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Pardon me while I adrant, like I do.
The A B C's of advertising rules.
A) Work off of a proposition from a good strategic brief.
It tells you who you are talking to, and what they need/want this product for. A good brief can have a one-word proposition as well as a sentence. Tango used the word 'clean' for lemon tango and 'hit' for orange Tango. A proposition is not something lame such as 'xxx margarine when the margarine is good everything is good' (A real proposition was written by an account man at Saatchi and handed to me once).
If you get one of those, rewrite the brief.
A proposition should be like Smirnoff's (Lowe Howard London) 'Smirnoff, the wicked spirit'. You can see how the creative team had an easier time reaching their visually stunning ads with that proposition. Remember that all great work begins with a marketing solution, not a creative solution. If you don't have a strategic planner or account man that writes a decent brief, research, and write your own.
Eat this product, sleep this product, dream about this product and obsess about all the information you can find about this product.
B) Have an idea.
To work, all advertising and every individual execution need a creative idea. Execution for execution's sake doesn't work. It's as pointless as Art for Art's sake, or as Paul Arden calls it 'a cleverly placed fart' . or as Morris Hite wisely said; "If an ad campaign is built around a weak idea - or as is so often the case, no idea at all - I don't give a damn how good the execution is, it's going to fail"
Typefaces that are nicely blurred is not an idea.
Running every Black Box filter you have on a picture in Photoshop is not an idea.
"Adapt your techniques to an idea, and not an Idea to your techniques" as Bill Bernbach said, already twenty years ago.
Hiring the first famous person you can afford to do the ad is certainly not an idea. (Famous people are not good to use anyway, just because you know who he/she is doesn't mean everybody does, and the message can easily get lost if the person is really famous, as in; Did you see that Magic Johnson Ad? Nobody remembers if it was for shoes or cola)
Turning a man upside down on his head in an effort to get attention is not an idea, unless you want to show the advantages of a new kind of pocket that stuff doesn't fall out of.
C) Stay in touch with the real world.
Today we have planners. Planners are people that represent the consumer's point of view. Planners are supposed to know what consumers in general, as well as in a category, think about, care about, worry about, react to. They spend their lives conducting focus groups, studying trends, understanding the impact of social and economic changes on people's lives, dreams, and self-esteem and perhaps inventing new ways of using a product as an idea sprung out of their research.
(As in the 'Hennesey' Martini, a gross planner-invention that apparently took off, if you believe the research)
But this is no excuse for you to be out of touch.
So hang out at a mall, spy on people in the supermarket. What do they do first? Read the price? The ingredients? Grab the two-for-one pack? Go to the movies, galleries, read the newspaper every day, preferably several. Or as Paul Arden said, just plain 'Get out of Advertising.'
Have several hobbies, read as many magazines on a wide variety of subjects as you can stomach in a month.
Read books, and lots of them. Go out to nightclubs and bars where skate kids, teenagers, cigar lovers, beer guzzlers, blue-collar workers, cops, and anybody but advertising/design people are.
Sure hanging out in the design-bars may get you your next job, but hanging out with real people will keep you good at the one you're at.
D) Take risks.
Bill Bernbach said; "Surely it is better to state our proposition with the kind of talent that will touch and move the reader and viewer than to bore them to death with the ordinary" Great advertising shouldn't be familiar at all. It should be different, go against the grain. For something to be truly memorable, it should be unfamiliar, it should be new, it should not have been done before. So surprise people. The easiest way to that is to surprise yourself.
E) 'Kill your Darlings'.
Not really, but be critical about your own work, very critical. Eighty percent of what great creative's come up with is garbage. The difference is that the good ones know it and keep working, generating idea after idea, turning them upside down, trying different approaches or even different propositions.
The creative process typically works something like this: First, we think up a lot of lame ideas. Top of our head-junk. Plays on words. Badass puns. Ideas that have been done before. They are clogging the roads in our heads that lead to the good idea's, 'one bad idea out of your head is ......one bad idea out of your head', as Jeremy Clark said.
Bad creatives stop here.
That's why you see so many lousy, thoughtless, old ads.
Or ads that just look like/Are similar to a thousand others.
After admitting that all you came up with is total junk so far, you may have a tough time forcing the brick wall... however, if you push -- if you come at the problem from different directions: from the competitors', perspective, from an irreverent ' perspective, from an emotional rather than logical perspective, etc. -- you just might come up with some new way of saying what you have to say.
Have you seen the Lexus ad that only shows the (really nicely designed) car-key with the headline 'imagine what the car looks like'. A pretty different way to say the ordinary;'this car looks really cool'.
G) Think in both words and pictures regardless of your art director/ copywriter title.
Remember, the two work together. Ads should be like good comics, where you don't get the pictures without reading the text, and you don't understand the text without seeing the pictures. A picture that finishes the thought started in the headline or vice versa, is always better than either one attempting to do the entire job alone.
Why? Because it involves the reader. If readers have to take one piece of the equation, add it to the second piece, and figure it out, they've gotten emotionally involved with your communication. They also feel pretty good about themselves. (Unless you made the mistake of talking down to the reader as if they are unintelligent, in which case they'll end up insulted).
James Randolph Adams knew that,"Millions of dollars' worth of advertising shows such little respect for the reader's intelligence that it amounts almost to outright insult." And so did Leo Burnett "Too many ads that try not to go over the reader's head end up beneath his notice."
H) Work in a team, if you don't have a partner find one.
A good team is always better than a single person. You can add your thoughts together and come up with things that weren't possible for you to do alone. You can get so many more ideas out of one proposition just because you are two. You can rely on each other's skills, Art or Copy, while still doing both together. A bad team is a killer, if you don't get along workwise, find a new partner.
I) Don't steal ideas!
Not only will I hang you out in the Badland section, but any good creative director has a vast history of ads drummed into his/her head from the sixties and onwards.
They'll know you nicked it, and they'll dislike you for it. (And I hope they fire you for it)
Read all the award books you can find, to get inspired, to know what is possible, but don't make those ideas your own.
Already been done' doesn't work.
"Imitation can be commercial suicide" Bill Bernbach
These quotes are ancient, and still people don't follow them.
Bill and the others were right, back in the sixties, what makes you think that you don't have to follow their advice?
Are you God's gift to advertising? Be humble, there is a lot you can learn.
J) Don't follow rules.
K) Don't follow rules.
L) Do Not follow the rules.
Are you following this rule? ARE YOU?
Repeat for the next thirteen letters of the alphabet.