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Teaching the creative process for campaign concepts.
From so-so to oh, wow!

by Margo Berman

Often, young creative teams are unprepared to think. They want to be art directors or copywriters, but they don't know how to develop a campaign idea that spins out, or has "legs." One thatís on-target both in strategy and intone of voice with a visually consistent layout. Some of the first ideas are, all too frequently, finalized into carefully executed comps, rather than evaluated for their viability. Too quickly ad designers and copywriters latch onto the early ideas without allowing themselves time for creative exploration.

In seminars, I usually hold up and discuss the pre-workshop exercises, withholding the designers' identities. Sometimes, the creatives actually start defending their work, unwittingly forfeiting their anonymity. Trainers could actually begin the session reminding everyone who doesnít want their work to be identified, to stay quiet during the evaluation process. Frequently, they get so involved in the comments, they can't resist talking. As the creative solutions are showcased, comments by myself and other participants are offered. This encourages everyone to make changes and even stop by after the session for more individual guidance.

Like many new creative teams, they start out believing their first solutions are perfect. However, they come to learn that by searching for alternative ideas, they might stumble upon stronger concepts. Allowing them to revise their layouts offers several benefits. They can:
  1. discover that first ideas are not always final ideas
  2. learn that developing solutions is a creative process
  3. improve their judgement
  4. assemble stronger pieces for their portfolio
Sometimes just critiquing creative work doesn't help them see how the suggestions can enhance their work until they actually execute them. After they make the changes, I have them bring in their earlier work, so everyone can see how the revisions impacted the layouts. I hold up all of the versions of the ads, side by side. This seems to drive home the point quicker than any other teaching technique. The simple comparison of the various layouts chronicles the progress and highlights the transformation. Frequently, the participants who show the greatest improvement have the highest number of revisions.

One of the biggest problems for new copywriters and designers is their resistance to criticism. They have author's block, that stubborn "clinging to" of their earliest ideas. It isn't until they are encouraged to look for other ideas and guided to develop more effective, less expected solutions that they blossom as creative thinkers.

A second problem is novices take suggestions literally and don't infuse the revisions with their own new solutions. They sometimes simply execute the changes, adding nothing original. To discourage that, trainers could reward more exciting revisions with stronger accolades than simple "redo's" with small changes. However, trainers would be advised to point out to the group how even the smallest of changes can have a significant impact.

For example, reducing the type size by 2 points and just narrowing the copy blocks may seem like tiny changes. But, often they are more dramatic than creatives realize until they see the contrast for themselves. third problem is the overall misuse and misplacement of elements. Inexperienced designers may:
  1. create layouts with no sense of flow, confusing instead of guiding the reader
  2. place elements without prioritizing them based on their importance
  3. demonstrate poor use of typography
    • too many typefaces
    • wide copy blocks
    • all upper case in the body copy
    • novelty, script or cursive fonts in the body copy
    • skinny, serif fonts set in reverse
    • oversized type in the body copy, resulting in a clumsy, horsy look
    • justified type, creating wide open spaces in between the words
    • widows, orphans and hanging first lines of paragraphs (Orphans leave one word dangling at the end of the paragraph and widows leave one word alone at the top of a copy block.)
    • illegible type created by:
      1. layering type over a busy, competing background
      2. using too tiny type
      3. placing type over dark, screened areas
  4. fail to allow for breathing space
    • elements placed too close together
    • tight textwrapping: type sitting too close to visuals (rules, bars, illustration, photographs, charts, graphic elements)
    • no margins surrounding the page
    • narrow spacing between copy blocks
    • unbalanced layouts
  5. make weak color choices and combinations, resulting in:
    1. vibrating type (when colors of the same intensity compete for attention, like bright red and brilliant blue, or hot orange and kelly green)
    2. ineffective communication
    3. unattractive design
  6. create designs lacking contrast
  7. fail to develop a "shell" for consistency in a campaign
Although all these problems are common, there are a few in particular that need special attention. One is the use of too many typefaces in the layout, creating confusion for the reader. To avoid this, I simply remind everyone that although they might have a lot of clothes in their closets, they don't put on everything at once. The same dilemma applies to colors. Too many choices can tempt the designer to use too many together. Often fewer colors can have a stronger impact. I suggest they think about the power of black and red against white paper. I ask them to notice how the red pops against the rich black and quiet white. Even the strongest campaign conceptually can be crippled by poor execution of these elements.

Another common problem in creating campaigns is not developing a "shell" with one identifiable look for the client. Even having the participants examine instantly recognizable shells using common graphic elements sometimes does not clearly demonstrate the point. But, when they are shown how their campaigns "break the format," they are better able to grasp the concept. Then, they redo their ads, so everyone can see the improvement. This process helps them understand how important the development of a shell really is. They finally realize that a three-ad campaign one group developed was not working. It used two vertical ads with a black background (Ad #1 and #2). But the third (Ad #3), which used a horizontal format with a blue background, did not match. Here are a few before and after campaigns that demonstrate various changes to create exciting, consistent campaigns with common elements. Version #1: This campaign lacks a shell, a consistent format and a visual technique. The creative team used a cheese mosaic, then a black-and-white cartoon, and finally, a color cartoon in a different style. Even the background colors are different. They also switched from a vertical to a horizontal format for the third ad. Ad #1 (vertical format) Ad #2 (vertical format)

Ad #3 (horizontal format)

Version #2: In this campaign, notice the same positioning of the elements, same typographic treatment, same black background. But, the visual technique - the cheese mosaic - and the "age" concept is only present in two out of three ads. Look how the third ad, although interesting and somewhat visually similar, breaks from the graphic format and concept.

The creative teams were guided to continue working with the "age" concept. Sometimes, when they think they hit a conceptual "brick wall," I offer a few ideas to stimulate the creative flow. Here are a few headline suggestions I gave them to demonstrate how the campaign could continue to spin out.
  • The Age of Reason
  • Delightful at Any Age
  • Better With Age
  • The Art of Aging Gracefully Another creative team came up with a strong idea at the beginning. However, the overall layout needed structure and the type lacked cohesion. Here are the first and second set of ads. Version #1: This campaign lacks balance and shows disorganized type.

    Version #2: After revisions, the ads look balanced,well composed and unified.

    The audience was shown how the following changes solidified the look of the campaign:
    • elongated the visual, to emphasize the concept and better showcase the cheese
    • set the type in one vertical copy block to accompany the visual
    • changed the headline font for enhanced legibility
    • enlarged the headline for greater prominence
    • set the headline in two lines to highlight the name of the cheese
    In the revised version, everyone could easily see how better organization of the type and strengthening the visual helped the reader grasp the ad as a whole unit, instead of separate, disjointed sections.

    These seminar demonstrations of creative teamsí work in progress have proved to be an invaluable teaching technique that has resulted in more comprehensive and effective creative solutions. The participants also learn that designing ad campaigns is a process that includes several revisions until they have fine-tuned both the concept, the typography and the overall balance and composition of each ad in the series. By modifying some elements and moving others, creatives begin to see the relationship between ads in a campaign. They also learn to improve their critical and judgmental skills. Gradually over time, they are better equipped to critique their own work and that of their fellow students.

    Copyright Margo Berman. All Rights Reserved.

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