Why WHAT you say will always be more important than HOW you say it

[Article from the @SIMONPLENT archive:]

When I was a fresh-faced, bushy-tailed graduate trainee at a top London ad agency many years ago, we were always taught that when you’re producing advertising of any sort, what you say is always more important than the way you say it.

In other words, it’s the message that counts not just the way in which you present it. At all costs, the message had to zing out and be clearly communicated to the target audience—whether on tv, outdoor media, in the press or, these days, online.

Increasingly, however, this old mantra seems to have fallen by the wayside (so many other tried and tested techniques that have been discarded in favour of a few Facebook likes and ludicrous ‘branding’ exercises).

And a lot of the work you see out there has clearly spent 90% of its creative time on the ‘how’ and barely none on the ‘what’.

The simple communication of strong reasons to buy is replaced by puns, wordplay, unnecessary jokes, complicated art direction and illegible typography. These are the things that often float the creatives’ boat, and the things that win creativity awards.

They’re not necessarily the things that sell stuff, however. Here’s an example…

A superbly talented designer/typographer at an agency I was freelancing at was asked to design some 48 sheet posters for Yell, the old Yellow Pages company. The concepts were simple copy statements which needed some zip and impactful art direction to make them leap off the hoardings. Nothing wrong with that.

The designer’s solution was to turn the type into street maps (as ever the Yell sell was all about finding your local suppliers fast and easily). Very cute and clever idea with yellow and black Yell brand colours to the fore. Great looking work.

But totally illegible.

Not only that, a lot of people didn’t even ‘get’ what the design was meant to be. Even some of the account team selling it into the client hadn’t realised the design was meant to look like a street map—presumably they thought it was just a pretty, eye-catching pattern?

But everyone agreed the posters looked fantastic; the Executive Creative Director was raving about the brilliance and innovation of the design.

The fact that they were literally impossible to read seemed to whizz over everyone’s head; including the clients’, clearly, as they bought the campaign lock stock and barrel and spent a fortune on the media. Talk about the Emperor’s New Clothes!

Yell, of course, went down the pan soon after.

But the campaign and its designer won Best Typography award at The Creative Circle.

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