Search THE READING ROOM

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What creative advertising really means-2

Commits alumnus ARPAN BHATTACHARYYA (Class of 2010), a copywriter with Contract Advertising in Bangalore, explains exactly how copywriters and the art guys work their magic:

ARPAN BHATTACHARYYA
SHOW
AND
TELL

When Ramesh Sir asked me to write an article about what copywriters and art guys do, I must admit that I was stumped.

What do we do?

I know exactly what I do. I even know a little bit about what the art guys do (they tend to disagree with me on that, though). But how on earth was I supposed to explain all this in an article? It’s a little like asking a teacher what he does he teaches, what else!

Then I remembered a piece of advice that my first creative director had given me. He said, “Advertising is simple it’s all about communicating a message.” So that’s what we do. We communicate messages, from a brand or a product to the public at large and to consumers in particular. That’s it. We communicate.

Every product, every service, every brand out there, wants to communicate its advantages and its benefits. Everybody wants to tell the consumer: “Hey, buy me! Use me! I’m the best.” And they all want advertising to make their brands the most used and the most loved. But as advertising legend William Bernbach said: “Advertising doesn't create a product advantage. It can only convey it.” That is where the creative team, comprising the copywriters and the art people, comes in. We convey and communicate the messages on behalf of the products.

A picture says a thousand words:

However, as Alex Bogusky, an advertising legend, said: “… so far as I know, they’ve yet to come up with a powerful form of communication that does not at least begin life as words.” And that’s exactly what copywriters do we provide the words (sounds very very, very important, doesn’t it?). Our job begins when the creative team is sitting down to come up with an idea. And it ends only when that idea has been executed, in print, on television, or on the air waves. Because it’s our job to find the best way to communicate a good (or bad) idea.

Now, it’s a common misconception (only among those who aren’t copywriters!) that all we do is write smart headlines, wacky radio spots, and cool television scripts. Well, on the rare occasion (which presents itself roughly once in a lifetime) that’s all we do.

But there’s so much more.

Just pick up any form of advertising communication around you: a pamphlet at the mall, the product brochures that you leave at the bottom of the box, the e-mailers you keep deleting, the little tags on the clothes that you buy, the labels on the bottles you drink from, the directions on the back of the product boxes, the menu cards at the restaurants everything is written by a copywriter.

CONCERNED COMMUNICATOR AWARDS: ARPAN'S ENTRY.*

Everywhere you see words (one word or a thousand); if you look deeper, you will see a copywriter hunched over his computer, trying to figure out how best to use them. Sometimes we try to be smart and funny (like the menus and tray mats you see in KFC) and sometimes we need to be as plain as possible (like the shirt tag that says “This product has been handcrafted and tailored to your requirements.” But wherever words are needed, we are too.

Coming to the advertisements you see on television, the ones you hear on the radio, and the ones you see in the magazines and newspapers, everything is written by the copywriters from the dialogues that the actors deliver and the scripts for the radio voiceovers, to the headlines, the body copy (the other ‘words’ in the print ad) and even the information at the bottom of print ads with the addresses and phone numbers of the company.

In short (it’s already too late for that, isn’t it?), copywriting is all about finding and using the correct words to present an idea, with or without an image. No matter in what form of media new media, print, television, or radio every piece of advertising communication needs something to be said, in words. That something is usually said by the copywriter. And as if to make my point, here are some more words to live by, from Alex Bogusky: “Failure in advertising most often comes from the lack of this basic skill of finding the right words.”

Words are all I have, to take your breath away:

Sounds fine in a cheesy pop song but it’s far from true, isn’t it? Because if you want to buy the latest iPad 2 you’ll want to see it before you sell your right hand and bring home the contraption. And sometimes, you will want to see more than just a picture of the product. You might want to see how it’ll help you; you might want to see how it’ll make your life better. And no amount of words will be able to replace a visual representation of all this.

That is where the art guys come in.

WHEN COPY AND ART COME TOGETHER.*

They show you visually what the copywriter has said (or not) in words. Sometimes they use simple pictures that you get immediately. Sometimes, to be different from competing products, they’ll use images that have nothing to do with the product.

For instance, an ad for a telephone service provider might show you a shot of a guy relaxing on a beach somewhere close to where paradise is located. What does that tell you? Probably, that you will be able to stay connected to the world no matter where you are. So here, the picture communicates at once what the words may take a long time to say. ‘You can stay connected even when you’re sitting on a beach far far away from the world.’

Or, a picture of a man on a deserted beach, with the headline ‘Stay connected.’ Which one is better?

As one of the greatest writers in the world, Luke Sullivan, said: “Show, don’t tell. Telling readers why your product has merit is never as powerful as showing them.”

Art often goes beyond just conveying a message. It can make an ordinary advertisement look ‘out-of-this-world’. There are times when an ad doesn’t really say much (could be because the copywriter is a lazy bum or the product is a boring piece of rubbish). That’s when a great art guy can make the ad do so much more than just show you a product shot with a headline that says ‘The Best’.

The art guys also do more than just find the right pictures for ads. They are involved in setting up how a brand or an ad will look what the logo should be, what colours should the brand associate itself with, what font should be used for the headline; everything that is visually appealing (or not!) is the work of an art guy.

They’ll also design brochures and e-mailers, they’ll lay out the entire print ad along with images, the headline, and all the copy; probably one of the coolest things they do is play a big part in directing the television commercials. That’s where they’ll give their inputs to the production team, they’ll decide, along with the writer, on location, the way the actors are dressed, the way the set looks; basically what you see on TV is the work of the art guy, what you hear is what the writer has written.

And that last point is actually the perfect way to sum up what the creative team does. They work together, writers and art guys, to bring you the ads that you see all around you. The best art guys can think like writers and the best writers can think like art guys. But what is essential for both groups is that they HAVE to think creatively.

And what is even more important is that they need to work together, always. They succeed and fail as a team and the best teams around are those where there is mutual respect between the art guys and the copywriters.

Speaking of which, my art guy has been calling me to fix up a few party plans, so now it’s time for me to go and ‘work’ with my team mate!

*THESE ADS ARE PART OF ARPAN BHATTACHARYYA'S PORTFOLIO. Follow his blog here.
  • Further reading: "The power of creativity" (scroll down to the piece) by Commitscion AJAY KURPAD (Class of 2011), also a copywriter with Saatchi&Saatchi in Bangalore.