InScope: What’s missing from the best creative work

Julie Matthews is the Director of Creative Solutions for OMD Create Sydney, helping to deliver creative direction across a spectrum of content touch points. 

The brilliant simplicity of McDelivery by TBWA\Paris

Recently, I had the opportunity to give a lecture on Art Direction to a group of advertising students at Sydney University. The key to art direction is to locate and isolate the idea, so naturally, I couldn’t help but talk about idea execution whilst I was discussing the art of art direction.

Whenever I speak on this subject, I always reference the one principle I live by –  no matter what the execution, always find the simplest way to communicate the creative idea. There is a real skill in making an idea simple. It’s not what you add to the idea, but what you leave out.

Art direction is about reductionism. It is reducing all the elements of an ad, into simple logic, simple arguments and simple visuals. This not only improves communication by speeding up the time it takes to absorb the idea, but it also enhances the concept.

“How difficult is it to be simple.” – Vincent van Gogh

Experienced creatives always look at what they can remove from the layout. We ask ourselves; which elements are not adding value? Can an element, whether it be a headline, a visual, or even a voiceover, be deleted and not impact the execution of the idea? Does an element cloud the communication and therefore need to be removed?

Ad agency creatives spend years honing their skills to know what makes an idea work. Moreover, knowing what to leave out of an ad is a skill that only seasoned creatives wield. It is because they understand why simplicity works. A simple ad is easier to remember. A simple ad breaks through the advertising clutter. A simple ad is more believable, because there is less in it for the reader to object to.

With the introduction of social media and smart phones, we’ve seen that anyone with a computer or mobile device can now make ads, and it shows. There is a new generation of content creators that are so focused on capturing more, more, more, that they neglect to practice the art of simplicity.

As Rosie Arnold, Head of Art at AMV BBDO recently pointed out; “…everyone gets involved in the creative process, in the idea. And every single time you have to take on board another opinion and adapt your original idea, it’s a compromise.”

I encourage all creatives to have conversations with their clients about simplicity and reductionism. We can’t blame clients for wanting to pack more into their ads, not less. Society is conditioned by the advertising that is already out there. Besides, it’s the responsibility of all creatives to develop work that actually works for our clients. However, I believe that simple ideas are almost always better.

The extensive amount of training that is required to become an experienced art director or copywriter is sometimes underestimated. In a time where the ability to create, make and craft communication is more accessible than ever, people often over complicate their message through adding unnecessary elements. It is here, when these years of training in the art of simplicity come into play.

Damon Stapleton, Chief Creative Officer of DDB, New Zealand, wrote: “For many, the perception exists that having an idea is hard. The hard part is caring about an idea. Everybody can have an idea but, selling, making and caring about an idea…. needs a person with special qualities.”

Exercising restraint takes experience. The best creative work is missing everything and nothing. The less you have to put in the ad, the better. As, Robert Louis Stevenson once said “The only art is to omit.”

Finally, it takes just as much effort and money to make a good ad, as it does to make a great ad. Solving a challenging business problem with a simple ad is a great feeling. Even better is the day, weeks later, when the client tells you sales are up. But most of all, it’s when a friend recalls the ad over dinner.

So, what makes a great ad? Put simply, the art of simplicity.

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