Way back in the day, when I first started peddling my book to the advertising agencies in London, I received a lot of feedback on the ads that it contained. But one thing stuck out, and stays with me to this day.
A very talented creative director talked about the creativity I had used in the ads, but told me the creativity I has used in their placement was non-existent. As a student at the time, I just scratched my head. "Well, these areprint ads…these are billboards…these are TV spots."
He just shook his head, leaned back into his well-worn leather chair, and told me a story of a student team who had brought a portfolio of ideas into him. They weren't very polished. They were dull in places.
He recalled seeing an ad that was simply white text on a black square. It read (and I paraphrase as it was so long ago now):
If you're in trouble, or you just need to talk to someone, please give us a call.
08457 90 90 90 - Samaritans
If you're unfamiliar with that name, the Samaritans is an organization in Britain that people call when they're having a really hard time. They deal with people who are in real emotional trouble. People who are suicidal will often call them. They are there for people, 24/7, and never judge. They simply offer an open ear and words of comfort, and caring volunteers staff the telephone lines.
Now, the creative director said he looked at the ad for a moment and then looked back at the team and said "well I admire the simplicity of it, but it's a little dull. Where's the spark? Why would this ad grab my attention, other than the use of black space?"
The team had an answer.
"This isn't a print ad. It's a plaque. We'd like to place these plaques in places like bridges, or off licenses (liquor stores), or anywhere else that people with thoughts of committing suicide would go."
The creative director smiled, and said he offered them a job on the spot. Now, this was a long time ago, and since then guerilla advertising has flourished. But at that time, their idea was revolutionary. To consider not just the message, but the delivery of the message in such a poignant way, it spoke to the maturity of these two students, and the depth of thinking in their work. Other ideas in the portfolio addressed media placement in the same creative way.
I myself learned a valuable lesson from these students and that creative director. A year later my art director created ads for auto insurance. They were small space, tiny in fact, and we put them in the classified section of Autotrader.
Amongst all the small ads of cars for sale, one ad showed no car at all. It stood out. And the headline - "Car stolen?" It was followed by copy about getting an insurance quote. That tiny ad was made so powerful by its placement; it not only did great sales for the client, it also won awards. I'm still proud of it almost 17 years later.
It's 2013 tomorrow.
The idea of creative media placement is not exactly cutting edge any more. But, the majority of ads you will see, or create, still don't take that into account. Sadly, media is often bought long before the creative team has had a chance to work on the project.
You must, for the sake of your client and your own career, consider the media just as carefully as you consider a headline or a layout.
If you're creating ads for a charity like the Samaritans, you will not have a lot of money to play with. It's therefore vital that the media you use plays a powerful part in getting your message across. A simple print ad won't do.
When you get the assignment, look beyond print and billboards. If it is a billboard assignment, what can you do to really push the media beyond the limits?
Your mission, in 2013, is it explore the limits of media. Do not accept any creative brief at face value and start working on print ads because they ask for print ads. Where else can these ideas go? Can they be more effective someone else?
Break boundaries. Think about WHERE your ads will go. Think about HOW people will interact with them. Do this, and you will seriously improve the power of both the message and the impact.