Where portfolio students talk.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Is the Headline Dead?

Look thru a Communications Arts Advertising Annual from just a half decade ago, and you'll find something very interesting. Words. Lots of them. Long headlines, short headlines, and body copy--both long and not so long. But fliping thru this year's ad annual, isn't quite the same experience.

Words--there aren't as many of them. So it goes without saying that the headlines, and the body copy are fewer and far between. And while I actually believe that we may be witnessing a slight increase in the value of copy (because its being utilized more efficiently) --the days of visual and headline, particuarly straight visual and smart headline--are nearly exctinct. Visual solutions have uped their frequency dramatically in recent times, and they're becoming quicker, smarter and easier to read. I'll admit, they work. And when they work well like Ogilvy Johannesburg's Harley Davidson campaign ('06 Annual, pg. 45), there's simply no better way of saying it with words.

They preach to us in ad school all the time, say it without saying it. But in today's world of consumer instant-gratification--how much room is there left to say something, without saying it, but still using words to do it? It's understandable that the industry will go through different fazes, where certain styles become popular, and dominant for periods of time--and I'm sure in time, we'll see more headlines--we'll see more body copy, but here's where the trend is most relavant to all of us ad school students: What does that mean for my book?

A big reason why I started this blog is to gain some sort of feel and understanding of what kind of thinking, and maybe what kinds of executions ad schools are pushing over others. At Brainco, while the writers still write a mildly fair share of straight headline-driven ads, I feel that all the good teachers almost discourage using headlines primarily. Of course, it comes down to having the great small idea within the great or good big idea, but the line of thinking sees headline driven ads as only one very small possible solution amongst countless other ways that strategies can be executed. "If you're going to do a headline campaign--it better be fucking awesome," an instructor of mine says. And to be completely honest, I agree.

The ad above, goes to recent Creative Circus grad, Adam Samara as a print campaign for LA Boxing Gym. It says: "Win arguments without saying a word." Did he do it? I think so. Is it a great headline? I'm curious to know what all of you think, and what you're experiences are in terms of the value of copy, and the value of headlines at your respective schools.

To me, a great headline is a great small idea. It isn't about how gracefully, or poetic the line is written--though phrasing and termonology is important--but it's about how originally you can arrticulate the strategy. There aren't really any set rules, but I think it should suprise me. Look for more rants on lines in the future. Thanks for your eyes, thanks for your thoughts. I know you'd rather prefer a picture, but somethings--even today, can only be said in words. Thank goodness.

8 comments:

Liz said...

First off, thanks for creating this blog. It's very important that ad schools start talking to each other.

Second off, No. I don't think the headline is dead. Now, your first assumption is probably "This person must be a copywriter". And you would be correct as I'm probably correct in assuming that you are an AD. Now these "assumptions" are very important because that's exactly what you're doing with the theory "people read don't read headlines anymore". All you're saying is that YOU don't read headlines anymore.

The power and effectiveness of an ad lies in the viewer and what they're they're left with after looking at it. And each veiwer will respond differently to the visual or copy. To assume that the majority of consumers find visuals to be more powerful than headlines is ignorant. It will be our job to figure out which products/brands are visual products and which are copy products. The Ambassador Scotch Campaign for example, was brilliantly excecuted with headlines and for the product and brand, I don't think it could have been excecuted more effectively.

A good idea is a good idea - whether it is done with visuals or words is, to me, besides the point. A well executed, brilliant idea is what's going to get you noticed by a CD. Keep that in mind when you're creating your book. When I look at an ad, it's the over arching idea that hits me. It's the idea that I'm left with. And that I feel goes for the majority of consumers.

So what I'm saying is I think that this debate is pointless. Just create good ads. You'll find yourself in a corner if you have any opposition to using either visuals or copy. Just be open to the potential power of either of these tools.

Liz Cartwright, Copywrite
Creative Circus

americanmidwestsamurai said...

Thanks for the feedback Liz. I agree whole-heartedly with what you had to say.

But I guess what I'm opening up to question, is whether what constitutes a great ad (or a good one) is changing, and if so, how that change is effecting everyone at portfolio schools today.

Brock Johnson said...

The headline that you're referring to here for L.A. Fitness, is good. I don't think it is great nor would I put it in "my" book. It gets the point across but I don't think that the idea is all that original or engaging. That's not to bash the ad, but it just seems too easy for me.

I agree with the notion that it is the "little idea within the big idea" that holds the most power. Personally, I have spent a lot of my energy trying to fancy up headlines and words in order to "say it without saying it." And, I have found this is a poor approach. Getting your message across is the goal, so making it as clear as you can, makes sense. I believe the originality and interest comes from the angle, approach, or idea. The execution should be simple.

Brock Johnson
Brainco Copywriter

mplsminx said...

As an art director, I'm so tired of the visual. Give me something interesting to work with, word-wise, and I'll give you something interesting to look at!

Awesome blog. I can't wait to see what's next.

eric molina said...

I find it equally amazing and appalling that people so willing to proclaim themselves as "creatives" are the same people who so desperately want their portfolios, or perhaps more appropriately, their work- to fit a certain mold. To base any of your work or thinking on whatever current trend is gathering attention not only shows a complete inability to gather independent thoughts, but let's face it: it's completely antithetical to creativity in every way, shape, and form.

There is no innovation when one's thinking is not summarily their own, nor will there be anything new under the sun so long as portfolio "students" insist on emulating what they see in Communication Arts or other award show annuals. I'm sorry to say it, but facts are facts: if you want to make an impact in anything - not just the trivial world of advertising - innovative thinking is paramount. What's better, showing that you have the ability to think within the certain confines created by ten thousand different ad people who all talk and dress the same, some winning awards and some languishing through 85 hour work weeks trying to win awards - or coming up with something completely unheard of? Without hesitation, I would say the latter, which only illustrates a greater problem in a cultural context, which is the death of the individual.

If there's 40 portfolios landing on my desk, I'm going to assume they've passed through the appropriate channels so that it's safe to say, without opening a single one, that they're good. But are they different? Are they indicative of somebody who has their own thought process, or are they indicative of someone who has mastered a systematic thought process that inevitably will produce the same clever, semi-smart, and kind of funny work? To be the latter might be good enough to get you a career, and hell - it might even be enough to vault someone into the coveted range of advertising superstardom, but it's inevitably hackneyed, unmemorable, and worst of all, completely uninspired.

My suggestion is to do this: not give a damn. Fuck it. Damn the torpedos. It's not likely that no matter how brilliant the writing might be, there's going to be a groundbreaking one page full bleed all-copy ad. Let's be realistic. But if that's your bliss, follow it. Do your best and screw what your instructors say. You want to be creative, be creative.

americanmidwestsamurai said...

It was Mark Twian himself who said: "Creativity is nothing but undetected plagurism."

I suppose it all depends on how you define innovative, original thinking right? At somepoint, every element of any ad--or any work of art, is borrowing from a greater cultral context...someone else's creativity.

This is by no means a justification for the more often than not, cookie-cutter, formulaic work thats generated by students and industry professionals alike--but I think its important to consider that the business is infact, that--a business and not an artform.

At what point do you draw a line as a creative director, that this campaign right here constitutes original thinking because it draws inspiration from a context completely unrelated to advertising, and what point do you say it doesn't illustrate original thinking because the same kind of strategy, or execution turned up in a CA Annual from 2002?

Alls I'm saying is often times terms, and generalizations get thrown without careful consideration and examination for a bigger understanding of things. Is there really such a thing as an original idea? I understand if your conjecture is that ad schools make students think and act alike--or produce very expected results (at some level I agree), but I'm not sure how fruitful it is to break the rules and defy convention merley for the sake of doing it. I think if you do it, it happens because you're trying to communicate a smart, original strategy, not because you're trying to be different.

Really appreciate the comments Eric. Hope to hear from you again.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy, am I glad I came across this little blog within a big blog about creativity and advertising. Forgive me if anyone here is offended by that combination. But I'm one who wholeheartedly believes that original thought exists. I've never agreed with the adage everything has been done before. I know it sounds crazy to challenge or even worse confute that quote by Twain. But as the previous, and quite frankly insightful, blogger noted: Fuck it.

Furthermore, I'm not condoning randomness or being different just for kicks. I'm saying that it's integral to avoid, scratch that, annihilate fear when concepting. Tough to do for anybody. But in doing so, your mind wanders aimlessly and wildy. Specifically, beyond the borders of normality and day-to-day expectency. I think it's the only way to explore the other, ever mysterious and elusive, 90% of our mind.

I know that last sentence isn't a scientific fact. But neither is the statement about the absence of original thinking.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy, am I glad I came across this little blog within a big blog about creativity and advertising. Forgive me if anyone here is offended by that combination. But I'm one who wholeheartedly believes that original thought exists. I've never agreed with the adage everything has been done before. I know it sounds crazy to challenge or even worse confute that quote by Twain. But as the previous, and quite frankly insightful, blogger noted: Fuck it.

Furthermore, I'm not condoning randomness or being different just for kicks. I'm saying that it's integral to avoid, scratch that, annihilate fear when concepting. Tough to do for anybody. But in doing so, your mind wanders aimlessly and wildy. Specifically, beyond the borders of normality and day-to-day expectency. I think it's the only way to explore the other, ever mysterious and elusive, 90% of our mind.

I know that last sentence isn't a scientific fact. But neither is the statement about the absence of original thinking.