The Art Directors Have Won

I can remember when I first became an art director.

I flipped a coin with my ad partner and lost.

Aside from a few art director roles I’ve consigned myself to fact that I write better than I can design. If the converse was true this post would all be in Wingdings.

This isn’t a “me post” FYI…. that would be as painful as watching Mindy Kaling do stand up … it’s more to say over the years I’ve done both roles, I’ve been both roles, so it’s with this wonky balanced understanding I’m about to say what I’m about to say.

The art directors have won.

To get to this statement I have to look back to when I first entered advertising circa 2003.

Back then the Executive Creative Directors (or as we knew them then – Creative Directors) were not only male, they were almost exclusively copywriters.

Now admittedly there are statistical anomalies to this statement: Sir John Hegarty, George Lois for starters.

However the majority, everyone from David Ogilvy to Bill Bernbach, were writers.

The Copywriters got the top posts and Art Directors got the drinking problems.

However, over the last few years things have gotten a bit ripe.

ATL ad agencies are no longer king anymore (despite them trying to PR to the contrary). Why? Well there’s a groundswell of start-ups and smaller agencies employing people from non-traditional backgrounds. I recently worked for one that came from a strictly music events background and yet there were winning pieces of business most multinational firms would kill for.

The thing is more and more clients are turning to these smaller entities to bridge the gap, to make more content for half the price.

That’s point one. Point two is the fact that media consumption habits means that you have 5 seconds before I flick through to the next post – there are very few captive audiences anymore so no waiting for a big reveal payoff line that broadcast ads are so famous for doing. I want a look, a feeling, an emotion to engage with the brand.

So a look and feel it is.

Emphasis on styling, emphasis on look-books, emphasis on design.

The creative director is now a synonym in most of these start-up shops for an art director.

And what for a writer? Well he / she is just the writer.

The person to do the copy. The person not to attend the shoots. The person not to make the decisions. If any strategic calls need to be made, then that falls for the strategist to make. The writer just writes the wordy-words, going back to a structure not seen since the 60s when Art and Copy was separate.

The art director is now the creative call-taker on a lot of the accounts.

The writer… well, they should retrain to be art directors.

As a side-note. the ATL ad agencies will be confused as anything when this trend starts to seep into their concrete-clad systems.

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