In my first blog on this subject I challenged TV commercials and billboards. Now it’s time to talk about commercial artists and their impact on all advertising including websites. Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of the intelligence and creativity of these professionals. Unfortunately, my experience has shown that many artists want to create beautiful art and they forget about the purpose of their work. Good art and good advertising need not be mutually exclusive it just takes some knowledge of marketing in addition to producing good art. And my big question is, when they get it wrong why do the agency frontline men/women let them get away with it?
A few years ago, I had the privilege of working with two Hopkins and two MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) professors to develop a joint course between the two schools. The class was split evenly between business students (mostly marketing) and MICA design students. The term assignment was to solve a marketing problem for a Baltimore business (the client). During the first session of the course it became apparent that neither group knew what the other was talking about. Our challenge was to get each group to understand the value of the other.
Major Success: At the end of the semester the students were asked to give a presentation to the client’s executives and staff that justified their marketing and design concept. (Selling the reasons for the action you want to take is the critical factor in this process.) Throughout the course, the students were given hypothetical case problems that they had to solve in addition to the work they had to do for our client. Ideas not supported by justification, no matter how good they seemed, were rejected. This was initially very frustrating for the students. In the end, the presentations the faculty and client staff saw were so gratifying as a transformation had clearly taken place. Except for the occasional orange hair, piercing, or tattoos, I would defy anyone to distinguish the comments of the business students from the comments by the art students. Each fully understood the value of the other.
What to do: Every agency should have a training program that achieves what we did. I don’t forecast peace and harmony between various factions but when each has to provide a sound reason for their concept – better work gets done.
Problems that I have seen: The above material is the essence of this blog. In all my years in marketing, I have seen a few recurring mistakes that designers make. What follows are a few of these common pitfalls:
- Use of a full page (print or website) of white type on a black background.
- If your objective is to get the type read, don’t do this. It looks pretty and eye-catching but if you show such a page to a dozen people. It’s highly likely that most will stop reading long before they get to the bottom of the page. Why? They’re being blinded. If you need to have your black sexy page you can help it a little using slightly larger type, adding some leading between lines of type, and use a narrower column. The best solution is to limit the white type on a black background, is to follow my recommendations and limit its use to a single paragraph.
- More on white/reverse type. Never use it on a pale color. No justification needed.
- One tip. What looks good on a printed page may not look that way on other media. Check each use of your graphic on each media in which it will be used. You may have to adjust the color for some of them.
- Don’t be ashamed of your brand name.
- On print ads, almost without fail, you will find the brand name/logo in the lower right corner or somewhere along the bottom of the page (comparable to TV ads that don’t mention the advertiser’s name until the last 2 or 3 seconds of their commercial).
- Don’t you want the reader to quickly connect with you? Hopefully, your ad’s headline or main graphic will get people’s attention. You’ve got it – now tell them who you are before you lose them.
- Learn from PR professionals. Get the press and the publication’s readers, if you’re lucky enough, and quickly tell them who you are and what you offer.
- Keep the page clean.
- A busy print ad, homepage, billboard, and/or package will serve as a distraction rather than an attraction (Spoiler: I will use the last six words in my next rap song). Product packaging was a significant part of my company’s marketing effort. Simple, clear messaging was important to the product’s success. I was constantly pushing back on the CEO’s call to say more. I stuck to my principle and it worked.
- Here’s a good article regarding keeping your homepage clean. If you have the time, I recommend it.
Of course, there’s more to say but I’m trying to keep this blog clean.