Why creative education for advertising is stuck in the dark ages

Our ECD Cameron Temple wonders about the copywriter/art director partnership

In the golden age of advertising, the agency creative department was made up of copywriters and art directors. This made sense, because the majority of ads back then were for press, which required two things: copy and art. Traditional creative teams, then, were born out of relevance to the media. A copywriter to write the ad, and an art director to visualise it.

Fast-forward almost 60 years and take a quick look at advertising today: digital, social, experiential, mobile, integrated, on demand TV, VR, AR, DOOH, the list goes on. It’s safe to say the landscape hasn’t just shifted, it’s completely changed. But one thing hasn’t changed. We still have creative teams that consist of a copywriter and an art director.

What amazes me is that advertising students today are still being asked to make this same binary choice from the outset: if you’re a copywriter, find an art director, if you’re an art director, find a copywriter. The problem this creates is that students are not educated as individual practitioners, but as a co-dependant team designed to suit the traditions of the advertising industry.

When you look at what a creative idea has to cover these days, it often exceeds the skillset of any two individuals. But as the world of advertising continues to evolve with new and exciting outlets for creativity, most agencies and colleges still promote the same creative team model. The result is that most creative advertising students graduate as a team, not because they want to be in one, but because they have to be. The matter of whether they genuinely complement one another’s skill set is, to a point, down to luck.

This is often evident in student portfolios. At many colleges today, you’re asked to create a campaign of three press executions, rather than exploring the potential of your idea. I’ve seen some awful portfolios that contain brilliant ideas, because the brains that came up with the ideas have been trained to visualise them as posters.

Much of this comes from a lack of focus on execution. The consensus is that if it works on a poster it will work anywhere. But a great idea can really suffer from the wrong application. Young creatives should be working with practitioners from different backgrounds to hone their own craft, rather than preoccupying themselves with finding their lifetime work partner. Efforts should be equally focussed on meeting up with developers, motion designers, filmmakers, illustrators, designers and so on, drawing on new inputs and exploring the results. We need to change the way we educate young creatives. In my experience, the best ideas are the ones that start simple, and transform into something great with the introduction of multiple disciplines. The creatives that adapt to this the fastest tend to be the ones that thrive. They’re the keen ones, eager to try new stuff and stay open to influence. They don’t have an agenda to create a preconceived idea of what an advertising campaign should be, they simply have the desire to make an idea work.

There is a magic to seeing an idea become real. But to exclude the people who make that happen from the creative process is a mistake. The role of a creative team needs to adapt. Ideas are important, but nothing is worse than a great idea that doesn’t reach its potential. Students should start collaborating more with a wider range of practitioners, and working out fresh ways to bring their ideas to life. Because, let’s face it, none of us got into this business to make posters.

Cameron Temple is an Executive Creative Director at Stink Studios. This article originally appeared in It's Nice That on February 15th, 2017. Illustration credit: Chris Martin