There is far more to the creative process than learning how to use software and configure hardware. This blog addresses them.


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Journey author Robert Davis is the owner and creative director of Atlanta agency, Davis Advertising, Inc.


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Journey from Concept to Creation

There is far more to the creative process than learning how to use software and configure hardware. This blog addresses them.
  • Color.

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    I was doing a demo recording for a friend a few years ago. The subject of choosing colors came up while I was working on the CD cover design. I remember her saying that she was impressed with my taste in choosing a good color scheme, claiming that it is a talent that few men possess. While there is "method to the madness" of choosing compatible colors for use in design work, I didn’t mention it to her at the time. I preferred to let her believe that I had creative talent that few men possess. While an exhaustive study of color theory could fill many books, I will cut to the chase and try to offer a concise and useful overview.

        Specifying color is largely a matter of understanding the color wheel – first developed by Sir Issac Newton (a man) in 1667 – which is centered on a logically organized sequence of pure color hues. It was refined by Albert H. Munsell (another man) in 1905.
        Munsell also introduced the concept of Hue, Chroma (Intensity or Saturation) and Value. The order of colors on the color wheel follow the order of colors seen when light is shown through a prism. The color wheel is made up of three primary, three secondary, and six tertiary colors – a total of 12 basic hues. The three primary colors are red, yellow and blue. Mixing them creates the secondary colors; green, orange and purple. The Tertiary Colors are formed by mixing a primary color with a secondary color. They are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green and yellow-green.
        When specifying color, it is necessary to understand how color impacts people.
    Here are a few examples:

    *   Color choices should reflect your target market (women -- far more "color conscious" than men -- like red while men like blue) as well as the other strategic factors mentioned in my blogs, depending on the mood you want to convey and the emotional response you want to elicit.
    *   Color choices should reflect the culture and religion where your work will be seen as color can have different meanings in different parts of the world (there is no proven “universal reaction” to colors). For example, white is associated with death in eastern cultures as black is in the west.
    *   An object shown in a bright color looks larger than the same object shown in a dark color. Bright color "radiates," drawing the eye outward and expanding the object. If you are selling "size," you might consider using a brightly colored sample of the merchandise.
    *   Hermann Rorschach, the Swiss psychologist found that cheerful people are more responsive to color while melancholy people respond better to shape. If you want to limit your market to those who have a more serious interest, you might want to keep the color subdued as color allows the viewer to be somewhat more passive... weeding out lukewarm prospects.
    *   Color has been proven to be far more effective (up to 70%) in advertising than black and white... the added cost in printing color is marginal by comparison.

        Red is considered to be a “Hot” color. It can stimulate physical activity and sexual desire… passion, aggression and anger. It can make people feel hungry and increase respiration and blood pressure. You can use it for emphasis, although it was drilled into my head in art school that yellow is the “most advancing color” – it will draw the eye first. Yellow can symbolize joy, happiness, wealth, hope, weakness, greed and friendship. Yellow and Black symbolize danger or caution. White is purity and truth. Violet is royalty... and loneliness. Green is fresh and fruitful... envy and guilt. "True blue" is fidelity. In fact, every color has symbolism that can be used to affect your market (color can also be used to implement principles of design, but it is subordinate to shape).
        Blue, Green and Blue-Green are considered to be “Cold” colors. They denote coldness, cleanliness and freshness -- explaining why these colors are so popular in laundry detergent package design. Warm colors are based on red but “softened” and suffused with orange and yellows. Cool colors are based on blue and suffused with reds and yellows. Warm colors cheer and stimulate while cool colors calm and relax.
        Combinations of warm grays and cool grays are often used for shadows in renderings; usually resulting in more a realistic look when compared to using black. Artists also use a color’s complement to create shadows (sunlit objects in nature will have shadows with a hint of the object color's complement). When you stare at a color and then look at a white sheet of paper you will see a "ghost" of the color's complement.
        While any color can be combined (as in nature) if you choose the correct value and intensity, aesthetically pleasing color combinations have been found to lie with colors on opposite ends of the color wheel (complements), equidistant from each other (triads), those that lie on either side of the color (blended) or on either side of the complementary color (split complementary).  The closer colors are on the color wheel, the more harmonious they are. Colors on opposite sides complement each other. Use of color in design should be mostly harmonious or mostly complementary; mostly cool or mostly warm. There are numerous color schemes -- achromatic, monochromatic, analogous, complementary, triadic, rectangular, pentagonal, etc. Achromatic schemes consist of blacks, whites and neutral grays. Monochromatic schemes are based on one color and its various tints and shades. Analogous schemes are three colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. The Primary color scheme is made up of the three primary colors… strong and energetic, it is often used in designs targeting children. Secondary color schemes are also strong and energetic but more sophisticated.
        Here are a couple of links that help to make the task of color specification easier, if not a "no brainer." Check out Color Blender and Kuler. They are awesome resources for specifying color. With tools like these, (and my blog) there is simply no reason for not having beautifully spec'd color schemes in your designs. Of course if you are a woman you won't need them.


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  • "Divine Proportion."

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    One of the best ways to understand the last of my five principles of design -- proportion -- is to study nature. When you look across a landscape, you don’t typically see one tree that is precisely one half as high as another… or one cloud that is one quarter the size of the next one… or stars and galaxies that are equidistant from each other. Nature cares little about such obvious mathematical relationships and good design follows the examples of nature in this regard.
        That is not to say that nature isn’t mathematical. The elements of nature -- clouds, plants, geographical features, animals, stars, galaxies, etc., do have pleasing proportions and the proportional relationships are based on what mathematicians call “irrational” mathematics.

        There is a “divine proportion” that occurs frequently and abundantly in nature. It is generally referred to as the “golden ratio.” When a line is divided by the golden ratio (Phi -- the “irrational” number 1.6180339887...), the resulting proportions are visually pleasing. The Pythagoreans (circa 500 BC) believed this to be divinely inspired.
        The history of the golden ratio goes back at least to 500 BC. [If you create a sequence of numbers (starting with 0, 1) by adding the last two numbers in the sequence together you will have what is called the Fibonacci sequence -- 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 and so forth. As you divide each resulting number into the previous number, the result resolves into the golden ratio.] But, as recently as 1854, Adolf Zeising discovered that the branches along stems of plants and the veins in leaves were expressions of the golden ratio -- so are the dimensions of the human body, other skeletal forms, sunflower florets, seashells such as the Nautilus (a Fibbonacci spiral). and countless other occurences in nature ranging from the logarithmic spirals of hurricanes and galaxies (completely unrelated phenonoma) to the flight pattern of a falcon diving on its prey.
        When the length of a line is divided by the golden ratio (rounded to 1.62), and split into segments based on the resulting length, the length of the shorter segment is to the longer segment what the length of the longer segment is to the entire length of the line. Renaissance artists used this “divine proportion” to design paintings, sculpture and architecture. It is believed to have been used in works ranging from the Mona Lisa to the Parthenon (and the great pyramids). The Parthenon is considered to be the finest example of proportion in the history of architecture.
        In art school, one of the layout styles I learned about is called the Mondrian layout. It is named after the Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) who is considered to be the father of advertising design. He used grids extensively… with the grids following the tenets of the golden ratio or divine proportion. In the Mondrian tradition, contemporary graphic designers often use the “rule of thirds” to create layout grids which result in these universally pleasing proportions.
        This is achieved by first dividing your layout dimensions into thirds, and then to divide the top most resulting dimension by thirds again. Then dividing each column in halves. This grid is then used as a guide in determing the placement of the elements of design -- according, of course, to the principles of design that I have been discussing in this blog.
        Speaking of the other principles, proportion is closely related to balance and emphasis… and sequence. Different proportions of visual to copy, for example, can send uniquely different messages, even when using identical elements of design. The use of proper proportion results in unequal dimensions -- without obvious mathematical relationships -- which help to create a lively, interesting and pleasing design.
        The golden ratio is seen in musical compositions from Bartok' to Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. Stradivari used the golden ratio for the placement of the f-holes in his famous violins. On the piano, there are 13 musical notes separating each octave of 8 notes (the golden ratio). The keys of a piano also consist of the golden ratio -- a scale of 13 keys, 8 white, 5 black split into groups of 3 and 2.
        Contemporaneously, the ubiquitious golden ratio is used in abundance -- at least in its approximate form. If you use the "a" and "b" lengths from the example above, to create a rectangle, you will have what is referred to as the "golden oblong" -- considered to be the perfect rectangle. Visa® and Mastercard® aspect ratios are close approximations, as are the aspect ratios of some popular video screens… including cinematic aspect ratios (1920 x 1200 and 720 x 480).

        If you go back to my previous blogs you will find that I have referred to Bill Bernback's "Think Small" ad numerous times. It is a remarkable example of practically everything I have discussed. In the great Mondrian tradition, it is not too surprising to find that Bernback also used the rule of thirds when creating what is considered to be the most divine ad of all time.


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  • Balance.

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    The fourth graphic design principle I will write about is the principle of balance. Like all principles of design, balance applies equally to the elements within the layout as well as the overall layout. There are two basic types of balance: formal (symmetrical) and informal (asymmetrical).

         The concept of formal balance is pretty easy to understand. With formal balance, every item on one side of the page is repeated symmetrically on the other side. Prevalent in ancient Roman and Greek architecture, formal balance is typically used in institutional ads and ads requiring a look of dignity. Formal balance can also be somewhat boring and mundane, especially to recent creative school grads eager to demonstrate their creativity. Nevertheless, the most effective ads are often the simple ones. Remember, the purpose of design is itself quite simple; to communicate your message to the target audience
    in the most effective manner possible. Sometimes the most effective manner is to "keep it simple stupid."

      One of the most effective ad types is often referred to as the David Ogilvy layout. This layout contains a dominant visual, a headline under the visual, and a two or three column copy block under the headline...black letters on a white (or light colored) background --  along with the logo and contact info which is usually placed at the bottom right hand side. While this may seem simplistic, especially to young graphic designers who are eager to demonstrate their prowess, it has been proven time and again to be highly effective. William Bernbach's Volkswagen ad, discussed in my previous blog, is a classic example. While this "Picture Window" ad layout itself is quite simple, the elements of this 1960 ad design (art director, Helmut Krone) – concept, headline, visual, copy, etc. -- are of exceptional quality. This ad is also a great example of informal balance, especially in terms of the size and composition of the photo. The weight of the typography balances against the light gray color of the photo background… and the small black VW. Bernbach, by the way, has "violated" one of my pet peeve rules by allowing widows and orphans in the body copy. But, upon closer examination his reasoning becomes clear. He used his "creative license" to balance the weight of the third copy block against the car in the photo... balancing the VW logo with the car in the process.
        Informal balance still requires balanced optical weight but
    the weight is distributed differently. Informal balance is more dynamic and exciting and it usually results in a more interesting design... and interesting and unusual shapes tend to attract attention. With informal balance, all of the elements are still balanced, but the balance can be distributed in terms of color, value, shape, position, texture and direction.
        The use of informal balance requires a higher level of artistic ability than does formal balance. The study of classical art is invaluable in helping to develop a better understanding of informal balance. In the Volkswagen ad, the photo composition of the car uses informal balance (directional balance) beautifully. This technique is used to sell through the "unique selling proposition" of the ad as presented in the “Think Small” headline and copy -- the copywriting by Julian Koenig was truly masterful.

       I would argue, by the way, that the ad uses a combination of both formal and informal balance to achieve its objective. [There is good reason why this ad is considered the greatest ad of all time.] Regardless of the type of balance, the optical center (a point just above center and slightly to the left) should always act as the ads pivot.
       There is also a third type of balance – radial balance. This is when all the elements of the design “radiate” from a center point in a circular fashion. Radial balance is a great way to lead the eye into the focal point in the center of the ad.

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  • Sequence (eye travel).

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    In addition to my interest in reading company mission statements as mentioned in a previous blog, as an advertising executive, I also can’t help myself when it comes to evaluating the visual design of television commercials and corporate videos, magazine advertisements, brochures, web sites, logos, etc. When it comes to design work, I have found it relatively easy to separate the design pros from the “weekend warriors” that I mentioned in my first blog. While professional artists apply design principles to their work instinctively – using them as a guide in evaluating the progress of their work -- inexperienced and untrained “designers” routinely violate design principles.

        There are few art directors at the advertising agency or design studio level who did not receive formal training. Those "lucky" enough to get an agency job after graduation typically work an entry level job as an assistant -- pushing the mail cart or going out for burgers for a couple of years prior taking the helm as a designer or art director. There are a handful of top (and quite expensive) creative schools from which top agencies recruit entry level creatives. Three of these (Portfolio Center, SCAD Atlanta and Creative Circus) have campuses in Atlanta and in addition to other creative schools such as The Alliance Theater School, they contribute to a great local talent pool.
        Nevertheless, not all persons called on to produce designs or layouts are so fortunate. Many are asked to develop visual graphics without the benefit of formal training – sadly, never having the experience of being sent out to get burgers for the creative staff. But there is hope. These burger deprived “creatives” can improve their design work immeasurably by learning these fundamental design principles…and understanding how to apply them. This brings me to the next principle -- Sequence.
        Through habit, the eye moves from left to right and then top to bottom, from big elements to smaller ones, from dark to light, from color to non-color, and from unusual shapes to common shapes. The advertising designer can start eye travel anywhere in the ad and control its direction… left, right, up or down. In a well-designed ad, a directional pattern should be evident. The professional designer takes the reader by the hand and leads him or her through the ad to the climax.
        To illustrate this principle, I will point again to my Sunshine Biscuits’ poster. Note how the viewer is guided through the ad with the crayons leading the viewer from the main visual to the headline. While the main visual will attract immediate attention, the crayons help to lead the viewers’ eye into the headline… and the “warm and fuzzy” message which contains the benefit mentioned in previous blogs. In addition, The contrast of white space behind the house tends to focus the eye on the artwork… this is helped a bit by the rays of the sun -- in tandem with the chimney -- which lead the eye into the house. The shape of the door and direction of the crayons then help to lead the eye into the headline. It should be obvious that sequence is closely related to emphasis, as noted in my previous blog.
        Officially, there are two more principles left to talk about. I will leave you guessing this time about the next one... This blog reminds me of how the Sunshine Biscuits' marketing director loaded me up with a big box of snacks for "inspiration" while I was creating this poster... so I’ve been thinking about food while writing this and it is definitely time for a healthy snack… no burgers for me… those Cheez-it’s are looking pretty good… or maybe some Krispy crackers and peanut butter… yum.

  • Emphasis.

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    As I mentioned in my last blog, I consider the principle of unity to be the most important principle of design. I want to reiterate that it extends beyond the unity of shapes to include color, typography, visuals, copy and other factors. I should also point out that these principles affect all art forms; painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, industrial design and video design. The principles of design are to the artist what the rules of grammar are to the writer.

         By stating that unity is the most important principle, I did not mean to detract from the importance of the other principles -- they are all critical to good design and if any of these principles are violated, the overall design will certainly suffer. In addition to evaluating unity, the creative artist should make a decision as to which design element will be emphasized. Emphasis can be provided by singling an element out, moving it away from the clutter of other elements, making it bigger, bolder or more colorful. The emphasized element might be placed at optical center to ensure its being seen, but it may also be placed elsewhere. The most important rule about emphasis is that all emphasis is no emphasis. Separate elements should not compete for primary attention. Where several items get equal billing, emphasis is cancelled out. In a poorly designed layout, the elements fight for attention. In the poster for Sunshine Biscuits®, there is little doubt that the emphasis is on the child-like house illustration. It is big, bold and colorful. Plus, it has the added benefit of selling the products.
         One challenge in creating proper emphasis can involve dealing with the tendency of clients to want their logo and/or phone number to be enlarged so that it ends up visually fighting with everything else in the ad. David Ogilvy even wrote a poem about this -- “If the client moans and sighs, make the logo twice its size…” While you might have to struggle with the client over this issue, it is your job as the designer to explain what should be emphasized to enhance the effectiveness of the work. In these cases, I try (Lord knows) to convince the client of the need to put the benefit forward as the most important item (see previous blogs). If you are successful in convincing your target market of the benefit, and that the benefit is substantial and worthy with regard to the competition, they will find the phone number all by themselves. The best clients will leave design decisions to the professional designer.
         This brings me to one of the reasons I decided to take this little side trip in the first place. While many designers work in a vacuum, good designers recognize that their work is an extension of strategic planning. The purpose of advertising is usually to sell the benefit via the creative promise (I'll talk about the creative promise in a later blog.). Or, the purpose might be to position the product or service, to enhance the image of the client, and/or to brand the image in the mind of the target market. The principle of emphasis plays a major role in helping to achieve these goals.
         Emphasis applies to all design work…including collateral...and video. The designer should evaluate which element has the highest priority in the design and make it the primary element. As I noted in the last blog, emphasis is closely related to unity. Emphasis is also very closely related to the principle I will talk about in my next blog... Sequence (eye travel).

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  • Unity.

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    Back in the day, when I played tournament foosball, there were five basic principles that were critically important. The table had to be in excellent shape. If it wasn’t, it was a waste of time and I wouldn’t bother with it. As a matter of fact, only those foosball joints that took care of their tables would establish a reputation and draw the best players around. There were only a handful of foosball joints that seemed to understand this. If the rods were bent or warped it was useless. If they became sticky and wouldn’t spin freely it was equally useless. If the playing surface became dirty or had oversprayed silicone (used for the rods) on it, you couldn’t keep the ball in play. If the balls were chipped or warped they were useless. If the table wasn’t level, playing was an exercise in futility. But, when the conditions were right the foosball table and I became one -- we were unified -- and as I humbly noted in my last blog, virtually unbeatable. This brings me to what I consider to be the most important of the five principles of design – UNITY.

        The first mistake I usually notice in a poorly designed ad is a violation of unity. If an ad has unity, all of the elements are tied together and appear to be related. Unity keeps the ad from falling apart. In a unified ad, all of the elements have similar shape, size, texture, color, character and mood. The type in a unified ad has the same character as the art.
         I created this giant poster for Sunshine Biscuits® to help promote their Habitat For Humanity® program. The target market was mothers of young kids who would be shopping in Kroger® food stores. (The giant poster was placed in cookies/crackers aisles.) It was featured in the Atlanta Business Chronicle in their special issue on Atlanta's Best Advertising. I will use it as reference in discussing the five principles of design.
        White space (negative space) can help provide unity while also giving the ad an interesting shape. Negative space should be to the outside of the ad – ad elements should never be separated with white space; this causes the ad to fall apart. Negative space should not be trapped inside the ad…it needs to have a path outside the ad elements. In keeping with the law of proportion (another principle to be discussed in an upcoming blog) the white space around the edges of the ad should have an irregular shape. This adds interest and attracts
    greater attention.
        Here is a little trick on how to evaluate unity of design shapes. If you “black-in” all the elements of the ad leaving the negative space or white space alone, the elements ought to look unified. They don’t necessarily have to physically connect but they must relate to each other visually. If there is too much negative space between the elements, they lose unity with each other.
        As my foosball analogy illustrates, none of the five principles work in a vacuum…they are all necessary and inter-related. If any one principle is violated, the work will suffer. By the way, in addition to proportion, Unity is very closely related to another principle, “emphasis” which will be the subject of my next blog.

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  • Detour.

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    Ok, now that I've had a blog vacation for a couple of months, I thought it might be good to take a little detour from our journey. You know, mix things up a little bit to keep things interesting. I hope you will like this little mini-series on the five principles of design (plus my very own sixth principle). After I've spent a few weeks talking about this, I'll pick back up where I left off... um… oh yeah, I remember -- "Tactics."

        But for now, I'll take a little side trip and talk about the principles of design. I learned these principles while attending commercial art school. I have fond memories of art school. We got to draw live, naked female models…you know, studying the human form and all that. Mostly, we had to complete an enormous volume of assignments ranging from advertising techniques, copywriting, photography, art direction, drawing/painting, layout, storyboarding, graphic design and typography to printing technology. [I was the only one in my class who was actually working in the field.] While building our student portfolio, we learned about the “golden age of advertising.” I read about great copywriters and advertising men such as David Ogilvy and William Bernback.
        During lunch I usually headed right for the foosball tables. If I might brag just a bit (totally against my character as you already probably know from reading my previous blogs), I can say that I was quite the foosball player. I loved the game. I played all the major foosball joints in Atlanta and while the competition could be very stiff, there were few players who could beat me...none consistently (I know, I know, that was a self absorbed, arrogant, self-aggrandizing and conceited statement). I could go to any foosball joint, put a quarter on a table, and play for free ‘till closing time (the rule was that the challenger always paid). I played tournaments for cash prizes where dozens of folks crammed around the table in smoke filled rooms to get a look at the action. It was a blast! Life was good.
        I could draw a crowd around a foosball table and the college recreation center was no exception. My fellow students were dumbfounded when they witnessed my foosball prowess and finesse which included a full complement of shots… push shots, pull shots, foos shots, reverses and double reverses -- even a triple reverse. I could pass the ball from middle to front like no other -- with blinding speed. My opponent would hear a loud thwack and I would be tapping the ball with my front/center man, going back and forth with a hypnotizing motion.Then, with my usual sense of fair play, I would give them time to recover (and realize that I had not scored, but only passed to my front man as it was considered uncouth to score from the middle) and set up their defense. Then I would smash the ball into the goal using the back and forth motion to seduce them into a hypnotic rhythm; breaking the rhythm by suddenly pulling back twice and shooting. You could hear the ball crashing into the goal like cannon fire echoing through the cavernous cafeteria/recreation center and down the hallways -- enticing even more students to push through the crowd to witness foosball wizardry at its finest. I loved the looks on my opponents’ faces after I had blasted the ball into the goal. They were at my mercy. Move over James Cameron -- I was king of the world.
        Aside from foosball, art was my way of getting attention. It gave me a unique identity and in addition to my massive charm and rugged good looks, yet another way to impress the girls.
        While some of the friends I grew up with were musicians in a successful rock 'n roll band, I dreamed of being an advertising executive. While musicians would have to travel from one sleazy bar to another, I pictured myself drawing marker comps and storyboards sitting in my own advertising agency in a glass and steel office tower -- with my Porsche sitting in the parking deck. I loved the idea of having one of those hydraulically controlled giant drawing tables surrounded with all the cool tools of the trade. I would be a more modern, longer haired and far cooler adman than the Darrin Stevens of my childhood. Surely I would be a "babe magnet" and life would be good.
        Oop's sorry... back to reality. Ah yes -- principles of design. Well there are officially five of them. I believe a true artist uses them instinctively without necessarily being consciously aware of them while creating their art. Back in art school, I had no idea how useful these five little bits of wisdom could be -- nor did I realize how many ways I could use them. I know you are dying to hear all about them, but you'll just have to wait for my next blog 'cause I'm 'fraid my little side trip turned into a journey down memory lane.

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  • Strategy.

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     Are we having fun yet? I hope so because now that we have defined the objectives, it is time to formulate the strategy. This is where the fun really begins. Woohoo! While objectives establish desired end results of the creative effort, it is the strategy that outlines the specific marketing action recommended to achieve those results. Strategies must always be linked to specific objectives and there should be a strategy for every objective. Objectives without strategies for achieving them are really quite useless -- not much fun at all.

       The strategy is the “big picture” of how you are going to achieve your objectives. When you write a strategy statement you think in broad strokes. The strategy is a culmination of everything I have covered in my blog thus far. It defines the structure for everything that follows in your creative journey. [It also involves the "marketing mix" -- the four P’s -- Product, Place, Price and Promotion including the various distribution channels.]
        As I said, all of the parameters I have discussed in previous blogs weigh heavily on the process of formulating the strategy -- including the Mission Statement, Unique Selling Proposition and Positioning Statement. Strategy is based on an accurate and detailed definition of the Target Market, includng the specific demographic, socioeconomic and geodemographic factors mentioned in my previous blog.
        There are obvious parallels between marketing strategies and military strategies. These may include offensive, defensive, flanking and guerrilla marketing strategies. The strategy will lay down the framework -- the specific action -- for the creative work plan or "creative brief." The strategy will lead to the specific tactics that will be recommended to best achieve the stated objectives of the strategic plan.
        Strategy ultimately dictates exactly what creative programs will be developed, who they will be targeted to, when they will be executed and what media will be used to deliver them.

        An advertising agency recommends and develops creative programs that are most appropriate for achieving objectives. The creative programs are an outgrowth of the tactics that the agency planners have concluded will best carry out the strategy. So, the next time you are producing or editing a corporate video or television commercial, try thinking about how your creative project relates to the overall strategy of the client... and other fun stuff like how the work will best achieve client objectives.
        The strategy is the first major turning point of our creative journey. It is critically important that the strategy is correct. While every strategic plan should allow for some flexibility to accommodate inevitable changes in various factors, It can difficult and costly to change strategy after the program has been put into place. It is imperative that all parties involved in the creative journey, especially your client, are fully briefed and committed to the strategy. It isn't much fun to try and change gears after you have begun to implement your strategy. I think I'll take a little rest stop so you can think it over and review the journey before we continue down the road.

  • The objective.

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     Before you get started on a journey, it is always a good idea to know where you are going, how far your destination is, and how long it will take to get there. Our creative journey is no exception. So, the next step in our journey is to determine the objective(s) of the creative work. But, before we can determine the objective, we need to know precisely what an objective is.  Not to worry, I will 'splain it for you. First, as you might have surmised, an objective is not an objective at all unless it contains all three parts of an objective. It ain’t an objective 'till it's an objective (I’m practicing my Yogi Berra imitation). Anyway, this was drilled into my head in business school…so now I am going to drill it into your head -- fair is fair.

     The first part of an objective is the “factor” that you want to influence. While this usually involves sales of widgets, this could involve a great number of things. You might want to sell Japanese kitchen knives that never need sharpening… garnish a bigger market share -- or really important stuff like help women to get unbreakable nails. Or, you might be trying to get people to quit smoking… get rid of “love handles…” lose 300 lbs in six weeks… grow more hair… get washboard abs (like mine)… get greener grass… or just create a “warm and fuzzy” feeling about a company via their corporate video.

     But no matter what the factor is that you want to influence, it cannot be a real objective unless it also contains the second part -- the degree of influence. This might be expressed as a percentage, a dollar amount, or some other measurable factor such as the "warm & fuzziness" factor or something. It can be determined by using break-even point analysis, previous year company and/or industry sales and market share data, or polling and marketing research.

     I know the suspense is killing you so here is the third component -- the time frame. If you do not have a time frame for achieving your objective, guess what... it ain't an objective. Of course different factors will obviously require different time frames. It takes longer, for example, to change prevailing negative attitudes than to generate traffic to a web site or to equip every home with one of those cool Japanese kitchen knives that'll cut right through tin cans and then slice tomatoes "paper thin."

       In addition to having all three parts, the objective must be specific, workable, measurable, and attainable... and challenging. It is futile to have an objective that cannot be achieved... it is also rather lame to have an objective that is too easy to achieve.

       Having a proper written objective that is agreed upon by all parties in advance of implementation is important... if for no other reason than the fact that you cannot measure success or failure without a "measuring stick." Some factors are, of course, more easily measured than others. For example, web site hits, retail store traffic and sales of nail polish are relatively easy to measure, while brand image and awareness are more difficult; sometimes requiring extensive polling and other market research. In all cases, having a written objective provides the benchmark for measuring success or failure of the creative effort.

  • Perception vs. Reality.

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    The next question that needs to be addressed is how the client’s products, services or brand(s) are to be “positioned” in the mind of the target market. Positioning has to do with how the target market perceives and identifies with the brand. In the mind of the target audience, perception equals reality. Of course to succeed in the highly competitive marketing arena, the perception should also BE reality. If a company positions itself as offering the highest quality product, it darn well better offer the highest quality product. If it positions itself as offering the lowest prices it needs to do just that. Abraham Lincoln was obviously thinking of modern advertising when he said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”

       Positioning is all about how the target market perceives the brand with respect to its competition -- and how the brand will BENEFIT the target consumer. There are numerous ways a brand can be positioned… but it ALWAYS should be positioned in competitive terms… not some weak, pathetic, half-hearted claim… but a strong, sustainable and real competitive advantage.

       I’ll give one classic example of positioning and let you take it from there. If the soft drink market is saturated with cola drinks, you might want to offer something a bit different -- enter 7-Up® and its world-famous positioning slogan… “the Uncola®.” (A successful brand even without peanuts or a moonpie.) 

    Ok, you win… here is another one. If your beer market research indicates that the market has little perceived difference between brands, develop a low-calorie beer along with a cool positioning slogan like, “Lite Beer from Miller®. Everything you always wanted in a beer. And less!” And the most famous of all... Bernback's "Think Small" advertising headline for the 1959 VW® Bug -- created long before the term "Positioning" was "coined" by Ries & Trout in 1969. [This ad is the number one ad of all time according to Advertising Age Magazine.] These famous advertising slogans are ALL ABOUT POSITIONING. If you are not “stuck on stupid,” you should be able to see how, in these examples, all creative aspects work together in communicating the positioning statement to a specific target audience (note the composition of the visual in the VW ad for example). Now, I’ll let you take it from here…

       …uh, except to say that when you create art you are in fact, creating an image in the mind of the audience. Like it or not, you are “positioning” the subject of your work in their mind. That is your job. So… since you are in effect doing this anyway, why not be smart and give it more than just a fleeting thought?

      True… generally a successful brand will already have a competitive position… so more often than not, the creative director’s job is to communicate that position. It is a primary role of the marketing communications process. Therefore, the "Positioning Statement" has a well-deserved and honorable place in our journey to creative excellence. Ok, at long last I will finally let you take it from here…

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