ArabAd - - FRONT PAGE - By Iain Ak­er­man

If you cast your mind back, cre­ative de­part­ments were once built around the bi­nary struc­ture of copy­writer and art di­rec­tor. Sure, there were se­nior art di­rec­tors, se­nior copy­writ­ers, cre­ative di­rec­tors and ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tors, but the beat­ing heart of an agency was the union of art and copy.

Such prac­ti­tion­ers oc­cu­pied con­verted ware­houses in New York or lofts in London and were revered by their peers as scribes and artists. They would sit for hours just think­ing. Only oc­ca­sion­ally would they stir to craft a three-word tagline of un­de­ni­able wit.

As much as we may mock or envy the con­cept now, such a cou­pling led to the cre­ation of much of the world’s most mem­o­rable ad­ver­tis­ing. They were the main in­gre­di­ents in ad­ver­tis­ing’s kitchen. The salt and pep­per of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“Though we’ve al­ways called the cre­ative depart­ment an ad kitchen, I don’t think it ever func­tioned like one,” says Vidya Man­mo­han, ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor at Grey Dubai. “We were divided in si­los and in­vis­i­bly chained to our desks. To­day, it’s not just the phys­i­cal walls that have dis­ap­peared. It’s also the mind­set that has changed.

“Though we con­tinue to have the ti­tles, the dy­nam­ics of how we work with one an­other has be­come quite fluid. It’s not a pro­duc­tion line any­more, but a breed­ing ground for creativ­ity where ev­ery­one’s opin­ions are re­spected and the best im­ple­mented. This only makes it eas­ier to adapt to an ever-chang­ing in­dus­try like ours.”

To­day’s ad kitchen would be barely

recog­nis­able to some­one from the hal­cyon days of ad­ver­tis­ing. Gone are the cig­a­rettes and four-hour lunch breaks. Gone too are the type­writ­ers and the fax ma­chines. In their place are mo­tion de­sign­ers, scriptwrit­ers, data di­rec­tors, data an­a­lysts and so­cial di­rec­tors. All those skill sets that were pre­vi­ously the realm of sci­ence or an­a­lyt­ics, yet are now seem­ingly pre­req­ui­sites for a ca­reer in ad­ver­tis­ing.

“Nowa­days, with data col­lec­tion it feels that even the au­di­ence is part of the depart­ment,” says Marie-claire Maalouf, as­so­ciate cre­ative di­rec­tor at Im­pact BBDO Dubai. “We get to un­der­stand all about them and, through their feed­back, as­sess what ac­tu­ally moves them.”

For Maalouf, two in­gre­di­ents have dra­mat­i­cally trans­formed an agency’s cre­ative depart­ment. One is dig­i­tal. The other is di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion.

“The new pool of tal­ent are dig­i­tal na­tives who can pick up a broad range of skills rather than spe­cial­is­ing in one,” she says. “What’s in­ter­est­ing to note is that even nurs­eries are teach­ing cod­ing now. If you don’t be­lieve it, just pay a visit to the Nurs­ery of the Fu­ture in Dubai. So de­sign­ers won’t just be de­sign­ers any­more, but also coders, ed­i­tors, and maybe sound engi­neers.

“Even the way the depart­ment is struc­tured to­day is more fluid and dy­namic, with the ad­di­tion of tal­ent not only with dig­i­tal knowhow, but from cul­tural, au­dio-vis­ual, and in­flu­en­tial back­grounds. And, de­pend­ing on the brief at hand, you can see more co-cre­ation be­tween dif­fer­ent fields in or­der to cre­ate the most im­mer­sive and valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence for the client.”

This trans­for­ma­tion ar­guably be­gan with the let­ter ‘d’. As agen­cies re­alised they must evolve in the age of the in­ter­net, all jobs started to be­gin with that one pre­vi­ously in­nocu­ous let­ter. Hence dig­i­tal di­rec­tor, dig­i­tal art di­rec­tor, dig­i­tal de­signer. Most agen­cies even cre­ated sep­a­rate dig­i­tal de­part­ments be­fore re­al­is­ing they were coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and merged them back into the cre­ative depart­ment.

That con­sol­i­da­tion is part of a wider trend. Whereas once spe­cial­i­sa­tion was the driv­ing force be­hind agency strat­egy, lead­ing to the cre­ation of ev­ery­thing from ex­pe­ri­en­tial divi­sions to shop­per mar­ket­ing de­part­ments, now in­te­gra­tion is in vogue. That means all dis­ci­plines be­ing rolled into one core agency unit. All of which has not only im­pacted the chem­istry of the cre­ative depart­ment, but has changed how agen­cies work.

“It feels that now the process works in a hor­i­zon­tal fash­ion as op­posed to fol­low­ing a ver­ti­cal model,” says Maalouf. “The only ver­ti­cal thing we’ve added in the depart­ment is a ver­ti­cal TV screen that we in­stalled as a con­tent hub that dis­plays best in prac­tice ‘ver­ti­cal’ for­mats. It’s a place where we test whether our work works.

“Also, the creatives don’t live on an is­land any­more. We used to get a list of de­liv­er­ables then shut the door and get to work. But now it’s more about col­lab­o­rat­ing and build­ing part­ner­ships, trusted re­la­tion­ships where we can all learn, use the strength of each other and

cre­ate more in­no­va­tive and stronger prod­ucts. It’s not just within the agency or with our clients but with our au­di­ence too. It’s a dig­i­tal democ­racy where they can tell you ex­actly how you’re do­ing at ev­ery step of the way. Most clients are adopt­ing this new way of work­ing and it’s ap­peal­ing to them, es­pe­cially clients that are by na­ture dig­i­tal or are a new tech prod­uct.”

For creatives such as Man­mo­han, this is a new and ex­cit­ing place to be. Af­ter all, this is the era of the multi-skilled. And although the cou­pling of art and copy re­mains, even copy­writ­ers and art di­rec­tors no longer work in iso­la­tion.

“More than adding, we have dis­solved quite a few must-have dis­ci­plines and in­te­grated them into creatives’ must-have skill sets,” says Man­mo­han. That means hav­ing an un­der­stand­ing of data an­a­lyt­ics, user ex­pe­ri­ence, the abil­ity to de­sign con­tent strate­gies and be­ing so­cial me­dia savvy.

“I’ve never felt bet­ter,” she adds. “When you’re an art di­rec­tor, copy­writer, pro­duc­tion head, traf­fic man­ager, pho­tog­ra­pher, DOP, pre­sen­ter and, at most times, a co­me­dian, mother, sis­ter, friend, cof­fee maker, and chef, how can any­thing al­ter your role?”

Of course, not all of the above ap­ply to all agen­cies. Each has evolved at its own pace. In some cases, tra­di­tional cre­ative de­part­ments have been trans­formed into col­lec­tions of cre­ative in­di­vid­u­als who work as ‘sin­gles’, all bounc­ing off each other. These sin­gles are the multi-skilled in­di­vid­u­als that both Man­mo­han and Maalouf talk about, only they’re not tied to the tra­di­tional cou­pling of art and copy.

At Im­pact BBDO the dy­namic be­tween art and copy is still im­por­tant. Else­where, less so. But the over­all goal is to forge more fluid, re­ac­tive and ex­per­i­men­tal cre­ative de­part­ments that are ca­pa­ble of thriv­ing in an era of con­stant change.

“Creativ­ity at its core hasn’t changed but the tools and re­sources you need to cre­ate are now dif­fer­ent, con­stantly evolv­ing and chang­ing,” says Maalouf. “And cu­rios­ity is key to ex­plor­ing them. You can de­cide not to in­no­vate. And that’s ok. But you’ll find your­self speak­ing a dif­fer­ent lan­guage that your au­di­ence no longer speaks. But once you have that cu­rios­ity in­side you, it will take you to whole new lev­els. So I de­cided to keep my­self cu­ri­ous.”

Man­mo­han agrees. “When the in­gre­di­ents that go in are so fresh, you can only ex­pect in­dus­try-trans­form­ing ideas on the ta­ble,” she says. “Where there is no room for fear, fail­ure or ego. Where the chaos is only from the rest­less­ness to be pur­pose­fully cre­ative, bull­doz­ing ev­ery ob­sta­cle and out­dated in­sti­tu­tion that gets in the way, there will def­i­nitely be magic. We shouldn’t waste time try­ing to la­bel them, in­stead just bask in it.”

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