Fight for your copy rights

Great long copy ads and the skills that go with creating them are in danger of extinction. It’s time to take a stand

No one reads anymore. Apparently. Good news for copywriters perhaps? A bit less to do. You can call yourself a ‘concept creator’ and spend all day pissing about on YouTube. Really bad news for typographers though – are there any left? Sorry guys. And bad news for art directors actually, but we’ll come onto that in a bit.
Now where was I… ah yes, reading… yes, the last time anyone actually read anything substantial was around the mid-90s if you believe some people in advertising. There was even a funny but ill-advised ad written around that time, poking fun at long copy ads. It got into D&AD I seem to remember. For copy. Oh dear. The ignominy.
Still reading? Hmm, that’s odd. You must be a bit weird or something. Haven’t you heard? No one reads
any more.

It’s utter nonsense of course. But, alas, the notion has caught on in advertising circles. An idea propagated by those who correctly conclude that people won’t read a rubbish ad but can’t seem to get their heads around the fact that they will read an interesting one. And if you honestly believe that no one reads any more then it naturally follows that hardly anyone is going to be encouraged to write any more.

And lo and behold, we find ourselves with a generation of copywriters who can barely string a few sentences together and a generation of art directors with the typographic talents of cavemen.

The madness clearly wasn’t in evidence at Leagas Delaney in 1997. The year this truly wonderful ad for English Heritage was created. All 980 beautifully typeset, kerned, leaded, justified, endlessly tweaked and loved words of it. A sublime piece of art direction and typography. And of course copywriting. Quite apart from the brilliant headline (remember them?), you try perfectly justifying narrow columns of type of just 28 characters. It requires endless copyfitting with typographer, art director and copywriter working together complementing each other’s skills.

But is it all worth it? Well look at it. No, really look. I’ve been given 600 words to talk about this ad. I could easily use up ten times that. There are so many reasons why it’s great. The perfect choice of headline typeface (Van Dijck 203, since you ask). The frankly odd and therefore unique layout. The decision to set the whole ad using letterpress with all its quirks and wonderful imperfections, rather than take the easy but less authentic way out using a Mac. The choice and variety of imagery. The fact that the decorative element along the base of the page is not actually mere decoration (it uses 6pt Monotype decorative units arranged in the shape of a Tudor Rose, the inspiration behind the architecture of the castle featured in the ad). The fact that seeing so many words on a page kind of communicates that English Heritage can give you a really interesting day out before you’ve even read a single one. It’s all designed to make something relevant and beautiful and fascinating and ownable and truly memorable. A perfect bull’s-eye of an ad.

Are we really to let this approach to creating ads become a quaint footnote in advertising history? Surely it’s time for art directors and copywriters to get up off their knees and fight back. Demand the time. Insist on the budget. If they won’t give it to you, roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. Or persuade someone to help you. Yes, read. Ask. Learn. Work all night. Work all weekend. For weeks if you have to. But only of course if you give a damn about creating work as great as this.
Still reading? Thought so.

Paul Belford is the founder of creative agency Paul Belford Ltd, paulbelford.com. Details of his D&AD art direction session, Art Directing the Idea, at dandad.org

 

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