The very best ads do not look like ads

As demonstrated here by Saatchi & Saatchi in 1992, for Intercity Trains

We have exactly the same ingredients that make up your average ad – picture, headline, copy and logo – but they’re arranged in a wonderful way that means it looks like nothing you’ve seen before. No mean feat. So it’s more likely to get noticed. And remembered. And be effective. Yes, interesting art direction really is a no-brainer, isn’t it? But to achieve it you’ve got to give a damn.

James Lowther, one of the people behind this ad, once said: “The best copywriters are not the ones with the highest ability but the ones with the highest standards.”

And you have to respect a writer prepared to go through the pain of creating wonderful copy in nine lines at a consistent point size with the added torture of just 20 to 24 characters per line.

But it’s worth it. I love this campaign. Even though it’s almost attempting the impossible. For me, the type is pushed and pulled just a fraction too much. Perhaps the punctuation should hang out a bit more on the first line and last two lines. And lines three and four could probably each do with another character. But I’m splitting hairs (as usual). Let’s face it, it very nearly gets there. Incredibly impressive. And you’ve got to admire the ambition.

You’ve also got to admire the choice of photographer. If your strategy is to dramatise the single-minded benefit that you can stare out of the window and actually think on a train, then it makes sense to choose Michael Kenna, one of the world’s best landscape photographers.

And the black and white image perfectly complements the black and grey type. Great art direction.

And now the last piece in the jigsaw. Something that could easily throw the whole thing off balance. Yes, here we go again, the logo.

Does the logo really need to be any bigger than that? No. There’s something supremely cool and confident about the way the logo is handled here. In fact an often neglected argument on logo size is that a huge logo kind of insults the intelligence of the audience. So not only does it scream “I’m an ad, ignore me”, it also says “you’re probably a bit blind, or stupid or something”. And it’s also of course an admission that the ad isn’t sufficiently interesting to hold the viewer’s attention (sadly true 99% of the time) so they won’t notice the logo. So let’s have a huge one, just to make sure.

The solution to that problem is not a bigger logo, it’s a better ad. Like this one.

Paul Belford is founder of creative agency Paul Belford Ltd, paulbelford.com. He tweets at @belford_paul

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