Unspoilt by Progress

When posters work, great art direction and craft skills are worth their weight in gold

If you want hard evidence of the plummeting creative standards in most ad agencies, look no further than posters.

In the UK, there used to be a thing called the Campaign Poster Awards. And it was chock-full of great poster advertising. Today, there aren’t even enough decent posters to justify such an awards scheme. Which is odd. Because there are just as many poster sites (if not more). And there are just as many posters made to fill those sites. But it’s now possible to go months without seeing a good ad poster here in London. Shameful. It’s high time creatives upped their game.

This sad state of affairs really does demonstrate that creative departments are getting worse. Which just might have something to do with the fact they’re also getting cheaper. Does this matter? Only if you believe that good ads work better than crap ads.

The dumbing down of creative departments will surely have a negative effect on clients’ bottom lines. And therefore agencies bottom lines. And hey presto we have a particularly vicious circle. In fact, things are so bad at the moment, I’d be gob-smacked if I saw anything as good as the poster on this page out on the streets today. It was created in 1982 by art director John Knight and writer Lyndon Mallett. And it’s wonderful. On every level. The three word headline brilliantly dramatises the strategy of a ‘traditional pint’. As does the sublime art direction.

This 48-sheet poster is basically a single photograph of an ornate gilded and silvered pub mirror, as seen in the best traditional British boozers. The technique brilliantly combines every element of the ad into one: a headline, a big logo, a packshot, an endline, and more than a few illustrations. In most layouts that would all be extremely hard to handle. But this art direction perfectly glues them all together into a single image of great beauty.

The craft skills on display here are fantastic. The perfectly drawn decorative elements illustrating hops and barley, the brilliantly observed typography, and of course the superb photography; perfectly lit with just the right amount of reflections to look like a pub mirror but not enough to obscure the message.

This kind of work is rare because it’s very difficult to do and very expensive. That’s why you need balls to get it made. The client will thank you six months after it’s run. (If you still have a job).

Agency: TBWA (1982). Art director: John Knight. Writer: Lyndon Mallett

Paul Belford is the founder of Paul Belford Ltd, paulbelford.com, @belford_paul

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