Upside-down art direction

Yes, it’s a nice beach shot and four-column grid, but this ad turns convention on its head


Every once in a while, I take a deep breath, clench my buttocks, and with a straight face and maximum sincerity, suggest to a client that a headline could be set in ten point type. Or a great visual could be the size of a thumbnail. They invariably think I’m taking the piss. Such is the deeply ingrained received wisdom (sorry … stupidity) amongst clients (and many agency people) that says all ads have to look like all the other ads. Show something even mildly unusual and the knives are immediately out.

It probably comes from some kind of deep psychological Darwinian thing about following the herd as a survival mechanism. Ironically, that kind of behaviour is likely to kill your ad campaign stone dead. Invisibility is great if you’re a zebra strolling around the Serengeti. But not so great if you want your message to actually get noticed by someone who doesn’t give the remotest toss about your brand (and that’s pretty much everyone – all you deluded brand managers and social media gurus, take note).

The word ‘Jamaica’ serves as a logo. It’s not really a logo though, or is it? Or is it actually the headline?

Obvious really. The geniuses at Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York in 1965 knew all that, of course. And that’s why their work was more modern than the stuff you did last week, however many hashtags and QR codes you polluted it with. Their ad for the Jamaica Tourist Board is a case in point. It has upside-down art direction. And that’s why it’s brilliant. And modern.

In some ways, of course, it’s quite conventional. A holiday ad with a picture of a sandy beach. Yawn. And a four-column grid with a squared-off picture. Yawn. But in other ways it’s as radical as can be. Here’s why.

The word ‘Jamaica’ serves as a logo. It’s not really a logo though, or is it? Or is it actually the headline? Who cares? And it’s not at the bottom of the ad, where logos belong, it’s at the top. And it’s not tastefully small, or even some half-arsed compromise of a size that no one’s particularly happy with. No, it’s humongous. So large in fact that it makes the page kind of look like editorial design, in a very good way (native advertising eat your pathetic heart out). I love the beautiful sans serif type. The considered kerning. And the fact that it’s cropped by the trim at the top of the page.

Beneath the ‘logo’ there’s er … nothing. Wonderful. In beautiful contrast to the ballsy lettering, is an elegant strip of empty white space. And beneath that, a nicely composed picture of a beach. Made unusual and interesting by the addition of a sinister long shadow of a human form. It’s intriguing and is also a very cool dramatisation of the sun – a vital ingredient for any Caribbean vacation.

So what’s going on in this picture? Well, the eye quickly finds the tiny caption beneath it (another nod towards editorial design). But wait, is it a caption or a headline or the first paragraph of body copy? Who cares? It does the job, communicating the following (and leading the reader on): ‘This shadow belongs to a spy. We smuggled him onto the island for a very important assignment: to rate our hotels and inns.’

The rest of the copy is great. Don’t get me going on the lost art of copywriting. How else are you going to construct a persuasive argument about the merits of a product or service? But no client would approve that amount of copy on an ad these days. Yes, it’s back to that received stupidity again. No one else uses words so we shouldn’t either. Well here’s a couple for you: utter crap.

Still, every once in a while a
wise client will approve something unusual. Perhaps it would happen more often if we all stopped being so mind-numbingly conventional.

Paul Belford is the founder of agency Paul Belford Ltd. See 

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