John Hegarty, that famous Irish art director from Bartle Bogle Hegarty,
gave a talk to our agency the other night and told us that words are
dead. According to John and that well-known Irish copywriter, Oscar
Wilde, we don’t need them so much any more, especially if we take more
time to think about what we want to say.
It is, of course, easy for BBH, Abbott Mead Vickers, Howell Henry
Chaldecott Lury and BMP DDB to talk about the death of the wordsmith.
They all have, arguably, the best collection of copywriters in the
business, not to mention the most talented art directors, so they can
afford to be less precise about their job descriptions. Whether
creatives call themselves ‘copy’ or ‘art’ seems less important in an
environment of total creativity.
A few years ago, when students showed you their books they always
fidgeted with embarrassment when you asked them who was words and who
was pictures. After all, hadn’t Dave Trott explained that it was all
about ideas and that agencies hired teams? So students became a team,
got a book with a few ideas in it and largely ignored the craft skills
that traditionally allowed the team to develop.
It has certainly changed since the early days of advertising, when the
copywriter would send his ideas by internal post to the visualisers
department. Now, I’m afraid, it’s me who fidgets with embarrassment if
I’m Luddite enough to ask who’s copy and who’s art. These credits are no
longer relevant to a great many teams. If those teams become great, then
it is irrelevant, but I’m not convinced that colleges are equipped to
cram all the crafts into the student ‘teams’ or that agencies have the
time to allow the freshly hired teams to learn their trade.
The Mac allows teams to churn out ideas fast and furiously in the same
way that some agencies themselves work. The equivalent in football is
the ‘long ball’, the theory based on getting the ball quickly and
directly into the opponent’s penalty area as often as possible. The law
of averages then dictates some kind of short-term return. Other teams
and agencies, however, prefer to play the ‘beautiful game’, one that is
based on a passion for developing the basic craft skills and the ability
to do the simple things well.
So if we have to do it with less words, we’re going to need better
copywriters and art directors with better craft skills and fewer Jack-
of-all-trades, so that young teams who are trying hard to be AC/DC can
avoid becoming low voltage.
Billy Mawhinney, also an Irish art director, works at Ammirati Puris