Close-Up: Live Issue - Why do posters win press awards?

Is more attention being paid to visual craft at the expense of copywriting skills, Kate Nettleton asks.

There was a sense of deja vu when Wieden & Kennedy's "St Wayne" poster ad for Nike won gold in the Best Individual Press Ad category at the Campaign Press Awards last week. It was the second victory for the image that was created by the art directors Chris Groom, Stuart Harkness and Guy Featherstone: it also scooped gold at the 2006 Campaign Poster Awards. And it only appeared in three publications.

Add to that the abundance of copy-free ads that lined the walls of the Science Museum at last week's Press Awards ceremony, and it was perhaps inevitable a debate among jurors and guests about the state of press advertising would unfold.

Ed Morris, the chairman of judges and the executive creative director at Lowe London, explains: "We all engaged in the 'Are they posters or are they press ads?' debate, before netting out at the 'Oh fuck it, they're just good, aren't they?' verdict."

Despite the obvious quality of the work, these "copy-light" ads are a far cry from some of the award-winning press campaigns of the past, including Bill Bernbach's Volkswagen work and Indra Sinha's acclaimed "Could you turn the other cheek?" campaign for the Metropolitan Police. Both of these executions engaged the public with insightful copy.

Is this decline in long-copy ads a reaction to the changing demands of consumers, or is it just creative teams being lazy and creating one execution for both channels?

Morris thinks not. "To come up with an image like 'St Wayne' or Harvey Nichols takes a very 'unlazy' team. Not many people can create an iconic ad," he says.

Ultimately, though, it is the brief that determines to what extent copy plays in a press execution, and there are clearly creatives who, if given such a brief, will be able to deliver the goods.

Copywriting talent was well represented at the awards, with work such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty's long-copy "World Cup" ad for Lynx winning a silver in the Best Ad in a Consumer Magazine category.

But the need for a quick-fix engagement with consumers means image-focused ads are still winning favour with the awards juries.

"An amazing poster will always win over a good press ad," Morris admits.

Some have attributed this change to a lack of craft skills. Ben Moore, the head of brand communications at Nike, says: "The digital age means we're all becoming more visually led, so there is less attention given to refining copywriting skills in the way they were 14 years ago."

But the proliferation of media channels has a part to play. "Digital media is having a big effect. Clients know they can build a relationship with consumers online to engage with the brand," Harkness says.

Despite the trend to transpose posters to press, there's still a clear distinction between the two.

As Robin Wight, the WCRS founding partner and joint chairman, says: "The environment of press is different from the environment of the poster. You'll only engage with a poster for six seconds. Consumers look at print with a higher level of engagement."

If this is the case, using a poster ad in a press environment could mean brands are missing out on the chance to engage with consumers on a much deeper level. But perhaps this isn't a concern for larger brands. As Morris says: "Strong brands already have a relationship with consumers, so they can do something as effortless as Nike. The lesser-known brands need to build a dialogue with consumers."

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AGENCY HEAD - Robin Wight, founding partner and joint chairman, WCRS

"We need deeper injections of brand engagement. 'St Wayne' is really just a quick fix.

"The real challenge is to utilise the engagement opportunity that newspapers and magazines offer. It's a missed opportunity if you don't take advantage of that environment, and that requires different levels of craft skill. I don't think there is enough of that sort of craft skill around because we are more of a 'picture-centric', rather than 'word-centric', culture.

"But that doesn't mean you have to have lots of copy. The Harvey Nichols and Marmite ads are examples of visual engagement that's too complicated for a poster, but are brilliant in a newspaper or magazine environment."

PRESS JURY CHAIRMAN - Ed Morris, executive creative director, Lowe London

"With the landscape of TV changing so much, there's been more pressure put on posters - they tend to get filled up with clutter and rubbish.

"In our culture of immediacy, you're better off doing it quick than slow. A quick execution is always an easy vote at awards, but I think what was very good about 'St Wayne' is that it had depth to it. There's plenty of long-copy advertising out there, but the truth is, for juries, the quick stuff wins out. Getting through all the work as a juror predisposes you to choose things that are quick."

CLIENT - Ben Moore, head of brand communications, Nike UK

"I don't think creative agencies are becoming lazy. In an age where consumers are over-exposed to advertising and are seeing so many ads in magazines, there's a question in my mind about how quickly you have to operate.

"Print requires the indulgence of consumers giving advertisers their time; now they are not doing that as much. Therefore, there's a pressure to deliver your message in an instant in the same way that a poster would.

"Copywriting skills have probably only decreased because there is less long-copy work out there. If briefs led creatives to a long-copy ad, then they are capable of delivering that."

ART DIRECTOR - Chris Groom, art director, WCRS

"It really depends on what the brief is. If you're doing something more brand-led than product-led, you're going to end up with press ads that are more visual, with less copy. Alternatively, if there's a story to be told, then it's more likely to be more traditional and have more copy.

"Being more visual doesn't mean creatives are being lazy, it's just as hard to come up with a good visual idea. When you do long-copy ads, you've got to reward people for reading; you have to entertain them. The world's getting faster and people don't necessarily want to sit and read. So with longer copy ads, visually you have to work even harder."