The World: Insider's View - Australia

The trend for global advertising that ignores the power of language is dumbing down an industry in need of more brains, Simon Collins laments.

Neil French is right. But most women don't just make crap creative directors, they also make crap copywriters and crap art directors. Few have a natural eye for design, even fewer a flair for language. And here's another revelation; the same is true of most men.

Unfortunately, that doesn't stop them applying for the job. After all, it's not a profession, so you don't have to pass any exams. That's why most ads are awful, and why you have to laugh when people such as Naomi Klein demonise us as Armani-clad brainiacs. Not to put too fine a point on it, chaps, Evil Geniuses Aren't Us. Our collective global IQ has never been lower.

And this is because art direction now rules. Compare any modern awards annual with its 1990 antecedent. See how few of the ads in the later book have big Wonderbra-type headlines. Or how many have no headline at all.

If you believe advertising mirrors rather than moulds, you might say this shows words count for less now. But book and magazine sales are rising, headlines still sell papers and Harry Potter and SMS have actually made words sexy for kids (+ we r all 4 that).

So if consumers still want language, what's our problem?

Try globalisation. In the quest for creative solutions that lose nothing in translation, the first thing you get rid of is the bits that need translating.

Alongside the new wordless international campaigns, advertising that depends on one language starts to look parochial. But the very universality of an entirely visual idea is often what makes it category- rather than brand-specific. Fine if you are the category, like Viagra or iPod, but not if you've got six identical competitors.

The bottom line is, advertisers that eschew language risk sacrificing local relevance. Also, if you don't crystallise your strategy verbally, somebody else might. Slogans such as "have a break" and "refreshes the parts other beers can't reach" aren't just catchy phrases - they're also "keep off the grass" signs.

Agencies that know the value of such words nurture creative departments in which the yin and yang of art and argument is carefully maintained.

They know it ensures agency and client have at least overlapping agendas, and stops creatives disappearing up their own backsides. But it depends on empowering writers and art directors in equal measure.

And if the devaluation of language as a creative currency continues, advertising will stop attracting good writers - creative people who can understand and distil strategy, and temper wackiness with wit.

French's recent remark is less offensive than distracting. The recruitment crisis in creativity is not that we need more women, but that we need more brains.

- Simon Collins is the former executive creative director of JWT Australia and New Zealand. He has just returned to the UK.


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