Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why art directors don’t read copy and copywriters can’t stop writing.

As a young trainee copywriter, I was yet to come face to face with the harsh reality called an ‘art director’ or ‘artist’. Given to believe during my learning days that ‘a copywriter and an art director’ are in it together, that ‘no idea can be good enough without the equal contribution of both’ and such romantic mush, I was looking forward to some great chemistry with the artists on my team.

But as I would soon discover, the reality was earth-shattering like in most things. After fussing and fawning over myriad things like the thesaurus, origin of words, right usage and finally writing a copy that was ‘crisp’ yet ‘connected’ and ‘good’, I felt the art director could have at least read it (once!) But alas! No such luck. I was on the threshold of finding out his eternal love for the CTRL A, CTRL C and CTRL V keys (copy-paste for the uninitiated). The end result was that the dear man had put down everything I had written down, even the instructions like ‘highlight this’, ‘use the standard bullet points here’, ‘this is missing’ etc. to the last letter. Aaarghh! I pulled my hair for the nth time in a single year but the art man was as impassive as ever. He nodded his head when I pointed out, deleted the things I pointed out and went about his ‘designing’ business again. The next ad came out exactly like the first one, with all the instructions intact. That’s when the bitter truth hit me:

“Art guys don’t read copy”. But why???

Good question, no good answer.

And then another good question:

“Man, I mean woman, why do you write such long copy ya!!!! I mean who will read this, who has the time to read allllllll this!!”

“Can you cut this down to half? It’s such a huge mass”, beseeched the art man of me in a very silken voice that almost betrayed his frustration at long copy. And here I was convinced that not everyone can write GOOD LONG COPY. Sigh!

So I cut the copy NOT IN HALF of course, but a wee bit and got back to my business - of writing.

We must have repeated the above incident ‘n’ number of times in the decade and a half we have worked since. The art directors I worked with changed with the agencies, but their property of ‘copy paste’ seemed to b an integral part of their DNA. Surprisingly, when I met that old art man again he had the same to say for copywriters.

“You copywriters just can’t stop writing!!”

Although the art of advertising has undergone radical change since then, there’s one thing that has stuck - art guys who never read copy and copywriters who never stop writing long copy. The endless brawls between copy and art continue unabated. But we still work together; sometimes (these are rare cases) display great chemistry and many a times come up with a brilliant, award winning piece.

And yet, the eternal fight for space even in a double spread continues and so does the ego-tussle between art and copy. The boss throws his hands up in exasperation and throws a deadline at both. “Remember”, he bellows, “a good ad can have just one thing –a powerful visual or a powerful headline, never both”.

Win-win my foot!


  1. Hahaha.....learning the ropes the hard way. Just like you.

  2. OMG! I cannot agree with you more...Nine months in the business and I swear I have lost some hair over this. I couldn't stop laughing at the copy paste business the art guyz so apparently excel in! It's surprising that the tussle between the copywriters and art guyz today is not any different than it was a decade or two ago :P

    Awesome post!

  3. Hahaha. Very well-written article, Sonali. (Btw, doing a TVC may avert a showdown between the art and copy guys. ;))

  4. I always think its the right brain, left brain thing!

    Whichever part of the brain, it is nevertheless, super true & real cool...

  5. Sonali I agree most of the art guys r like this but not all I must say! Not the truly creative ones and the ones who understand the meaning of communication. Sometimes u work great as a team and the message/concept is more important than the visual or the headline. But I can understand ur frustration... well written!

  6. Mam really an important insight.
    I think things are really funny between the writer and the artist
    The relation between them is like a Tom and Jerry one

  7. Being an art guy... i have never had tussles with any of the copywriters i worked with.
    u shud have worked with me ;-)

    nicely written, i liked the ending the most though - win-win, my foot !

    Give us some more quippings on ur journey in ad world.

  8. Very Nice article ma'am.

    I think,It happened only when an Art director forget its creative and commercial way of making an advertisement and stick to make it in an artistic way.

  9. it is not just an article which talks about the experience but also expolres the reality of the biggies...

    it really involve a lot to execute yourself truely if you r headed by someone how is not of innovative attitude..

    nice article. Madam..

  10. seriously! Man! It's tough making them understand that we 'write' and its got to be respected! One day i got so frustrated i just said i wont write any copy! They mus know ctrl+ c is not equal to 'copy'for a copywriter.! awesome mam.

  11. So Devangini, you are learning about the real world fast.

  12. Know exactly how you feel, Sonali. :)

  13. Kiran Khalap Co-Founder Chlorophyll says:

    Read your piece, Sonali...empathise with you;-)

    Today of course the copy will have to be in twitter format;-) By the way, are you aware that The Guardian, a newspaper that is 189 years old, is converting all its previous headlines to Twitter format?

    They did away with the printed paper...only online!