Creative teams work in pairs, and behind every great ad is a strong copy and art direction team. Effective ads must combine great visuals with compelling copy.
In this article, we’ll help you understand how the art director and copywriter combine their own talents to create award-winning work.
The copywriter’s key job
Copywriters look for the clever turn of phrase that expresses the communication strategy simply and creatively, in that order. Copywriters are often tasked with coming up with “the line.” The first job of a copywriter is to say the line straight. If you can’t express your whole idea in no more than 140 characters, you haven’t nailed it yet. Next, the copywriter puts a clever spin on the idea through the use of wordplay, metaphor, puns, synonyms, and idioms to drive the idea closer to its intended communication.
The copywriter’s secondary job is to fill his or her brain with facts, figures, tidbits, arcane knowledge, and observations. The task of pulling together the line that goes down on paper is usually a synergy of two or more ideas or facts that exist somewhere, swimming around in his or her brain. Searching for the idea that makes it into the final ad is akin to digging through a huge box of Legos to find the one piece you need to make everything fit. If that piece doesn’t exist, the idea will never come together.
The art director’s key job
Unlike copywriters, art directors think visually. It’s the art director’s job to decide what the ad’s look and feel will be. A great art director knows intuitively the style and tone that the visual materials should take. Will the ad feature photography or illustration? Will the photography be product-focused or lifestyle-focused? Will the color scheme be warm or cold? How much whitespace will the ad feature? How much copy will it feature? All of these things influence the gestalt of the final work, or its presence.
The art director’s secondary job is to be a student of the visual arts: film, photography, painting, signage, calligraphy, and sculpture, among other things. It’s not enough just to experience these arts. A great art director will analyze them for typeface choices, line spacing, color, media, lens, and presentation.
Integrating these two roles
Remember, art direction and copy are a team. The team brainstorms together, concepts together, sketches together, and pitches together internally. Copywriters often have great ideas for art direction, and art directors often have great ideas for copy. Neither party has the whole idea, as each brings their own breadth and depth of understanding and experience to the table to finesse the ad into a better version of the original idea.
The result is an ad that creates a synergy between visual communication and copy. Think about it like peanut butter and jelly. A peanut butter sandwich is pretty dry. A jelly sandwich is pretty sweet. This is exactly the result of uninspiring copy with great design or great copy with sloppy design.
The ultimate goal of both designers and copywriters is to sell the product at hand. To wit, each party must understand the role that they play. A copywriter has to write lines that fit with the design in tone, style, and the amount of copy required. It’s been said that the art director sets the stage for copy, because the initial goal of design is to get the reader to read and agree with the first line of copy. The first line of copy should encourage the reader to read the second line, which encourages the reader to read the third line, and so on.
Both sides should be willing to compromise to achieve the end result of grabbing and holding the reader’s attention until they’ve exchanged enough information to make a sale.
I'm the Director of Digital Services and Partner at Ballantine, a family-owned and operated direct mail & digital marketing company based in New Jersey. and started in 1966 by my great uncle!