Stuck on a print brief?

Ask yourself... What Would Paul & Nigel Do?

This is the first in a sub-series I am planning on what we can learn from some of the masters of our craft. And there is no question that Paul Belford and Nigel Roberts are among the best print teams ever to have walked this earth.

In fact if I were given a print brief and told that the resulting ad HAD to get in the D&AD annual or I would lose my house... I would ring up Paul & Nigel.

They have a very specific approach to print advertising, and I am going to suggest that - if you are stuck on a print brief - it might be useful to give it a try. Maybe you come up with nothing. But at the very worst, you have had a half hour break from your normal working method.

Funnily enough, although Paul & Nigel's ads always have a fantastically modern sensibility, I suspect that their approach is an old-fashioned one (N.B. I have never spoken to either of them about how they work. Everything I am writing here is reverse-engineered from their product).

We all know how a normal print ad is constructed:

The headline and the visual work together in harmony. Take away the line, and the visual doesn't communicate anything. Take away the visual, and the line doesn't make sense either.

This has been the standard approach, ever since Bill Bernbach first decided to have art directors and copywriters sit together.

Now here's a Paul & Nigel ad (you may need to click on some of these to enlarge them).

As you can see, the entire message is carried in the headline. The visual is, strictly speaking, unnecessary. Technically, it's a piece of graphic design, that illustrates the ad, rather than an advertising visual that works hand-in-glove with the line. Basically, they've written a great line about soup, and then just illustrated it with a cool picture of a splash of soup.

Here's a couple more examples.

Here, even more obviously, we see that the visuals are 'mere' graphic design, accompanying the headline. In actual fact they are full of little ideas - the mouse and the sound waves all being relevant to sound, for example. But again, they're working to amplify the line, not complete it.

Of course, this method isn't easy. You almost certainly won't be able to do ads as good as these - Nigel's headlines are among the best in the world, and so is Paul's art direction.

But if you fancy a change, try their approach. (Don't worry that your ads will end up looking like theirs. Paul & Nigel's campaigns don't look like any of their other campaigns).

First of all, each of you must sit down and write headlines. Don't try to think visually at all. Write lots of them. Paul & Nigel were part-schooled at Leagas Delaney, where Tim Delaney is notorious for 'weighing' a pile of print ads in his hand before a review. The man reveres quantity. Perhaps he understands that, as I think Dave Trott said - "the way to write a good ad is to write a lot of them."

So write lots of headlines. Literally, at least a hundred. (It isn't so hard, when you free yourself from trying to write 'ads', and just write headlines). Then leave them for a day. Then pick the best three.

If you can, think of a really interesting way to set these headlines (here's a couple of examples, again from Paul & Nigel):

Then choose which part of your line you are going to illustrate (either photographically or via illustration).

For example if the line is about eggs, get hold of the most interesting photo ever taken of an egg. Try a crazy crop of it.

Use that in the layout as reference, until you can shoot your own.

Anyway, that's today's tip, sorry it was on a Wednesday again. Do let me know what you think.

Previous Tips:

The Hidden Flaw; How To Write Copy; Be Funny All The Way Through; How To Do Virals; How To Get A Pay Rise; Be Wary Of Punding; Challenge The Brief; Tell The Truth; Playing To Lose; How To Write Headlines; How To Do Direct; How To Do Radio; How To Do Press; How To Do TV; How To Do Digital; How To Do Posters; Look At Weird Shit; Presenting To The Client; Presenting To The Team; Presenting To The Creative Director; How To Deal With Rejection; Look Creative; Don't Be Afraid To Ask; Your Idea Has To Be 120%; Read Iain's Tips; Don't Behave; How To Discuss Ideas; Read Hugh's Tips; How To Get A Job In Advertising Part IV - How To Turn A Placement Into A Job; How To Get A Job In Advertising Part III - How To Approach Agencies (re-print of Tip No. 7); How To Get A Job In Advertising Part II - How To Put A Book Together; How To Get A Job In Advertising Part I - FAQ; Make Friends With Traffic; Get Reference; Don't Stop Too Soon; Be Very; Breaking Up; Working Well With Your Partner; Finding The Right Partner; How To Approach Agencies; Never-Seen-Before Footage; Dicketts' Finger; Two Blokes In The Pub; Play Family Fortunes; Should You Take A Bad Job?; Don't Overpolish