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Design on a Deadline

October 6, 2010
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And when isn’t it? In the advertising world creativity-on-demand is a given. You’ve got to make a pitch for the big account tomorrow. That brilliant campaign you promised the client three weeks ago is due in six hours, and you’ve got n-o-t-h-i-n-g! In my case, it was a phone call from the client saying he’d only just heard from the rep for the opera that today was the deadline for ads and artwork. They hadn’t contacted him any earlier either.

Fortunately this was one of those happy circumstances when I didn’t have half a dozen other deadlines the same day. Better yet, creating an ad for the opera program was right up my alley. I relish the creative challenge of trying to connect the client’s business – which has absolutely nothing (on the surface level) to do with the opera.

Step number one: calm the client that the deadline is do-able, and I’ll have a dynamite idea for him in just a couple of hours. Step number two: contact everyone in my extended family and friends circle who love opera or play for the opera. (This is the convenience of having professional musicians as family members, as the opera lexicon is at the tip of the tongue for them.) Step three: review the artwork possibilities of the client’s product.

So what did I have right off the bat? Well, my process is to begin scribbling headline ideas on scratch paper as fast as they begin drifting through my head. Words like “sing” “diva” “grand” “bravo” and more began wafting through me. My brother, currently playing onstage in San Francisco’s production of Aida (he doesn’t care for the pharaoh costume and makeup), immediately rattled off a long list of potential headlines. “’Virtuoso’ is a good word,” he mentions. “And ‘Bravo.’ Yes, ‘Primadonna’ does have a negative connotation. But ‘Diva’ is a compliment.” He then proceeded to suggest ways to add to the visuals, “Can you add an elaborate queen or lord costume to the background? How about horned helmets sitting on the shelves?” All of them were great ideas. And if we had time, and money, for an expensive photo shoot, it would have drawn even more eyes to the ad. But I had only hours and the photos at hand.

The client had come up with “Don’t let your closet become a tragedy” as a headline. But I’m loathe to use negatives in a headline. That sends the energy in the wrong direction, and prospects will begin associating a negative instead of a positive with the company and products. I needed a positive – even fun – headline. Further, given the size of the ad (one quarter page), the headline had to be very short.

This is where it’s truly handy to be providing both words and music, per se, simultaneously. As the graphic designer and copy writer I know exactly how much space I’ve got for key information. I don’t have to wait for either the designer or the writer to find another photo or think of another headline because one doesn’t fit with the other. It all happens in a nanosecond in my brain!

To jump to the chase, per se (something that takes a couple of acts in most operas — particularly if they’re Wagnerian), here are the first drafts I sent to the client:

 

There was only one eligible photo I liked, so I didn’t show other options. And I prefer using images with people in them so that prospective customers can more easily relate to the product. (It’s that old rule about scale and association. Any time you see a human or animal against an inanimate object you get an immediate connection – a sense of relation. Without a living, moving, warm body, it’s lifeless and often garners little or no attention. Even a photo of a hand holding a pipe under a sink is more interesting than just the pipe under the sink alone. Why? Because we want to know what’s at the other end of that hand! We’re curious creatures.)

My personal favorite among the headline choices may have been “The Magic Closet – die Zauberclöset.” (They’re even doing a production for this season’s line up.) But the client preferred this one below, and it became the final version in a matter of minutes:

 

This week we’ve the ballet program deadline coming up. I’m thinking “Closet Choreography.” Conveniently the model in the photo is already pirouetting. I’ll let you know what the client thinks next time.

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