This week, Campaign reported on D&AD’s decision to drop its out-and-out ‘writing’ category, with creative writer, Paul Burke, satirically stating that it “no longer merits a category of its own or a Pencil for its finest practitioners.”
This has sparked debate in the industry, and our creative department. So, here’s my two cents: Firstly, I think there are a number of mitigating factors that have brought about a decision like this from D&AD, but I think it’s horrendous that the purest form of communication, the written word, is being relegated to a footnote for creative awards.
Tone of voice is the essential strategic differentiator for a brand, and the development of brand language is a dying art. There are a few reasons for that: yes, it’s because the talent required to create it is in short supply, but client’s understanding of the importance of the creation of a lexicon of language is also waning. So, now more than ever, greater credence is given to evaluating the visual component of the brand over how it actually communicates with its audience.
A D&AD pencil (and the irony of pencils is not lost on me) is not normally awarded to a ‘one-off advert’, but rather to a brand that has an established track record, instilled by a celebrated tone of voice. So, winning a D&AD pencil represents more than just one good ‘job’, it’s an exceptional feat of a brand communicating with confidence, clarity and revelling in its personality.
However, the days of brands telling stories and creating a style of language that evolves and revolves from campaign to campaign, seems to be slipping away. Brands are being forced to become more reactionary in constantly fluctuating marketing, social and financial conditions; it’s become less about what we did as a company but rather why we do it for you all informed by market research analysis and data analytics. The focus has shifted from the enjoyment of end product to the ‘genius’ is its reasoning, leaving the romance of writing dead in the water.
Maybe brands have become scared to say anything for fear of potential Twitter backlash or how their words might be perceived by an audience they claim to understand? But, that’s a conversation for another time.
Marketing itself is irrevocably changing with the perpetual rise of digital platforms, social media, and the influx of influencers that spout colloquialisms and mistake their ‘celebrity’ status for linguistic prowess, yet still achieve unmistakable results in sales for the brands they represent.
But at what cost? In the same way that Smartphones with 4K cameras and image-enhancing filters have created a belief that anyone and everyone can be a photographer, social media has done the same for copywriting by giving everyone a platform to express and publish their opinions. Now, the competency of a wordsmith is based on Likes and thumbs-up approvals on your posts or status updates.
The talent required to create classic, whimsical copy that magically morphs black and white letters into a visual tapestry is being watered down by social media users claiming to be writers, penning hot takes and poor comebacks.
Now I come to think of it, who would even want to be a writer? I certainly wouldn’t. That’s why I stuck to Art Direction for most of my career. But, I was certainly lucky enough to work alongside a fair batch of talented writers, who I am sure would shake their head at this D&AD decision. I’ve seen the power of good writing first-hand and it’s not something we should be taking for granted.
Written by Matt Rowland
February 26, 2020