Goodbye, Art & Copy — Hello, Idea Engineers

Once upon a time, Bill Bernbach and DDB revolutionized advertising by having art directors and copywriters actually sit in the same room. Seems pretty simple.

But until then, no one had considered what might happen if more than one brain worked on a problem at the same time. This concept of a “creative team” — art and copy, words and pictures — has endured for 40 some years. But now it makes about as much sense as keeping the different disciplines on different floors.

Why? Because ideas aren’t just about words and pictures any more. Thanks to the Internet, social media, smart phones and an app for everything in life, today an idea needs to be about utility. Shareability. Adaptability. It needs to help you do something, buy something, learn something or accomplish something. It needs to be big enough to inspire the masses, yet flexible enough to let every individual take it and run with it, or share it, or rate it, or trash it. And you can’t do that with just words and pictures.

Granted, a lot of agencies try. They keep their traditional art and copy teams in place, and bring in developers, technologists, social media experts, etc. to execute the idea across different channels. But they do it after the idea has already been hatched. And that’s too late. You need all those disciplines contributing ideas from the start — in the room together like those trailblazing creative teams at DDB.

Of course, with so many new channels available today, you’d need a room big enough for a dozen or so people. And no matter what the crowdsourcing crowd might say, that wouldn’t be practical or productive. The best ideas will still come from the synergy produced by a couple of creative brains working together to crack a problem. It’s just that the talent contained in those couple of brains has to evolve.

Rather than art and copy, think of this next generation of creative team as consisting of an idea architect and an idea engineer. The architect would embody everything we used to associate with creative, including art direction, design and copywriting. Sure, most people are better at one than the other, but the two disciplines have been gradually merging for years. New software has allowed practically anyone to be a designer, especially in the template-driven world of the Web. And copy has been getting shorter and shorter, right along with our attention spans. So the anomaly of a designer who can write, or a writer who can design, is becoming more the norm everyday. Either way, the architect’s role is to tell the story. Whether they think in words first, or pictures, they’re crafting a narrative for the audience to experience.

So if the architect is the storyteller, the other half of the team, the idea engineer, is the geek who builds it. The engineer knows how to write code (or hack it). He’s up with latest mobile platforms. He knows the plumbing of social media. He’s a gamer. His mash-ups are YouTube sensations. If he can’t do it himself, he knows someone who can. He’s there to make sure the story comes to life in the most relevant, compelling and surprising ways. To him, message and media and one in the same — and it’s his mission in life to blur them even further. Because he lives for what’s next, he makes sure every idea is forward compatible.

Unfortunately, most people in the business right now don’t fit either of these job descriptions. The people who could be architects are still lousy at half of their responsibilities. And most of the engineers are at MIT or working in a lab at Google rather than building their portfolios. But if we want to spark another creative revolution, another golden age for advertising like the folks at DDB back in the 60s, we need to find them. Or train them. And put them to work. Fast.

Jim Lansbury is creative director at RP3 Agency in Baltimore. He can be reached at