VOICES: Suzanne Pope – The Secret Weapon of the Student
Posted by Chris Campaner on April 20th, 2012
Suzanne is a leading figure in the Toronto advertising scene. After a great career stretch, she founded the free creative resource, Ad Teachings, and offers her expertise as a Freelance Copywriter and Creative Director. Here, she focuses on risk-free thinking; how student work can be great and should be great.
A couple of days ago (recent article), I wrote about Jonathan Mak and his student assignment, which has been picked up by Coke in China:
I’ve been thinking more about Jonathan’s accomplishment, and I’d like to talk now about the main reason such an accomplishment is a practical possibility for any talented student of advertising or design.
As a student, you have no client and no creative director (apart from your instructor, of course). This means you are not encumbered by the rules, regulations or arbitrary viewpoints that will apply the very moment you start a real job in the real world.
The rules and regulations are generally outlined in a brand’s graphic standards manual. Every credible brand in the world has one of these. It is the document that specifies the particular green in a banner for Heineken, the typefaces you’re allowed to use when rendering “Just Do It,” the size of the golden arches on a McDonald’s billboard, and so on. These documents are created with the best of intentions, and they are definitely needed; otherwise, you might travel to a foreign country and see a Pepsi sign in orange, with a call to action in Comic Sans.
The downside of these manuals, however, is that they tend to cast a pall on creativity. I’m not familiar with Coke’s graphic standards, but I would be willing to bet that Jonathan’s concept violates the guidelines by tampering with the Coke “wave.” Of course, that’s irrelevant now, because Jonathan’s excellent work has leapfrogged over all the usual levels of approval. But if Jonathan had come up with this idea while employed at a design firm or advertising agency, it is possible that it wouldn’t have been approved for presentation, or that it would have been killed at the junior client level. It is even possible that Jonathan would have been mildly reprimanded for disregarding the brand’s standards.
And this is why you as students are in possession of an awesomely powerful secret weapon. That secret weapon is your freedom from risk. You are free to take liberties with a brand’s rules because you will never be seriously punished for doing so. Your instructor might comment that you’re breaking certain rules, but that is scarcely a punishment – especially when you consider the potential upside, which Jonathan Mak is now enjoying.
But I observe that many students are choosing to handcuff themselves with rules and regulations well before they need to. Many times, I’ve asked a student why she (it’s almost always a she) chose to be so absurdly rule-bound in a student book, and the reply has always had something to do with a brand’s assumed graphic standards.
Please please please stop worrying about this. You will never be hired for a creative job because you’re really good at following rules. Your future employers are looking for surprising inventiveness. And if you’re surprisingly inventive enough, you just might get to rewrite the rules.