48. Akim Zerouali, Art Director for Y&R

Art Director for Y&R, Akim Zerouali has +25 years experience interpreting briefs and coming up with advertising and branding solutions for clients.

How does your job fit into the advertising process? Usually by the time I receive the brief the commercial team and account handlers have already set a date with the client for when we will pitch them our advertising campaign ideas.

This pitching date may be scheduled in a week, in 5 days, or even later that afternoon on the same day depending on the client’s needs and timetable! This definitely puts constraints on you and forces you to concentrate and come up with ideas. On average creatives will have 4-5 days to come up with a few ideas.

Of course, the more time you have to work on your campaign strategy, generally the better it will turn out.

Advice for a good advertising strategy? Funny messages tend to be more successful than non-funny messages. When I see commercials and advertising, I particularly appreciate humor.  If you can’t build your advertising campaign around your brand’s personality, then build your advertising campaign around emotion.

For example, television commercials may be 30 seconds long, but you have less than 5 seconds to capture the consumer’s attention or the remaining 25 seconds of the commercial will be ignored. Then at some point in the ad you have to surprise them, but you have to surprise them before they get bored with your commercial, otherwise they ignore you before they have been surprised.

With print it’s different because you have to capture and surprise at the same time, and it has to be immediate.

Where do you go for inspiration and idea brainstorming? Creativity is a 24/7 process; it’s a lifestyle. You could spend all day at your office racking your brain to come up with an advertising campaign for a particular client without success, only to be at home watching a movie trying to fall asleep when all of the sudden the answer to your client’s brief pops into your head.

I’m predominantly offline: Expositions, concerts, books, etc. You should make it a habit of keeping your thoughts organized so that you can return to your ideas and in an organized fashion whenever you find yourself in a creative rut.

You can’t have any way of knowing whether a photo or graffiti or a particular line from a script in a move will be useful to you in the future; you just can’t predict those sorts of things. But the worst is when you remember having seen or heard something ‘at an event sometime last year’ that would be perfect for a particular problem you have in front of you now, but you can’t remember where you saw it and how to find it again.

That is when you have that regretful feeling that you’re missing out on a really incredible brand-changing idea because you didn’t note it down then – even if it was just a flyer you kept from the event or a jot in your planner to help jog your memory about what you did on any particular day.

Advertising, honestly, doesn’t change much. The same techniques used in advertising of yesteryear are pretty much the same techniques used today. What’s different is the inspiration, things at our disposal and the way we present the advertising to consumers.

Go to Joe la pompe and you’ll see the same mechanics, visual references, ideas throughout all the advertising campaigns.

There are unscrupulous advertisers and creative directors and copywriters who intentionally steal other people’s work and try to pass it off as their own, hoping nobody will notice; however most idea theft usually isn’t done on purpose. It’s just that nearly all advertisers are working from the same intellectual thought processes stemming from the same books of techniques, graduating from the same advertising school curriculums, and using the same consumer-base demographic to create their advertising campaigns.

What are a few of your favorite advertising campaigns?

I want to do your job, any advice? Have side projects. Personally, I do photography and launch expositions. I also organize themed dinners to discuss and exchange ideas on life, philosophy, religion, etc. Outside of advertising do anything and everything but advertising! It’s crucial for the creative’s brain to work on things other than advertising, otherwise you become stale and your creativity dries up.

I’ve been in the advertising industry for +25 years, and I can tell you that the creative industry is changing. Brands will always need creative people to come up with the innovative ideas behind product designs and advertising and branding campaigns, but I predict that in the future there will be fewer and fewer ‘professional creatives’ and techonology will automate more and more aspects of the creative process from brief to the final product.

In the long run, working in advertising does eventually become  mundane and you lose inspiration. So be aware that this is natural, and know when you need to take a break from the industry or move on to other things. Don’t wait until you become so burned out and are no longer capable of producing quality advertising ideas that your agency has to let you go.

I have a small advertising budget, any advice? Find and connect with freelancers, if they like your idea, they’ll probably know or be able to find other freelancers who can help you on different aspects of your campaign. One freelancer may be good at Photoshop and not very good with video, but he’ll most likely know a couple of freelancers who are good with video to send you to and who might be interested in working with you.

If your idea or product is seductive to the creative, they’ll be interested in working with you – even if your budget very large. Working on your campaign would help them build their profile, learn a new skill, win an award, get credit if/when the ad goes viral. Money is important for freelancers who have rent to pay, but it isn’t always the number one criteria for creatives when choosing projects to work on.

But honestly, a lot of people can create their own advertising. It boils down to knowing the techniques (form), knowing the target audience (research) and presenting the idea correctly to the target audience (content).

But definitely the most important difference between good advertising and bad advertising is the quality of the brief. A good brief won’t always guarantee a good advertising campaign, but a bad strategy will almost always guarantee a bad advertising campaign. So invest the most of your time and money on creating the best possible brief you can before you invest a single penny on the advertising implementation. If your brief can apply to any of your competitors, or to any other company, then your strategy isn’t good enough – it must be very specific to your brand/product/service.

How can I identify a good freelancer among a sea of bad and mediocre freelancers? Ask around and take advantage of word of mouth. As you get older and develop a reputation for the quality of your work, you will be less and less asked for your portfolio. Or people can simply Google you and find work you’ve done. But when you’re younger, your portfolio is your calling card.

Like I said before, working in advertising does eventually become mundane and creative risk losing the creative edge. Creatives that have lost their creative edge either and have nothing to fall back on may go freelance. So learn to identify when a creative has burned out.

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