Paul Belford is a renowned British art director, working for the advertising agency TBWa london. He also runs his own company, Paul Belford ltd, from within TBWa, working on branding, packaging, digital work, films…during the “innovation squared” conference at Belgrade design Week 2013, he gave a speech about his incredible work and the advertising industry. His unconventional work which results in “ads that don’t look like ads” was most inspiring for the audience, especially for many aspiring advertising professionals.

Speaking from the perspective of advertising, what constitutes innovation?
The first thing you think about when we talk about innovation in the context of advertising is technology, but there is a whole another dimension. If you have a problem of filling an A4 magazine page where someone is going to get noticed or remembered, then you’re gonna have to innovate there as well. One of my big things is that, if I’m designing an ad, I don’t want it to look like an ad, because no one cares about advertising, no one bought a magazine to look at the ads.

So we have to work really hard. It’s a great opportunity designing an ad in a magazine: you have a blank page, you can do whatever you want with that page, and it’s your job to make that page the most memorable page in the magazine. It shouldn’t be too hard, and yet, most ads are terrible, I never really understand that.

What is your professional reaction to rapid changes and innovations in the media environment?
I think when you are talking about innovation in the context of advertising, there are two elements: the most obvious one is technological innovation, and a lot has happened in the last few years and a lot will happen in the future, and it’s wonderful. But there’s another thing about innovation: I don’t think we should lose sight of the fact that we can also innovate in the established media as well, and one of the things that I am particularly interested in is keeping things like press advertising, the poster advertising not regarding them as somehow not relevant any more, and old-fashioned – they’re not. We can innovate in those areas just as much as anything else, in terms of having really smart ideas, and using innovation in the way that those ideas are executed.

What are the challenges the brands face today?

One of the biggest problems in terms of advertising that brands face is if they haven’t got a good product. We have to be honest: in an ideal world, which this isn’t, each product or service that you advertise will have a benefit, and it’s generally our job to dramatize that benefit. Lots of products don’t really have particularly great benefits, so that makes our job very much harder. I would suggest that the brand has a problem there. For a product to exist, or have a right to exist, there should be a reason for it. It should be better than its competitors in some way, and it’s our job to dramatize that fact. If they don’t have that benefit, our job is that much harder.

It’s interesting that you smiled when I said we have to be honest. I don’t think I’ve ever done a dishonest ad in my life, and I don’t intent to start any time soon. I smiled, because, from the consumers’ point of view, advertising is often associated with manipulation. That is a good point. One of the things that came up
in someone else’s talk this morning, that really caught my attention was this notion that hardly anyone trusts advertising, and I agree with that, completely. Butinstead of making kind of sweeping generalizations, I think it’s important to distinguish between good and bad advertising. Most advertising is bad, and I hate it as much as anyone else. But there is good advertising and that’s what I try and do. I think there’s a huge difference. The ads I do don’t lie, and they don’t try and mislead people, they try and dramatize benefits in an impactful way that’s memorable, and those benefits are true, they’re not made up.

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