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Why copywriters and creatives need to be critics too

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. He has decent hair but a disappointing beard. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

Fans of fizzy drinks and internet furore may well have noticed that Pepsi recently launched – and then sheepishly de-launched – a new advert.

The feedback was full, frothing and not especially charitable, particularly from certain corners of ad land who saw this as a perfect, if not entirely brotherly, opportunity to swing a sockless loafer in the direction of internal creative teams.

Enough words and spittle have been directed at the creative and narrative failings of that ad. But, like Kendall Jenner tearing off her wig and storming away (from what I presume is a highly paid contractual obligation) the ad revealed a different issue – one that in-house and agency creatives can both just as easily be guilty of.

The problem with the Pepsi ad (I swear that’s the last time I mention it) was arguably less about creative mistakes than a failure of judgement.

As well as generating, developing and refining a great creative idea, there is a final part of the process that matters more than anything that goes before it – evaluation.

Creatives, even if they don’t recognise it, exist in a bubble of the first three stages – becoming consumed by the idea and its virtues because, quite frankly, there is little time for honest reflection when the creative pipework is set to ‘gush’.

The creative stages of an idea are naturally more positive and less critical. But that cold analysis of your own work has to come at some point, ideally before you present what you’ve done to anyone outside of the creative team.

The hardest part about it is not necessarily an unwillingness to be critical of your own work, but rather an inability to see the flaws. As the proud parent to this fledgling thought, it’s easy to attach significance, merit and purpose to its every action – even when it metaphorically poos in the bath.

One of the most useful tools at your disposal here is time. Reviewing something while the ink is still wet desperately narrows your perspective – and you end up judging the work against nothing other than its own earlier forms.

Walking away from the job entirely, no matter how you spend that time, will make the work seem remarkably different on your return. Often, in the time it takes to eat a jacket potato, a career-defining creative idea can suddenly seem dull, obvious and sickeningly familiar.

Admittedly this stage of the process may do little for your deadline anxiety, but it will at least help you see your work in the way that other people might. And that’s not even to say that you are obliged to unpick all the loose threads and soften every hard edge.

The bare minimum though is that you have an objective view of how your work could be viewed by the people you are trying to reach – and intelligent reasons for why it does, and should, exist in this form.

The gloomy truth is that even if you can see and understand your idea from different perspectives, that’s not to say your client will take the same trouble.

And, without wishing to be an apologist for creatives (which I really am) the advert for a certain fizzy drink whiffs of a brand blindly chasing loftier ideals – regardless of whether their audience cares for a slurp of social justice alongside their syrupy pop.

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Andrew Boulton

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