I just thought I’d warn you: Creative directors are basically a race of evil beings. I know, because I am one. (For the record, a few of us have vowed to use our dark powers for good, and must battle our own wicked hearts; this would make a great movie.)

Creative directors in service to nonprofit organizations do a lot of damage. I’ll prove it to you with just one recent ad, done for the World Food Programme.

This ad shows clearly how creative directors become adept at persuading others to trade aesthetics for effectiveness. That’s no doubt why this ad has a stark and beautiful black-and-white photo, rather than a “real” looking color photo.

The photo isn’t the only problem with this ad:

  • It has an almost totally abstract, noncommunicative headline. The creative director no doubt loved the “impressionistic” quality of this headline.
  • The headline’s type is so tightly kerned, it looks like a printing error of some kind. The creative director might have said, “It signals a kind of embrace within the headline.” Putting the headline above the photo is a design no-no that CDs love and practice constantly for aesthetic reasons.
  • The entire ad is in reverse type, which is significantly harder for people to read than regular type. But it sure looks gorgeous, doesn’t it?
  • No clear call to action. There’s a seed of an offer, but they just couldn’t quite make the leap to actually including a sentence that directly challenged the reader to participate. (Concreteness is like kryptonite to creative directors; if they get anywhere near it, their pretension starts to shrivel.)

What can I say? That’s what creative directors do. They use their knowledge to create confusion—leading to bad communication that doesn’t accomplish anything.

But you can say no to them. Insist that you never create a marketing message that doesn’t create quantifiable results. Then you can test everything your creative director tells you. The level of confusion will clear away. 

Many more Stupid nonprofit ads here.

imageJeff Brooks is creative director at Merkle, a direct-response agency serving the nonprofit world.  He blogs at the Donor Power Blog.