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From the serious to the hilarious, all commercials share a common beginning. Each was created from an idea conceived by a creative person or, more commonly, a team of creative people. Referring to the creative brief prepared by the account executive, the creative team tosses ideas back and forth for days, perhaps far into the night, until arriving at several they think are winners. After changes and approvals, the masterpiece is produced and sent over the airwaves to sell a product, idea or service.
The Creative Team
On the theory that "two heads are better than one," concepts for commercials are usually created by a two-person creative team made up of a copywriter and an art director. They brainstorm ideas that will convey the client's message in a clever way, usually with a campaign of three commercials. Once they have two or three workable campaign ideas, they discuss how each would play out visually and in dialogue. Then the copywriter and art director finish their parts of the rough commercials.
A commercial's golden words and phrases are crafted by the copywriter, who creates the dialogue between the actors. For radio commercials, the copywriter works alone, although she may ask others for their creative opinions. For television commercials, the copywriter confers with the art director throughout the process so they agree on the sequence of action. Once she has completed the copy for each commercial, she gives it to the art director to be included on the display boards he is creating for presentation.
The art director makes thumbnail sketches of each scene in the commercial. The art director then turns the thumbnail sketches for each commercial into a storyboard, which is literally a display board that shows the commercial in pictures, frame by frame. The initial storyboards are rough since they're just for internal agency approval. Once they are approved -- usually with changes -- the art director makes formal storyboards to present to the client.
Copywriters and art directors present their best ideas to their boss, the creative director. The creative director assesses each concept based on its affect, memorability, uniqueness, and how well it answers the creative brief's direction. The creative director either approves one or more of the concepts, possibly suggesting changes, or sends the team back to generate new ideas. When the storyboards are finished, the creative director may accompany the copywriter and art director to present them to the client, who hopefully chooses one campaign for production.
Just as movies have directors, the advertising industry has independent directors -- not agency employees -- who direct the commercial's action. The creative team chooses a director based on the director's previous work and the commercial's budget. A good director also offers ideas and insights that can improve or enhance the finished product, both when the director initially sees the storyboards and during the commercial shoot.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is an award-winning writer in the Washington, DC area. She writes nationally for newspapers, magazines and websites on topics including careers, education, women, marketing, advertising and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh.