Illustration in advertising with Gary Neill

There is a question every Art Director needs to ask themselves once they get their idea down. Should this campaign be a photograph, or should it be an illustration? A strong notion presented by Gary Neill and then eagerly backed by Alexandra Taylor herself, so dear god, it must be true. There are many benefits to deciding what media you’ll be using before you get down to executing. So, how do you choose? To help you determine the answer to this question, I raise you another question. Is there an emotion the brand has that I should be portraying? Out of photography and illustration, which one will get it across best? Remember that the execution-style should enhance the idea, not reframe it. It should communicate all of the product benefits without compromising your new idea around it, and one of these two options, depending on your concept, will certainly do it better than the other. 

There are certain things illustration will communicate more seamlessly than photography and vice versa. One benefit of illustration is that it can make light of heavy topics, allowing them to become more digestible. Harriet Noble’s campaign for the Lady Garden Foundation shows women looking at their labias from all sorts of fascinatingly difficult angles. If they had used photography for this campaign, not only would it have come across as too shocking and overwhelmed the message, but I also do not think there is a woman alive flexible enough to get into the positions they were showcasing. On a more serious note, the use of Noble’s work allowed the Lady Garden Foundation to give itself a branded look. For charities especially, being instantly recognisable helps them build trust with the public, which makes them feel more credible and allows for more donations to roll in. Overall, illustration can also give greater creative control to the brand and feel more vibrant than photographs in some instances. But what happens when you need a more tangible feel to your work? Can illustration work there too? 

An undeniable disadvantage of illustration is that it will just never be as credible as the perfect photograph. But luckily, for illustration, there is rarely the perfect photograph out there for the exact idea you are trying to portray. Collages are a way to inject more creative control and character into a campaign while keeping the realism photography brings. Online magazines such as The Athletic and The Coaches Voice sport a very similar tone of voice. With torn edges and graphic marks all over their photographic collages, you can tell they’re here to tell you the football scores, but not which is which. This is a small trap that collages can set for you. If you’re not careful, they can all end up looking the same. Removing all of that coveted credibility you were after in the first place. Bear this in mind if you choose to go down the photographic path. Allow it to be a warning that if it’s trendy, it’s definitely not unique.

At the end of this class, I wondered whether we’d looked into photography’s advantages enough. As a born illustrator, Gary made a strong case for illustration. But in a world where AI is now bubbling under the surface of all creative things, threatening poor photographers on a daily basis with their six-fingered AI-generated humans, I can’t help but feel that photography deserves more credit than this. The magic in photography is not so much the picture but the organic moment. That is one thing that AI will never be able to capture and we will certainly never be able to art direct (although I think Alex Taylor may argue against this). There is a true magic in photographs. However, we are advertisers. Our job is to sell, and we do not have the time to sit and wait for the perfect organic moment to sell the most perfect part of our product. We simply must create as close to it as we can, and it seems that illustration and carefully controlled photography may be the way forward.

Illustration agency names to bear in mind: 

Heart Agency 

Central Illustration 

Big Active 

Handsome Frank


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