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Opinion and Insight

Free the Book

Droga5 London senior creative Charlene Chandrasekaran on why she’s tired of overproduced student books and why agencies are to blame

Free the Book

There was that award-winning series of print ads a number of years ago for the Department for Transport’s ‘Think’ campaign. One of them read, ‘If you don’t wear your seat belt, your kids will copy you’. Then written beneath it, in their best joined-up handwriting, a kid had rewritten the words. It was a great simple campaign and still is in my opinion. Unfortunately, like life imitating advertising, I feel like the same is happening with our next generation of industry creatives. 

My creative partner Dan and I always like to look at student books and do so as often as we can. We remember what it was like not to have people respond to our cries for help, so we try our best to make time. Which means that we have seen a lot of books. But something sinister is happening to these books that worries me a little. So much so, here I am writing about it. 

Let’s be clear, I am not a perfect creative. I, too, come up with some very questionable ideas. So, this is not a finger wag, but more of an observation and a finger...wiggle? 

Here it goes...Student books are starting to look like professional advertising awards show entries 100 years into the future. 

This sounds incredible, doesn’t it? I should be really impressed. And, to some extent, I am. But behind the shiny professionalism is a worrying trend. When you look through a student team’s portfolio, you can guarantee yourself at least one of these three things: it’s Mac’d up to the nines, there’s a two-minute case study film, or a sophisticated piece of technology transporting a small idea for a really obscure social cause. 

What the hell is happening to these student books? We’re responsible for this madness. I’m not even sure how to fix the issue, it runs so deep. I can only apologise to the students for being complicit in creating the conditions where this would appear desirable. And, before I go any further, I’d also like to separate the books from the people. We meet some really cool people who are hilarious, talented, nice and the rest of it. But some bad habits have been formed and we need to call it out. 

Now I’m not one of those creatives who thinks we should all go back to pure Pentel scamps and throw our Macs down the stairs. Students should be free to create how they want. But that’s just it - their books should be a reflection of them; not a reflection of every other team trying to pinch their placement or job. And certainly not a reflection of what we are already doing in the industry. We have enough of us. What we really want is some young thing to come into adland and blow us away with work that we can’t do ourselves. That’s the point, isn’t it? The student book needs to be liberated from the constraints of adland, not dictated by it. 

Perhaps this phenomenon is more of a reflection of how formulaic our industry has become. We’ve pumped our award shows with those sophisticated, techy ideas for social causes for far too long. Remember the ‘I SEA’ app that claimed to help potential refugee boats stranded at sea? That won at Cannes but turned out to be completely fake! We also make so many case study films that I’m truly surprised we haven’t got a case study awards show: “And the ‘Best use of pithy social media figures’ goes to...”. 

I don’t want to sound old, because I am really young and exuberant in person (honestly!). But what we do as an industry is having a big impact on the quality of these student books and, ultimately, their futures. We want diverse people but also diverse styles of work. It’s also a little bit of a sad reality for us; like a really crap episode of Black Mirror. 

There will be, as always, someone in the industry, sneering over their flat white, disagreeing with all of this. But I am merely a concerned human, who’s helped make some half decent work with her creative partner, rapping an industry over the knuckles in a bid to help some budding student. Rant over. Have a good day, everyone. 
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