Blue-sky Thinking

The mail from the client contained six terse words. ‘Blue skies, white beach, happy couple.’ The client, sorry, ex-client, found great delight in making the agency present multiple ad options and then ram his own ‘creative’ interpretation down our throats at the last possible minute. Which would be a route that would scream cliché from every pore. As fifteen versions of the ad had already been rejected, patience was running thin and the deadline was drawing inexorably closer. We drowned our sorrows in a couple of takeaway coffee cups and got down to business.

We searched for ‘blue skies, white beach, happy couple’ and while at it also ‘blue seas’. A package deal for the most hackneyed of images for a print ad. Stock photo sites threw up hundreds of options. But even in this sea of sameness, one visual stood out. A wide curving stretch of pristine beach, fringed by a shimmering aquamarine sea, swaying palm trees in the distance. The couple was in the foreground – the woman was looking at the man adoringly as he smilingly pointed out to something totally insignificant somewhere on the horizon. But the pièce de résistance was the fluffy clouds that peppered the blue sky. They added what we thought was some much needed character. We were obviously clutching at straws here. We revised the layout, added the copy elements (also provided much helpfully by the client), made it the agency recommendation (there was still a bit of pride left) and mailed it along with some other images of blue skies, blue seas, etc. We still had 12 hours left to catch the deadline. A lifetime in an agency’s timeline.

Within seconds, we received a mail. ‘This is not happening. I am coming down.’

This is a client who strongly believes that he’s of a creative bent of mind because eons ago some agency had invited him to be part of an ideation workshop. Apparently, everybody liked the ideas he cracked at the event. It was obviously an agency desperate to retain that particular business. Unfortunately, that incident made him a strong believer in ‘ideating’ with the creative. Well, as long as all the ideas were his.

The client rushed in with the air of acute importance with a junior colleague whose sole duty was to nod and say ‘yes’. We laid out the various versions of the ad on the conference table. Including the rejected ones. He brushed everything aside and took our recommended ad in his hands. He looked around the room enjoying the undivided attention on him. He fixed his gaze on me.

‘Tell me why you think this image works.’

Having done the homework, I stated confidently.

‘Well, as per your brief, this image has everything – blue skies, blue seas, a happy couple – we thought this image is way better than the other images. Plus, it’s also royalty-free.’ (For the uninitiated – royalty-free images cost way lesser than rights-managed images. It’s hard to get high quality royalty-free images.)

The client gave one of his all-knowing smiles – an equivalent of a squeaky chalk on a blackboard – and explained.

'This image has clouds. Did I ask for clouds? Don’t you know that clouds signify that something bad is soon going to happen? Who knows this couple might become victims of a shark attack? Also, these are cirrus clouds. If I somehow had to use clouds, I’d always go for cirrocumulus.'

I wanted to tell him that sharks are not usually in the habit of sliding up a sandy beach and chomping on bodies. Also, in this age of 3-second attention spans, people don’t really notice the type of clouds floating in the background. But this was a lost case.

An hour later we found yet another series of images that satisfied the creative standards of the client. There was not a single cloud in one of them.

And that’s why during those rare occasions when the weather forecast says overcast skies, strong winds, choppy seas; I venture out to capture a beach or two in all their inclement glory. The conditions may not be perfect. But the soul is at peace.