Robin Landa's Advertising by Design

By Alixandra Rutnik on Jan 22, 2021

One Club Member & Professor pens 4th edition advertising book

Robin Landa, One Club Member, author, and Distinguished Professor is releasing a new edition of Advertising by Design in April 2021, and we can't wait to get our hands on it! Robin has spent over 30 years teaching creative direction to college students and helping them with their careers. She has a wealth of knowledge and a lot of tips and tricks for learning about the ad and design field, and luckily, all of this info can be found in her latest edition of Advertising by Design.

We interviewed Robin and learned that she has an innate ability to teach conceptual thinking — get ready for an education!

As an advertising & creative direction professor for the past 33 years and counting, how has your teaching career evolved over the decades?

When I was working toward my MFA, I received a teaching fellowship– I taught undergraduate courses in color theory. Although I wanted to pursue a career as an art director, the fellowship allowed me to experience the joy of teaching.

Over the years, I went back and forth between industry and university teaching, finally settling in as a full-time university professor. Advertising wasn’t always welcoming to women. Academia offered more opportunities for growth and research. At a young age, I advanced to the coveted rank of Full Professor and later received the honor of my current rank, Distinguished Professor.

"I have made it my life’s work to ensure my students know what’s possible and to open as many doors for them as I can."

During grad school, only one professor advised me about career paths. I have made it my life’s work to ensure my students know what’s possible and to open as many doors for them as I can. The One Club’s unmatched dedication to supporting education has been an enormous help in this regard.

I created social media groups and job boards for our students and alumni– alumni and faculty have a tight-knit network. I especially love having alumni come back to the Michael Graves College to teach and present, as well as relish in seeing the photos of their children on Facebook.

Early in my academic career, a publisher approached me about writing a book. I seized that opportunity to reach a broader audience. Former students’ work and words have been featured in all of my books.

How and why did you come up with N.A.R.C.? Tell us more about this acronym.

Effective advertising is based on understanding the target audience and the brand, organization or social cause, the brief and strategy, ideation, relevance, and creative execution. The N.A.R.C. acronym, one of many guides I offer in Advertising by Design, is a handy way to remember what an art director has to consider. Acronyms aid memory.

An idea can change the way people think about a brand, entity, cause, or issue. It can offer proof, create desire, or stir an emotion that imprints the message. An idea can reframe a conversation, do some social good, taunt a competitor, empower or motivate, endear the audience, or simply entertain.

  • North Star: A “north star” concept—the central premise, mission, and guiding light—that makes each execution conceptually sound.
  • Attract. People have to notice an ad and find it appealing enough to talk about it or share it.
  • Relate. People should find advertising remarkable, relatable, and relevant to their aspirations and desires. Ideally, it should respond to their hopes or needs and resonate in the long term.
  • Compel. Advertising should engage, prompt, stimulate, or move people to feel, think, or do something. Which emotion do you want them to feel? Provide a hero’s journey. Call people to action.

Ask: Would your idea make people think or feel something? Change their point of view? What’s the overarching (North Star) idea?

"Effective advertising is based on understanding the target audience and the brand, organization or social cause, the brief and strategy, ideation, relevance, and creative execution."

Do you incorporate your books into your curriculum?

I do assign Advertising by Design and some of my other books– I donate all of those royalties and much more to scholarship funds. John Wiley & Sons will publish the new and fourth edition in April 2021, however I have incorporated all of my research for this edition into my courses. I’ve also written a Quickstart AD Guide, which is in the new edition, that I’ve begun sharing with faculty all over the world. Faculty should feel free to reach out to me if they’d like a Quickstart Ad Guide. Two of my fabulously talented senior students, Melissa Tito and Maria Dominguez, worked with me to design the Quickstart Ad Guide.

Courtney Perets and James Taylor from Jones Knowles Ritchie designed the cover of the 4th edition.

Naturally, I incorporate all of the topics in the book that any aspiring art director needs to know into my courses, including how to ideate, principles of art direction and design, creative thinking, copywriting basics, storytelling, story-building, brand building, brand activism, how to get audiences engaged, and how to create strategic and creative integrated campaigns.

As an author, why did you decide to write this book?

Writing this type of book is an extension of my teaching. Part of what I enjoy about teaching is making complex content accessible and digestible. Determining the contents for a book that would be used by different faculty internationally as a teaching tool and read by university students is an exciting challenge.

The fourth edition includes a lot of new content, including interviews with esteemed creatives: Emlyn Allen, Charlene Chandrasekaran, Bernice Chao, Erin Evon, Renato Fernandez, Jayanta Jenkins, José Molla, Julia Neumann, and The One Club’s education director, NiRey Reynolds.

For the Design Incubation Fellowship, I facilitate the book-writing group, mentoring university faculty. Once they’ve written their book proposal, which usually includes a tentative Table of Contents, a pitch, a short narrative about the content, target market, competition, and bio, I ask them to write five takeaways for each chapter. I also ask them to write the reader’s three main learning outcomes, which aids to focus the overall intention.

When I wrote my first of over twenty books, I kept annotating the table of contents, writing, and rewriting, until it resulted in a very detailed one. That kept my chapters and overall content focused. I was doing this by the seat of my pants. Fortunately, I hit on a good method from the outset.

Over the years of teaching college students, what have you learned from them?

That’s such a great question — one that every educator should contemplate. If we compile the best (wisest, funniest, and bittersweet) answers from lots of educators, that could be a worthwhile book.

I have incorporated lessons from my students into my writing, especially principles of social justice and stimulating a passion for curiosity to foster creative thinking.

Here are the most important lessons my students have taught me:

  • Lead with empathy and respect and do not take anything personally. It’s about them, not me.
  • Practice inclusion and equity—lead with social justice at the forefront.
  • Be a coach and guide. Mentor and cheer.
  • Ensure my passionate curiosity is contagious.
  • Be a story-listener.
  • Tell worthwhile stories.
  • Engage people with active participation.
  • Teach how to think not what to think.
  • Give as many exercises, creative prompts, and different types of assignments as possible to make sure there’s something that will stimulate all types of learners and personalities.
  • Show your humanity. If you need to cry, go ahead. And I do.

Do you have any writing tips to share?

"My advice to anyone writing a book, an article, copy, or a short story is to make writing a non-negotiable activity,  just like brushing one’s teeth."

My advice to anyone writing a book, an article, copy, or a short story is to make writing a non-negotiable activity, just like brushing one’s teeth. You can’t negotiate with yourself not to do it– you do it and the process becomes a good habit. A few other tips for becoming a writer:

  1. Show. Don’t tell. You can’t argue with Anton Chekhov who said, "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." This tenet is a mainstay of writing programs. Even if you think it’s a relic, this tenet still works. When you tell people, you’re asking them to believe you without evidence. However, if you allow the reader to “witness” the characteristics, qualities, or evidence, then they can come to their own conclusions. Showing is substantiation made visible. Example: Instead of writing, “Jane is short,” you could write, “When Jane sat in the chair, her feet didn’t reach the floor."
  2. Write short sentences. Cut unnecessary words. In his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell advised on rules of writing; one rule is, “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” Contemporary writer John Grisham agrees; from his list of Do’s and Don’ts, he advises, “Do—Read each sentence at least three times in search of words to cut.” People have become accustomed to reading in chunks—to reading short bits of information at a time. Unless you’re writing branded entertainment in the form of a short story or writing for long-form screen productions, such as a film, keep it short and focused.
  3. Say it outright. To get started, write it the way you would say it. Take the subject. Add a verb. Leave out adverbs. Then tweak.
  4. Use the active voice and action verbs. Let the reader know who is performing the action. When you use an active voice sentence construction, the subject performs the action expressing it through its representative verb. (In the passive voice the subject is acted upon.) Active: The girl threw the ball. (Here, we know who is doing what.) Passive: The ball was thrown. (Here, we don’t know who threw it.) Action verbs tend to be more concise, persuasive, and engaging. With an action verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something.
  5. Be authentic. It’s fairly simple; as U.S. President Harry Truman said, “Say what you mean, mean what you say. Keep your word.”
  6. Narrow the focus. Write to please yourself or a specific audience only, not everyone.
  7. Make it relatable. Seek insights into people’s perceptions and behaviors. Observe people. Research what the audience is saying on social media—practice social listening. Write like a person not like AI.
  8. Respect your audience.

All these tips and more are found in the 4th edition of Advertising by Design’s chapter on Copywriting.

What are the key takeaways from the 4th Edition of Advertising by Design?

"Attention is valuable. You have to: Catch it. Keep it. Reward it."

Attention is valuable. You have to: Catch it. Keep it. Reward it.

To catch people’s attention, advertising must attract and be relevant. A robust idea demands outstanding art direction and design.

To keep people’s attention, advertising must be interesting and beneficial, engender hope, define the dream.

To reward people, advertising must inform, entertain, be useful, do good, perform, or all.

Effective and creative advertising moves the needle from relevance to essential.

If we want a copy, where should we go?

Since Wiley published the first edition, advertising instructors have reached out to me to say how helpful this book has been to them in the classroom. Practitioners have reached out to say they keep the book on their desks as a guide and reference. My associate dean, Rose Gonnella, always says the book is a “gift” to instructors.

People can purchase Advertising by Design at all major booksellers, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble– it’s even sold by major retailers, such as Target, which blew my mind. Instructors should contact their sales reps at John Wiley & Sons for desk copies.

Are you working on another book at the moment?

Yes. Research and writing keep me engaged and my thinking fresh. I am working on a new book as well as a new book proposal (the editor already responded with interest). Mum’s the word, for now. However, I will say that if any ECD or CCO wants to be interviewed for my new book, please reach out to me. Or reach out anyway. Thank you!


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