Viewpoint: Concepteur…what a great idea

When you go to a French advertising awards ceremony, whether it's in Montreal or Cannes, you'll see and hear a word that won't translate into English worth a damn.The word is 'concepteur'. It means, of course, 'the person who thought up...

When you go to a French advertising awards ceremony, whether it’s in Montreal or Cannes, you’ll see and hear a word that won’t translate into English worth a damn.

The word is ‘concepteur’. It means, of course, ‘the person who thought up the idea.’

The English equivalents just aren’t there.

‘Concepteur’ doesn’t exist. ‘Conceptualize’ might, but shouldn’t. ‘Idea man,’ apart from being sexist, conjures up the image of some guy in a sharkskin suit whose idea is going to do him a lot more good than it does you.

And the Anglo award terms, copywriter and art director, are old-fashioned job descriptions, portraying more what’s done with a keyboard or a layout pad, than with a brain.

Engrave it

We should find an English word for ‘concepteur,’ and when we find, it, we should engrave it in bronze and attach it to a pedestal, waiting for somebody who deserves to stand above it.

Because as the 20th century leaks away (Do you know there are less than 2,000 days until 2000?), we need concepteurs very, very badly. And I’m talking way, way beyond what used to be called the Creative Department.

The modern world is up to its collective elbows in tools. We have machines that can do absolutely anything – sound like a symphony orchestra, change Humphrey Bogart’s eyes from gray to blue, desktop-publishing the complete works of Plato, or even finish this column for me after I abandon it halfway through.

Tools aren’t the point. There have always been tools.

Flinty rocks sat around forever, until some prehistoric concepteur banged a couple of them together over some dead grass and blew on the spark.

Lots of steam had rattled the lids of lots of teakettles, until a concepteur named Watt said – more or less – I’ll bet that force could power a train.

Unfortunately, the more sophisticated our tools get, the more most of us just use them to push around the same old concepts.

We string together words, or sounds, or pictures in new and nifty ways, and call ourselves concepteurs – or we would, if we had the term in our language.

And, then we wonder why, in this shrinking and competitive world, the only people we hear applauding is us.

Nope. Not enough. We need more people like Bill Gates, who saw an important new form of hardware and realized it would need software to match. Like Dave Nichol, who saw the decline of brand loyalty and figured out how to redirect it.

Like Jim Henson, who looked at fuzzy bundles of fur and saw new and marvellously entertaining creatures. We even need people whose creations I don’t understand, but which are original and seem to fill a need; I’m thinking right now, God help me, of the man or woman who invented the infomercial.

I think what Hugo Powell of Labatt was saying he needed, in his celebrated speech of a year or so ago, was fewer rearrangers of deck chairs, and more concepteurs.

He was right. (Whether he has since found them is the subject for a whole separate debate.)

Hard to find

True concepteurs are hard to find

I’m not sure that I know personally more than three, maybe four, and every one of them has had more than his of her share of devastating failures.

Because new ideas are not only rare, but we who stand around and watch them have a nasty habit of saying, ‘I haven’t seen that before, therefore it won’t work.’

This week, then, your homework assignment is to go out and support somebody’s flaky idea. It just might be a Microsoft of a Muppet – or damn it, a Prism and vive le concepteur.