How to Guide for Marketers

How to write a Creative Brief

Share this story with other MarketersShare on LinkedIn
Share on Facebook
Share on Google+
Tweet about this on Twitter
Email this to someone
Print this page

I wish everyone would stop writing ugly Creative Briefs. The brief is a crucial way for brand leaders to control the strategy, but give freedom on execution to the experts who execute. Too many marketers have this backward, preferring to give freedom on strategy with various possible strategic options layered within the creative brief. They attempt to try to control the creative outcome by writing a long list of tangled mandatories.creative briefs

When you write a big-wide creative brief with layers of options within the brief, the Agency just peels the brief apart and gives you strategic options. For instance, if you put a big wide target market of 18-55 years-old, your agency will present one ad for 18-25 years-old, another one for 25-40 years-old and the third ad for 40-55 years-old. If you put two objectives into the brief, asking to drive trial and drive usage, you will get one ad idea for driving trial and one ad idea for usage. This means you are picking your brand strategy based on which ad idea you like best. That is wrong. Pick your strategy first and use the creativity of execution to express that strategy.

A Creative Brief creates the box to play in

Most great creative advertising people I have met are problem solvers, not inventors. I would describe them as ‘in-the-box’ creative thinkers, not blue sky “out-of-the-box” thinkers. With that in mind, never give your creative team a blank slate or blank canvas and ask them to come up with an ad. They want your problems to solve, so never give them your solution. If they are ‘in-the-box thinkers’, then the role of the Creative Brief is to create the right box for them to solve. Here is what creative people do not want from you:

  1. A Blank canvas: Creative people would prefer a business problem to solve, not a wide-open request for advertising options.
  2. An unclear problem: Creative people need a tightly defined and focused problem to generate great work that meets your needs.
  3. A long list of mandatories: Do not create a tangled web of mandatories that almost write the ad itself. These lists only trap the creative team, holding them back from doing anything breakthrough, surprising or spectacular.
  4. Your Solutions: Creative people find it demotivating to be asked for their expertise (solving problems) and then not be fully utilized (given your answer).

Keep the brief small

A smart Creative Brief should be brief, not long. Avoid the “Just in Case” list by taking your pen and stroking a few things off your creative brief! It is always enlightening when you tighten your Creative Brief. Make tough decisions of what goes into the brief, so you narrow the brief down to:

  • One objective
  • One desired consumer response
  • One target tightly defined
  • One main benefit
  • Up to two main reasons to believe

Five ways to make your brief better

Here are some simple Rules for Writing a Smart Creative Brief:

  1. Make sure you have a tight target: Do not spread your resources against a target so broad that leave everyone thinking your message is for someone else. Target the people who are the most motivated by what you do best, and you will make your brand feel personal. The best thing a brand can do is make consumers think, “This is for me.”
  2. Talk benefits, and not features: Start a conversation that shows what the consumers get or how they will feel. Do not just yell features at the consumer.
  3. Drive one objective at a time: Focus on getting consumers to do only one thing at a time, whether you want them to see, think, feel or do something. Force yourself to make a decision that links with the brand strategy.
  4. Drive one main message at a time: If you put so many messages into your ad, consumers will just see and hear a cluttered mess. They will not know what you stand for, and you will never build a reputation for anything. Use your brand’s Big Idea to simplify and organize the brand messaging.
  5. Connect with consumers where they are most likely to engage with the brand story: Where in the market you choose to stand out can be just as important as what you say. While efficient media is important, focusing solely on efficiency and ROI might lead to staying beneath the consumer’s radar.

Transform your Brand Communications Strategy into a Creative Brief

In the Brand Plan chapter, I laid out the seven questions of the Brand Communications Plan:

  1. Who is in the consumer target?
  2. What are we are selling?
  3. Why should they believe us?
  4. Does your brand have an organizing Big Idea?
  5. What do we want the advertising to do?
  6. What do we want people to think, feel or do?
  7. Where will you deliver the message?

Brand Communications Plan How to write a Creative Brief

Transforming the plan into a Creative Brief

Take all the work the strategic homework you developed through the Brand Communications Plan, and begin to populate the 12 questions of the creative brief template:

Brand Communications Plan How to write a Creative Brief

A well written creative brief takes everything you know about the brand and strategically desire, and distills it down to 1 page. Here’s an example of a good creative brief template:

Format for How to write a Creative Brief

To learn more about this type of thinking, you should explore my new book, Beloved Brands.

With Beloved Brands, you will learn everything you need to know so you can build a brand that your consumers will love.

You will learn how to think strategically, define your brand with a positioning statement and a brand idea, write a brand plan everyone can follow, inspire smart and creative marketing execution and analyze the performance of your brand through a deep-dive business review.

Beloved Brands book

To order the e-book version or the paperback version from Amazon, click on this link:

If you use Kobo, you can find Beloved Brands in over 30 markets using this link:

And if you are in India, you can use this link to order:

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth, and profitability you will realize in the future.

We think the best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique playbook tools are the backbone of our workshops. We bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a brand idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources.

Our brand playbook methodology will challenge you to unlock future growth for your brand

  1. Our deep-dive assessment process will give you the knowledge of the issues facing your brand, so you can build a smart plan to unleash future growth.
  2. Find a winning brand positioning statement that motivates consumers to buy, and gives you a competitive advantage to drive future growth.
  3. Create a brand idea to capture the minds and hearts of consumers, while inspiring and focusing your team to deliver greatness on the brand’s behalf.
  4. Build a brand plan to help you make smart focused decisions, so you can organize, steer, and inspire your team towards higher growth.
  5. Advise on advertising, to find creative that drives branded breakthrough and use a motivating messaging to set up long-term brand growth.
  6. Our brand training program will make your brand leaders smarter, so you have added confidence in their performance to drive brand growth.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911

You have my personal promise to help you solve your brand building challenges. I will give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.


Graham Robertson

Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.






Share this story with other MarketersShare on LinkedIn
Share on Facebook
Share on Google+
Tweet about this on Twitter
Email this to someone
Print this page

15 thoughts on “How to write a Creative Brief

  1. I’d like to complement your post about briefs by not restricting the commentary to advertising. We are a branding and design agency that expresses the majority of our work as consumer packaging and the merits of a well-written brief are every bit as important for this aspect of brand expression. In fact, I contend that it is more important in that every CPG brand has a package by definition while an increasing amount of brands are challenged by trade spending and cannot afford the luxury of advertising so must rely on shelf presence and retailers’ flyers to create awareness and stimulate consumer purchase (and repurchase).
    When we introduced our quality program within our agency almost a decade ago, the first thing that our designers asked for was better written briefs. The better written the brief is, the better the yield will be from the designers’ work.

    PS: Love your posts – keep up the great writing

  2. When I read, “even though we don’t know the strategy, we do think we know what we want the creative to look like”, I had the strange feeling you have been in too many of my meetings! Well done. This should be required reading for clients.

  3. This posting can be applied to ANY communication project — From Ads to Press Releases to Websites to Social Media. Any and all of these channels should be using creative briefs at the outset of every project. But, to your point, it seems like the process is so daunting many decide to wade in without it and pay the price in budget losses, time lost, brands diluted and [sadly] sometimes with their jobs.

    CLEARLY this post was based on your real world experience. Thanks for tackling this phenomenon so rationally and eloquently. (I especially like the quarter-inch drill vs. quarter inch hole analogy — perfect).

  4. I strongly agree that the marketing team should control the strategy. The evaluation of the creative against that strategy should determine whether the creative is right or not. Does it answer the brief?
    If so, great. If not, it is necessary to go back to the drawing board. It is very disheartening when a creative submission is received with a comment along the lines of “I don’t really like it, but I’m not sure why.”
    Far better to analyse it objectively and decide if it is right. That is not to say that the ad agency cannot contribute to the strategy, but their input should be incorporated into the brief.
    In other words, adjust the creative to meet the strategy, but don’t amend the strategy to suit creative that people have fallen in love with.

  5. “Brand Managers allow too much FREEDOM on the strategy but want to exhibit CONTROL on the creative”. Well said. Most briefs I’ve seen seem lazy. In those cases, it’s almost as if the marketer sees the document as an administrative step required to get the agency to start working on stuff (“I’m not sure what I want, but I’ll know when I see it”). The consumer insight often isn’t one or, even worse, is described in terms of the product you’re trying to sell as opposed to the feelings and motivations you are trying to address.

  6. Good post. Nice job summarizing what needs to be in a brief. I agree, too many briefs are too long. A good creative team will get their head around a single idea and create solid options that fit the strategy. I believe there are at least three reasons why many ad messages are so weak: 1) brands are trying to reach everybody; and nobody pays attention 2) brands have not dug deep enough to uncover their true relevant difference 3) brands are too product focused; they should shift to the consumer.

  7. Great article wish I’d seen it a tad earlier in my 40 years of working with agency clients. There’s one thing I disagree with, however. The client should write the brief, not the agency.
    Why? The client knows more about his products/services, customers & prospects, marketing plan…than the agency ever will. Consequently the agency brief must be sub-optimal. That helps no-one and discussing an agency version wastes time.
    OK I have only had one client – and I’ve had ones with $220m to spend to less than $20,000 – who has done so and I’ve written them. That doesn’t detract from my argument that agency initiated briefs don’t expose the creative team to the full challenge.
    In my experience, account planners can provide valuable insights to inform the agency’s distillation of the client brief to drive better creative – and media – proposals. A sub-optimal brief will generate sub-optimal outcomes.
    Of course we have to assume that the client can write a creative brief, many can’t and your presentation would be an ideal primer.

  8. Appreciating the persistence you put into your blog and detailed information
    you provide. It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same
    out of date rehashed information. Great read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  9. “Brand Managers allow too much FREEDOM on the strategy but want to exhibit CONTROL on the creative”. Well said indeed. While weeks and weeks of research might go into a creative brief there’s something magical that happens when it’s forced to fit onto a single page. All the details and complicated data suddenly clarify into a single, single-minded vision of what the creative team is meant to achieve.

    More on the importance of a creative brief i did on this article.

    Keep rocking!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Protected by WP Anti Spam