How to write a Creative Brief

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Great advertising should create a bond with consumers who connect with the soul of the brand. It should establish your brand’s reputation based on a distinct positioningAnd finally, you should want your advertising to influence consumers to alter their behavior, making the brand more powerfully connected, eventually leading to higher sales, share and profit.

If you are creating advertising that doesn’t alter behavior or doesn’t help lead the brand on a pathway to higher profits, then you are wasting the hard-earned money of the brand.great advertising.001

Control the strategy. Give freedom on execution

Brand leaders have this backward, giving freedom to the strategy with various options in the brief, and yet control the execution with a long list of mandatories and direction on a style of advertising. In my 25 years of marketing, every great Creative Advertising person I met was a problem solving “in-the-box” type thinker, not a blue sky “out-of-the-box” thinker. Never give them a blank slate or blank canvas and ask them to come up with an ad. But never give them a solution. If they are “in the box thinkers” then the role of the Creative Brief is to create a box for them to solve.

A creative brief creates the box to play in.

While it hard to come up with the ideal brand strategies, sometimes it’s even harder to stay on strategy throughout the execution of the marketing activities. Many think the only intended audience of the creative brief is the creative team at your agency. Write it for yourself to keep you focused on your strategy, write it for your boss that might not be in the room when the creative work is presented, write it for other agencies to align with the main creative work and write it for the next brand leader on your desk to keep them focused on the strategy you have created. How to write a Creative Brief

Some think that a creative brief takes everything you know about your brand and only puts down those pieces of information relevant to the strategic choice you have made. In a way it does, but remember that it’s called a “brief” for a reason. ost brand leaders struggle to focus. It should force you to make choices in what you put in the brief. What you need the brief to do is to focus on a slice of the population (target), create something that gets them to take an action (desired response) that make the brand stronger (result). The brief lays out what to say (main message), how to talk to them to trigger that action (tone) and re-enforces why we can do it and others can’t. (positioning). As you create the box for the creative team, here are the rules of the box you create:

  • one clearly defined and narrow target
  • one benefit
  • one or two reason to believe
  • one strategic objective
  • make the consumers think, feel or do

The worst thing you can ever do is start writing a creative brief without doing your homework. 

At Beloved Brands, we use six questions as a deep-dive homework to set up a Brand Communications Strategy.

  1. Who is the consumer target you are selling to? (Who is the most motivated to buy what you do?)
  2. What are we are selling? (What is your main benefit?)
  3. Why should they believe us? (Support points to back up what you say)
  4. What’s the long-range feeling the brand evokes? (What is the Big Idea for the brand?)
  5. What do we want the brand communications to do for the brand? (Strategic Choices)
  6. What do want people to think, feel or do? (Desired Response)

To read more about how to write a Brand Communications strategy, follow this hyperlink: How to write a Brand Communication Strategy

Transforming your Advertising Strategy homework into a Creative Brief

As we move from the homework you have done above into the briefing stage, here are 12 headlines you can use to help frame your creative brief:

  1. Why Are We Advertising
  2. What’s the Consumer Problem We are Addressing
  3. Who are you talking to?
  4. Consumer Insights
  5. What does our consumer think now?
  6. What do you want your consumer to think/feel/do? (Desired Response)
  7. What should we tell them? (Stimulus: benefit)
  8. Why should they believe us?
  9. Brand Positioning Statement
  10. Tone and Manner
  11. Media Options
  12. Mandatories

Once you answer the seven questions on the homework, you can use those answers to begin to populate your creative brief:

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:

How to write a Creative Brief



Where Brand Leaders make mistakes on the Creative Brief

Why are we Advertising?

The first area is at the top of the brief with the advertising objective.  

  • An unfocused objective: Drive TRIAL of Grays Cookies AND get current users to USE MORE often.
  • A focused objective:  Drive trial of Grays Cookies by positioning it as The good tasting Healthy cookie”

I see too many briefs that have both penetration and usage frequency as one objective. Stop this, it’s TWO STRATEGIES that leads you to two targets, two objectives, two messages and possibly two different media options. Your agency will come back with one ad that does penetration and one for frequency and this gives up control of the strategy to the agency and even to you who now picks the best creative work, not the best strategy.

What’s the Consumer Problem we are addressing?

The next flaw I see is leading with a product-driven brief, not a consumer-driven brief.

  • A product-driven Brief misses the consumer problem we are addressing:  Gray’s market share is still relatively small. It is held back by low awareness and trial and the product usage is not on par with the category.  
  • A consumer-driven Brief lays out a clear consumer problem we are addressing? I’m always watching what I eat. And then BAM, I see a cookie and I’m done. As much as I look after myself, I still like to sneak a cookie now and then.

The best ads are rooted in consumer insights so you can connect and move the consumer in a way that benefits your brand. We recommend that you start with the consumers enemy—every product started by solving a problem, but every brand fights off an enemy in the consumer’s life.

Who are you talking to?

Brand Leaders tend to pick too broad of a target and as we mentioned in the homework, this just spreads your limited resources. 

  • A broad target Brief:  25-55 year olds, current users and potential users. They shop mainly at Grocery and some Mass. They use 24.7 cookies a month
  • A highly targeted Brief: “Proactive Preventers”. Suburban working women, 35-40, who are willing to do whatever it takes to stay healthy. They run, workout and eat right. For many, Food can be a bit of a stress-reliever and escape even for people who watch what they eat.  

Having a 30 year age gap is too wide: your agency will give you one ad for 25-year-olds and one for 55-year-olds. You want CREATIVE options, not STRATEGIC options. We recommend a maximum 5 year age gap to give your ad focus. Going after current and new users is an unfocused strategy that just spreads your resources.

Consumer Insights

Consumer insights add real flavor to the target, and with great advertising is what creates that first connection that we “get the consumer”.  But consumer insights are not facts and stats. You have to go a layer beneath the surface. Consumer insight is an enlightening discovery of consumer’s underlying needs and motivations. Insight is something that everyone already knows and comes to life when it’s told in such a captivating way that makes consumers stop and say “hmm, I thought I was the only who felt like that.

  • A bad “stats driven” Brief: Gray’s product taste drives high trial to purchase (50%) compared to other new launches (32%). Consumers only use Gray’s 9.8 cookies per month compared to the Category Leader at 18.3 cookies.
  • An insights driven Brief: I have tremendous will-power. I work out 3x a week, watch what I eat and maintain my figure. But we all have weaknesses and cookies are mine. I just wish they were less bad for you

We recommend that you frame your insight by starting with the word “I” to force yourself into their shoes and put the insight in quotes to force yourself to use their voice. Bring insights into the brief as ways to tell the story to the creative team, so they can build stories that connect with your consumer. The best ads are those where you can almost see the insight shining through the work.   

What do we want consumers to think, feel or do? (Desired Response)

When getting into execution mode, think about the desired response before planning the stimulus.  Too many Brand Leaders start with the stimulus. But, you should start with the response and let that guide what you’re going to tell them.

  • A bad Brief wants the advertising to do everything:  We want them to THINK that Grays Cookies are unique. We want them to FEEL they can stay in control with Grays and it will keep them feeling successful in living their healthy lifestyle. And we want them to TRY Grays and see if they like the great taste.
  • A Better Brief is focused on accomplishing ONE thing: We want them to FEEL they can stay in control with Grays.

You should choose ONE of think, feel or act, not a combination. Good advertising can only move one body part at a time—so you have to decide, or else your agency will show you creative options for each of these strategies and the best ad will decide your brand strategy.

What should we tell them? (Stimulus) 

As we work with brands, we try to get them focused on what the consumer gets from what you do, not just talking about yourself. The golden rule for getting someone to like you is talk about them,  not you.

  • A feature-oriented Brief:  Grays Cookies are the perfect modern cookie, only 100 calories and less than 2g of Fat. For those looking to lose weight, the American Dietician Society recommends adding Gray’s to your diet. You can find Gray’s at all leading grocery stores.
  • A Benefit focused Brief: With Grays Cookies you can still have a great tasting cookie without the guilt.

Speak in terms of benefits, not features. Focus your stimulus on what consumers get (rational benefit) or how consumers feel (emotional). Try to narrow what you TELL consumers to ONE THING, not a laundry list of things. If you tell them too much, they’ll hear NOTHING.


The best briefs have few mandatories. I’ve seen Brand Leaders write long Mandatories lists, that makes it so prescriptive the agency ends up backed into a creative corner.

  • A Bad prescriptive attempt to control the Creative: Avoid humor, as a sarcastic tone will not work with our target market. Preference is for real customer testimonials supported by before/after with our 90-day guarantee tagged on. Ensure brand shown in first 7 seconds. Use Snookie, as our spokesperson. Ad setting in the pharmacy will add credibility.
  • Good attempt to give Freedom to the Creative: The line: “best tasting yet guilt-free pleasure” is on our packaging. At least 25% of Print must carry the Whole Foods logo as part of our listing agreement. Include the Legal disclaimer on the taste test and the 12-week study.

If you think the first list is fictional, it’s not. I’ve seen every one of those mandatories in creative briefs. With the second list, you’ll notice that none of them steer the creative advertising ideas.



Some simple rules for a good Creative Brief:

  • Target the people most motivated by what you do best. Don’t just randomly target competitive users that are most desirable to us, without knowing if we can actually win them over. Spreading your resources against a target so broad, everyone will think your message is for someone else.
  • Use what we stand for to show consumers what they get from us.  Don’t just tell what we do, so that it makes us appear the best in the category. Consumers don’t care what you do, they selfishly and rightfully so careful about what they get.
  • Focus on getting consumers to do only one thing at a time: think, feel or do. Make a choice instead of trying to get new users to buy and getting current users to use more at the same time.  Trying to drive trial and usage at the same time will leave consumers confused as to what to think, do or feel.
  • Use the creative work to tell the brand story in a way we love and believe in.  Great advertising is NOT about making sure we get all our key messages into the creative. With so many messages, people won’t know what you stand for, and you’ll never get a reputation for anything.
  • Connect with our target where they are most likely to engage with our brand story.  While efficient media is important, focusing solely on efficiency and ROI might lead us to stay beneath the consumer’s radar. Consumers hear 5000 efficiently placed messages a day and quickly reject boring messages all day long. They likely will connect and engage with 5 messages a day. Will it be yours?

How to write a Creative Brief

Trying to be everything to anyone, makes you nothing to everyone

Below is a presentation of a workshop that we run on How to write a Creative Brief:

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And, to order the paperback version, click on this link:

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.

The best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique engagement tools are the backbone of our strategy workshops. These tools will force you to think differently so you can freely generate many new ideas. At Beloved Brands, we bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We help brands find growth

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 big 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. Finally, the big idea must influence employees to personally deliver an outstanding consumer experience, to help move consumers along the journey to loving 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. We work with your team to build out project plans, creative briefs and provide advice on marketing execution.

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

We make Brand Leaders smarter

We believe that investing in your marketing people will pay off. With smarter people behind your brands will drive higher revenue growth and profits. With our brand management training program, you will see smarter strategic thinking, more focused brand plans, brand positioning, better creative briefs that steer your agencies, improved decision-making on marketing execution, smarter analytical skills to assess your brand’s performance and a better management of the profitability of the brand.

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

Graham Robertson



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Graham Robertson

Graham spent 20 years in Brand Management leading some of the world’s most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, General Mills and Coke, rising up to VP Marketing. In his career, he has won numerous Advertising, Innovation and Leadership awards. Graham played a major role in helping J&J win Marketing Magazine’s prestigious “Marketer of the Year” award. Graham brings a reputation for challenging brand leaders to think differently and to be more strategically focused. Graham founded Beloved Brands in 2010, to help brands find growth and make brand leaders smarter. He leads workshops to help define your Brand Positioning, build your brand’s Big Idea, and write strategic Brand Plans that motivate and focus everyone that works on the brand. Our Beloved Brands training programs will help your team, produce exceptionally smart work work that drives stronger brand growth and profits. We cover everything a brand leader needs to know including strategic thinking, planning, positioning, execution and analytics. Our robust client roster has included the NFL Players Association, Reebok, the NBA, Acura, Shell, Miller Lite, 3M, Jack Link’s and Pfizer. His weekly brand stories have generated over 5 million views.

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