How to use the Creative Brief as the bridge from planning to execution

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The tighter the creative brief, the better the advertising will be. The brief narrows down the focus of your advertising to a strategic objective, target, consumer insight, main message and support points.  All the information for the brief are found in the brand plan and positioning work.

Every client I have ever met wants options back from their agency. Yet, every Agency person hates giving options. As you not an advertising expert, it is natural to have some uncertainty around what type of creative we want. However, Brand Leaders want creative options, not strategic options. And, before writing a brief, you better have just spent all your effort on developing a winning strategy. You do not want to mess it up at the briefing stage.

Creative Brief

Brand Leaders should control the strategy, but give freedom on execution to the experts who will execute on your behalf.

Too many marketers have this backwards, preferring to give freedom on strategy with a big wide brief, with various possible strategic options unknowingly layered within the Creative Brief. When you write a big-wide creative brief with layers of options within the brief, the agency just peels the brief apart into separate layers of the brief and gives you strategic options. If you ever choose your strategy based on what creative you like, then you just gave up control over the strategy to your art director and copywriter.

For instance, if you put a big wide target market of 18-65 years old, your agency will assume you are struggling to decide on a target. They believe it would be impossible to deliver creative that connects with 3 different generations. So they present three separate ads, one ad for 18-25 years old, another for 25-40 years old and a final spot for 40-55 years old. What happens if you like the creative to the younger audience because it was full of optimism and energy, but the smartest strategic target should have been the older target? Well, you just picked your target consumer based on which ad you liked best.

Make sure you focus

When you fail to decide on one main message, your agency will struggle with message priority. They will show you a few different spots, with different lead messages. When you pick the ad based on a cute dog in the spot, then you just chose your brand’s main message based on which ad you liked best. Keep in mind that the consumer sees 5,000 brand messages a day. When you overwhelm the consumer’s brain with multiple messages, their brain will just shut down and move on to the other 4,999 messages. Brand Leaders have to stop believing Advertising is like a bulletin board, where they can just tag on one more message onto the ad.

Finally, there is the case where you put multiple objectives into the brief. You want to drive awareness, trial and increase usage frequency. Those three objectives bring three different targets, three distinct main messages and likely three unique media choices. Your agency will present separate ads for each objective. When you pick the ad you like based on a cool song, you just chose your strategic objective based on which ad you liked best.

If you think you are doing your agency a favor by providing them a big wide brief, you are not.

The agency will see you as confused, and believe they are helping you out by showing you options of which element of your strategy would look like. They think that each new creative option will serve to make decisions on the brief that should have made before you wrote the brief.

Think this is hyperbole? Trust me, I have seen briefs with 8 objectives, plenty of targets that inferred ‘everyone’ and bullet point lists of potential main messages. I have seen some of the world’s best agencies accept those briefs. I encourage you to go through your own briefs and tear them apart. Stroke out 30% of the crap on your brief, and your brief will get better. You will be shocked how clear the task is for your agency becomes. Your job at the creative meeting just got easier. It is an enlightening experience to take your pen and stroke things off your brief.

The true role of a creative brief is to make decisions to narrow the focus, whether it is the target market, strategic objectives, main message and media. The Creative Brief sits between planning and marketing execution to force decision-making. Make the tough decisions to narrow the brief down to:

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

The Creative brief defines “the strategic box” for the creative to play within

Here are four things a good creative person does 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. They hate spinning around in never-ending circles. They hate not pleasing their client. With no direction, they fear the next 10 meetings where you say, “Nope, I’m not feeling that one”.
  2. An unclear problem: Creative people want a tightly defined and focused problem to generate great work that solves your problems and meets your needs. Most creative people are multi-tasking projects, and will likely gravitate to the work that has a clear objective. You run the risk of not getting the best energy from the creative mind you are engaging.
  3. Long list of mandatories: Do not create a tangled web of mandatories that almost write the ad itself. This is one of those dirty little secrets I want to expose, so you don’t repeat the same mistake. Some Brand Leaders have an idea of the creative outcome they want, but even more important, they know the type of creative they don’t want. The long checklists of mandatories traps the creative team into taking various elements in the mandatory list and build a Frankenstein type ad.
  4. Your Creative Solutions: Creative people find it demotivating to be asked for their expertise (solving problems) and then not be fully utilized (given your answer). I remember early on in my career when I stepped over the line and tried to control the creative. When I saw the work at the next meeting, I said, “Yeah, that sure is crappy isn’t it”. I have learned to think of the best creative like someone getting you the perfect gift you never thought to get for yourself. Don’t buy yourself the gift. You might hate it.

Let your creative people solve problems

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” dreamers. If they want a good problem to solve, then give them your problems, but never your solutions. Never give your creative team a blank slate or blank canvas and ask them to come up with an ad. Use the Creative Brief is to create the right box for them to solve.

Advice for writing smarter Creative Briefs:

  1. Define a tight target: Do not spread your limited resources against a target so broad that leaves everyone thinking your message is for someone else. Target the people who are the most motivated by what you do best, and make your brand feel personal. The best thing a brand can do is make consumers think, “This is for me”.
  2. Drive one objective at a time: Build advertising that gets consumers to do only one thing at a time, whether you want them to see, think, do, feel or influence their friends. Force yourself to make a decision that links with the brand strategy.
  3. 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.
  4. Talk benefits not features: Start a conversation that shows what the consumers get or how they will feel. Do not just yell features at the consumer. Use your brand’s Big Idea to simplify and organize the brand messaging.

Here’s our workshop on 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.

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Graham Robertson

Graham Robertson is one of the voices of today's brand leaders. As the founder of Beloved Brands, he has been a brand advisor to the NFL Players Association, Shell, Reebok, Acura, Jack Links and Pfizer. He's helped train some of the best marketing teams on strategy, brand positioning, brand plans and advertising. Graham's purpose is to use is marketing experience and provocative style to get marketers to think differently about their brands, and to explore new ways to grow. Graham spent 20 years leading some of the world's most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, Coke, General Mills and Pfizer, rising up to VP Marketing. Graham played a significant role in helping win Marketing Magazine's "Marketer of the Year" award. He has won numerous advertising and innovation awards including Businessweek’s best new product award. As a keynote speaker, Graham shares his passion for brands to challenge and inspire marketing minds around the world, whether speaking at Advertising Week, or at the NBA Summer League, or to a room full of marketers in Bangkok Thailand or an agency in New York. He's been a guest writer for Ad Age, and his weekly blog stories have reached millions of marketers, who are trying to improve their skills. His new book, Beloved Brands, has launched with rave reviews. Many brand leaders are using this book as a playbook to help build the brand they work on. And, it serves as a brand management textbook for business schools in the US, Canada and the UK. Graham’s personal promise is to help you solve your brand building challenges, to give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.

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