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.
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:
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.