How to stop writing ugly Creative Briefs




Here are the smart and ugly examples, showcasing some of the most common mistakes in writing the Creative Brief.

We go through line by line of the creative brief to show the ugliest versions we have actually seen. We are begging you not to repeat these problems.

Why are we Advertising?

Smart briefs have one very clear objective. Ugly briefs try to do too many things in one brief.

  • An ugly unfocused Brief: Drive trial of Grays Cookies AND get current users to use Gray’s more often.
  • A smart focused objective: Drive trial of Grays Cookies by positioning it as “The good tasting Healthy cookie”.

Too many briefs try to do both penetration and usage frequency in one brief. You will just confuse and muddy the creative development process. This means two targets, two objectives, two messages and likely two different media options. It really should be two separate briefs and two separate projects. When you have two objectives your agency will come back with one ad that does penetration and one for frequency. This means the creative then picks the strategy and that’s a weak position for a Brand Leader to take.

marketing-execution-2017-extract-4-003What’s the Consumer Problem we are addressing?

Smart briefs start with the consumer. Ugly briefs start with the product.

  • Ugly Product-Driven Brief: 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.
  • Smart Consumer-Driven Brief: I’m always watching what I eat. And then BAM, I see a cookie and I’m lost. As much as I look after myself, I still like to sneak a cookie now and then.

We recommend that you start with the consumer’s enemy as the pain point for the consumer. While most products started by solving a problem, every brand should fight off an enemy in the consumers life. Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and look at how the brand fights off what might be bugging the consumer every day. Just like an insight, it is usually below the surface level.

Who are you talking to?

Good briefs have a highly focused target market. Ugly briefs try to target everyone with a just in case attitude.

  • The Ugly “target everyone” Brief: 18-50 year olds, current customers, new customers and employees. They shop at Grocery, Drug and some Mass. They use 24.7 cookies a month.
  • The smart 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.

Avoid trying to target everyone. The great Marketing myth is to think that the pathway to getting bigger is to target a bigger audience. Having a 30+ year age gap is far too wide. Your agency will give you one ad for 25-year-olds and one for 50-year-olds. This means that you will be picking your strategy based on which of the two ads you like best. Brand Leaders want CREATIVE options, not STRATEGIC options. We recommend a very tight target market. For instance a maximum 5 year age gap will give your ad tremendous focus. Also, you must decide whether it is current or new users. You can’t do both.

Consumer Insights

Smart briefs use insights to bring the consumer to life. Ugly briefs just jam a bunch of stats into the brief.

  • An ugly “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.
  • A smart “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”

The best ads are rooted in consumer insights as the connection point that enables you to move the consumer in a way that benefits your brand. Bring insights into the brief as ways to tell the story to help inspire 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. As we mentioned in the positioning chapter, 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.

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

Smart briefs get the consumer to do one thing. Ugly briefs hope the consumer does a lot of things

  • An ugly convoluted 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 smart focused Brief tries to just ONE thing: We want them to THINK they can stay in control with Grays.

You should choose only ONE of see, think, feel or act, not a combination of any of the two. We like to say that good advertising can only move one body part at a time—the eyes, mind, heart or feet. Very few ads in history have directly moved two at once. You have to decide on which response you want, or else your agency will show you creative options for each of these strategies and the best ad will decide your brand strategy. If you keep pushing the agency to jam them all into one ad, you have a severe mess on your hands.

What should we tell them? (Main Message) 

Smart briefs focus on the consumer benefits. Ugly briefs focus on the product features.

  • An ugly 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 smart benefit-focused Brief: With Grays Cookies you can still have a great tasting cookie without the guilt.

marketing-execution-2017-extract-4-004The ugly example here takes the features and puts them into the main message. They are basically the support points. The best ads speak in terms of benefits, not features. Focus your main message stimulus on what consumers get (rational benefit) or how consumers feel (emotional). Also, narrow down what you TELL consumers to ONE THING, not a laundry list of things. One great Marketing Myth is that if we tell the consumer a lot of things, at least they will hear something. False, if you tell them too much, they will hear NOTHING but a mess and shut you out.


Smart briefs have few mandatories. Ugly briefs use mandatories to try to steer creative.

  • Ugly briefs use mandatories to try to steer 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 pharmacy will add credibility.
  • Smart “open minded” brief gives freedom to 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. I have seen Brand Leaders write long mandatories lists, that makes it so prescriptive that the creative agency ends up backed into a creative corner. To tick off each mandatory, it creates a messy, ugly “frankenstein” ad that pieces everything together.

Simple rules for a good Creative Brief:

  1. Make sure you have a tight target: Spreading your resources against a target so broad, everyone will think your message is for someone else. Make it feel specific and personal. 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.
  2. Benefits not features: Consumers don’t care what you do, they selfishly and rightfully so care about what they get. Always talk about what they get or how they will feel. Don’t just tell what we do, so that it makes us appear the best in the category.
  3. Drive one objective at a time:. Focus on getting consumers to do only one thing at a time: see, 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.
  4. Drive one main message at a time: With so many messages, people won’t know what you stand for, and you’ll never get a reputation for anything. Use your big idea to organize everything.
  5. 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 staying beneath the consumer’s radar. Consumers hear 7,000 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?



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

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How to build a brand communication plan that will impact consumer behavior

Thebrand communications plan role Brand Communication is to change consumer behavior to help tighten the bond with consumers. The brand communications plan answers seven questions. These questions steer and inspire the creation of the brand story work, so the brand communications work will establish your brand positioning, and motivate consumers to see, think, feel, do, or influence. The plan must answer the following:

  1. What do we need our advertising to do? (Brand strategic objective statement)
  2. Who is in our desired consumer target? (Most motivated people to buy what we do)
  3. What are we are selling? (Our main consumer benefit we stand behind)
  4. Why should they believe us? (Support points to back up the main benefit)
  5. What is our organizing brand idea? (Brand soul, essence or DNA for the brand)
  6. What do want people to see, think, feel, do, or influence? (Desired consumer impact)
  7. Where will our consumer be most receptive to see and act upon our message? (Media plan)

How to develop a Brand Communication Strategy

Q1: What do we need our advertising to do? (Brand strategic objective statement)

Use our Brand Love Curve to frame your strategy. In the consumer’s mind, brands sit somewhere on a Brand Love Curve, with brands going from Unknown to Indifferent to Like It to Love It and finally becoming a Beloved Brand for Life.  

how to create a beloved brand

Picking a brand strategy

A brand at the Indifferent stage needs to establish itself in the consumer’s mind. Brands at the Like It stage need to separate itself from the pack and create a following.  Love It stage brands need to tug at the heartstrings of those consumers who have shown some love in order to tighten the bond. Those at the Beloved stage must continue the magic and activate the most loyal followers into fans.

Here is a guideline for Brand Leaders to use in their plans with the 20 possible strategies to use. 

Creating Beloved Brands

Use this as a guideline to get you started on your plan and you may need to add specific flavoring to your situation. 

Q2: Who is in our desired consumer target? (Most motivated people to buy what we do)

Brand Leaders always think about who they want, but rarely who wants them. A good way to challenge yourself is to ask: “who is the most motivated to buy what you do? You can’t sell a golf ball to people who hate golf. And, you can’t get people with hardwood floors to buy carpet cleaning.

You have to know who their customer is and who it is not. Everything starts and ends with the Consumer in mind. Spreading your limited resources across an entire population is cost prohibitive–low return on investment and low return on effort. Targeting everyone “just in case” might feel safe at first. It is actually less safe because you never get to see the full impact.

Realizing not everyone can like you is the first step to focusing all your attention on those that can love you. And, it becomes all about choices and you will be much more effective at convincing a segment of the population to choose your brand because of the assets and promise that you have that match up perfectly to what they want.

Lead with Consumer Insights

To demonstrate knowledge of that target, defining consumer insights help to crystallize and bring to life the consumer you are targeting. The dictionary definition of the word Insight is “seeing below the surface”. Too many people think data, trends, and facts are insights. Facts are merely on the surface—so they miss out on the depth–you need to bring those facts to life by going below the surface and transforming the facts into insights.

When insights are done right, they connect consumers to the brand, because we see ourselves in the story. A consumer insight 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”. That’s why we laugh when we see insight projected with humor, why we get goose bumps when insight is projected with inspiration and why we cry when the insight comes alive through real-life drama.

Q3: What are we are selling? (Our main consumer benefit we stand behind)

This is where we talk benefit, and it should usually be a combination of rational and emotional. The next decision is the main benefit you want to focus on. Doing a Customer Value Proposition (CVP) helps to organize your thinking as a great tool for bringing the benefits to life.

Finding your consumer benefits

Hold a brainstorming session with everyone who works on the brand so you can:

  • Get all of the consumer insights and need states out. 
  • Match them up against the list of the best features the brand offers. 
  • Then, find the rational benefit by putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer and seeing the brand features from their eyes: start asking yourself over and over again “so if I’m the consumer, what do I get from that?”. Ask it five times and you’ll see the answers will get richer and richer each time you ask. 
  • Finally, find the emotional benefit by asking “so how does that make me feel?” Ask that five times as well, and you’ll begin to see a deeper emotional space you can play in and own. 

How to develop a Brand Communication StrategySome CVPs can end up very cluttered, but the more focused you can make it the easier it will be for you to choose which one you will stand behind, and which one benefit you’ll communicate.

That’s right: JUST ONE BENEFIT! Agencies use so many tricks to get it down to the ONE THING. Examples of this could be a postcard or a bumper sticker, or silly questions like “what would you say to get someone to marry you” or say in an elevator.

My favorite is to get people to stand up on a chair and “SHOUT FROM THE MOUNTAIN” what your benefit is. It forces you to want to scream just ONE THING about your brand—keep it simple. You can’t scream a long sentence.

And if you are into math, another way to look at this is through a simple function, where the probability of success (P) is directly linked to the inverse of the numbers of messages (M) you have in your ad: P = 1 divided by 1 to the power of M. My guess is that if you find this last formula motivating, maybe marketing isn’t for you.

Q4: Why should they believe us? (Support points to back up the main benefit)

It seems that whenever we tell people something, they want to know more. This is where we use our Support points to back up what you say.

If we borrow from a classic logic technique below, they teach you to one conclusion and two premises. I took one logic class at University and sat there for 13 straight weeks of premise-premise conclusion. While an easy class, the lesson has stuck with me:

  • All fish live in water (premise)
  • Tuna are fish (premise)
  • Therefore, tuna live in the water (conclusion)

Support points

In a positioning statement, the brand benefit would be the conclusion. And the Reason to Believe (RTB) would be the supporting premise.

I say this for a few reasons. First, the RTB should never be the conclusion. And, the consumer doesn’t care about what you do, until they get something from it. The benefit has to come from the consumers’ shoes. Second, if pure logic teaches two premises are enough to draw any conclusion, then you really only need two RTBs. Brands with a laundry list of RTBs are not doing their job in making a decision on what the best support points are. You either force the ad agency to decide what are the most important or the consumer to decide. By deferring, you are weakening your argument.

Q5: What is our organizing brand idea? (Brand soul, essence or DNA for the brand)

This is where we start to build the brand’s reputation. And we ask “what is the brand idea? Everyone talks about the 7-second elevator pitch, but it’s not easy to get there. I suppose you could ride up and down the elevator and try telling people. That may drive you insane. The brand iIdea (some call it the Brand Essence) is the most concise definition of the Brand. For Volvo, it’s “Safety”, while BMW might be “Performance” and Mercedes is “Luxury”. 


Q6: What do want people to see, think, feel, do, or influence? (Desired consumer impact)

When people think about brand communication too many brand leaders start with what they want to say (the stimulus) but forget about what they want to be heard and what they hope the consumer does (the desired response).

Once you answer these six questions, you can then transform those answers into a creative brief that you can use with your agency. To read more about how to write a Creative Brief, follow this hyperlink: How to write a Creative Brief

Q7: Where will our consumer be most receptive to see and act upon our message? (Media plan)

Line up your media choices to the desired response that matches up to the brand funnel.

How to develop a Brand Communication StrategyFinally, this should set up your Brand Communication so that it can change consumer behavior to drive the brand’s bond, power and profit.

How to develop a Brand Communication Strategy

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