The “Gut Instincts Check List” to help you judge Advertising

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers


If you think the idea that one needs a checklist for your gut feeling of something sounds crazy, then you likely have never been a Brand Manager before. You might not get this article.

As a Brand Leader, our brains can be all over the place, running from a forecasting meeting to talking with a scientist about a new ingredient to trying to do a presentation for management. And all of a sudden, we jump into a creative meeting and we need to find our instincts. All of a sudden, they are completely lost. We might come into the room still thinking about the financial error we just discovered, or what our VP wants from this ad. We might still be thinking about whether we should have known the market share in the food channel when our VP asked for it and we said you had to look it up.

I see many Brand Leaders show up in a confused state, unable to lead the process and incapable of making a decision. The check list is designed to get you back to where you should be. Relax. Smile. Have fun. If you did all the work on the positioning, the brand strategy and the brief, this is supposed to be your reward. The creative advertising should express all the work you have done. If great advertising is like the perfect gift that you never thought to get yourself, then you have to be in the right mindset to receive your gift. It should be a complete surprise, but as soon as you see it for the first time, you know it is just perfect.


Here are 8 key questions that will help you reach down inside to find your instincts that might feel lost:


1. Do you love the ad? Do you want this to be your legacy? (Your Passion)

What is your first reaction? If you don’t love it, how do you expect your consumer to love it? If you “sorta like” it, then it will be “sorta ok” in the end. But if you love it, you’ll go the extra mile and make it amazing. Ask if you would you be proud of this as your legacy. Your feedback to your agency should be “I get that the ad could be effective, but I just don’t love it. And I want to make sure that I love it before we make it.” There is no reason ever to put out crap in the current crowded cluttered world of brand messaging. Ask for something better. A good agency should respect that.

2. Does the ad express what you wrote in your brand strategy? (Fit with plan)

Does it work? What is your immediate reaction when you reach for your instincts? Many times, instincts get hidden away because of the job. Relax, be yourself in the zone, so you can soak it in, right in the meeting. The goal of great advertising is to find that space where it is creatively different enough to break through the clutter and smartly strategic to drive the desired intentions of the consumer.  From what I have seen, Brand Leaders tense up when the creative gets “too different” yet they should be scared when it seems “too familiar”.  Be careful that you don’t quickly reject out of fear.

3. Will the ad motivate consumers to do what you want them to do? (See, Think, Feel, Act)

In the Creative Brief, you should have forced a decision on one desired outcome that you wanted for your consumer. Just one. If you are offering something new, the ad should be about the visualization in order to stimulate awareness. If you are trying to get consumers to their mind about your brand, the ad should get them to think differently about your brand. If you are trying to tighten the bond with your consumer, the ad should get consumers to feel something different. And finally, where you are trying to drive the consumer to purchase, the ad should prompt an action. Just as you should force yourself to have one objective in the brief, you can only have one objective in the Ad.

4. Is the Big Idea the driving force behind all the creative elements? (Express Big Idea)

The Creative Idea has to express the brand’s Big Idea through the work. It should be the Creative Idea of the Advertising that does the hard work to draw the Attention, tell the Brand story, Communicate benefit and Stick. Make sure that you see a Creative Idea coming through and make sure that Creative Idea is a fit with your brand’s Big Idea that you spent so much effort developing. Make the Creative Idea flows through the ad and is central to every aspect of the ad. If there is no Creative Idea that holds everything together, you should reject the work immediately.

5. Is the ad interesting enough to break through the clutter? (Gain Attention)

Will this Ad get noticed in a crowded media world?  Keep in mind as to what type of brand you are, relative to the involvement and importance. The lower the involvement, the harder it will be to break through that clutter. Higher involvement brands have it much easier as the consumers are naturally drawn to them, and these brands add one more distraction to the lower involvement type brands.  With the consumers seeing 7,000 ads per day, if your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight. Embrace creativity. Do not fear it.

6. Is the brand central to the story of the ad? (High on Branding)

Will people recall your brand as part of the ad?  You should be trying to see where the Creative Idea helps to tell the story of the relationship between the consumer and the brand. Even more powerful are the Ads that show the consumers view of the brand through interesting consumer insights. Make sure you don’t just jam your brand awkwardly into various elements of the brand. It has been proven that it is not how much branding there is, but about how close the brand fits to the climax of the ad. Avoid the type of ads that run away from your brand, where your brand is not even central to the story. These ads think that making your boring brand a part of a creative ad will help your brand seem less boring. It won’t work. Embrace the advertising tries to  make your brand seem as interesting as possible, because the ad finds a way to connect the brand with the consumer.

7. Does the ad communicate your brand’s main benefit? (Communicates what you need)

There is a Marketing myth out there that if I tell the consumer a lot of different things, then maybe they will at least hear one of them. Try that at a cocktail party next time and you will soon learn how stupid this myth really is. Tell them ONE thing over and over, and the consumer will remember what your brand stands for. Just ask Volvo.  To make your one thing more interesting, tap into the insights of the consumer to helps tell the brand’s life story and focus on the ONE main message you laid out in the brief. Keep your story easy to understand, not just about what you say, but how you say it.

8. How campaign-able is the ad? Does it work across various mediums, with all products? Will it last over time? (Stickiness)

To build a consistent experience over time to drive a consistent reputation in the minds and hearts of the consumer, you want to look for an Advertising idea that can last 3-5 years, that will work across any possible medium (paid, earned, social), that will work across your entire product line up as well as new launches in the future. Think of being proud enough in the work to leave a legacy for your successor. Force your brain into the longer term.

If you feel a lot of pressure from being in the hot seat as the client in a Creative Meeting, you should. 

For many Brand Leaders, being on the hot seat in the creative meeting feels like your brain is spinning. Too many thoughts in your head will get in the way of smart thinking. What you do with that pressure will the make or break between being OK at advertising and great at advertising. I always say to Brand Leaders, “If you knew that being a better client would make your execution better, could you actually show up better?”

The style and tone in which you give feedback to an agency can make an ad better, or destroy it before it’s ever made. Be a passionate brand leader, open with your feelings, challenge the work to be better, take chances, reward effort and celebrate successes together.

In most Marketing careers, we are only on the hot seat for such a short period. We make so few ads that can have such dramatic impact on our brand. As a junior Marketer, we might be observing our boss on the hot seat, and you can’t yet feel what it is like till you are there. As we move beyond the hot seat to a Senior Marketing role, we will miss the days of those pressure moments. Make the most of it. Enjoy it.

Advertising should be fun. If you are having fun, so too will the consumer. 

To read more on Marketing Execution, here is the workshop we take brand leaders through to help make them smarter.

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management. We use workshop sessions to help your team create a winning brand positioning that separates your brand in the market, write focused brand plans that everyone can follow and we help you find advertising that drives growth for your brand. We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. Our Beloved Brands training center offers 10 training workshops to get your team of brand leaders ready for success in brand management–including strategic and analytical thinking, writing brand plans, positioning statements and creative brief, making decisions on creative advertising and media plans.

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911.You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands.


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