How to lead the creative advertising process

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

The best brand leader plays the most crucial role in the creative advertising process. While they are not designed to be experts, they need to know enough to make advertising decisions, but never enough to do the work.

With the increasing speed of advertising, brand leaders have taken one step in and often find themselves embedded in the creative development. If you are now doing the work, then who is critiquing and who is deciding if the work is good enough and if it fits your strategy? Even using “internal agencies” creates a blind spot. Brand leaders need to step back and let the creativity unfold. 

There is a leadership advantage in being the least knowledgeable person in the room. While it may sound strange at first, when you are a layer removed from the specialist who does the work, it allows you to think, question, challenge and make decisions on choosing the right advertising. Focus on the strategy, but stay clear-minded enough to judge if the advertising is good enough or reject if it is not. 


Leading the creative advertising process

Brand leaders must be able to inspire, challenge, question, direct and decide, throughout the creative advertising process. If you knew that being a better advertising client would result in better work, would you do it? As we engage experts, the respect we show can either inspire greatness or crush their creative spirit. Being better at all elements of marketing is something you can learn through a combination of marketing training and on-the-job experience.


1. Strategy pre-work

The brand positioning and brand plan homework make it easier to write a great creative brief. Go deep on finding the consumer insights and consumer enemy, understand the brand positioning, and brand idea. In your brand plan, make sure you write a tightly focused brand communications plan. Only after you have done your homework should you take a pen to the creative brief.

2. Focused creative brief

Sit with your agency and turn your homework into a creative brief. Debate every point. Keep it focused. Think of the brief like creating a strategic box the ad must play within. The brief must have one objective, a tightly defined target market with rich consumer insights, one crystal clear desired consumer response of whether you want consumers to see, think, feel or do, and one main message you know will motivate the consumer target to respond positively. For added confidence, lay out your brand positioning into a brand concept you can test and validate with consumers.

3. Creative expectations

Just after signing off on the brief, request an informal meeting with the creative team to help convey your vision, passion, strategy, and needs. An informal meeting is your first chance to inspire the team and begin the push for great work. It always surprises me that the first time most marketers meet their creative team is at the first creative meeting, which is usually three weeks after the creative team has started to work on your brand. That is crazy. It seems like an old-school way for the account team to control both the client and creative team, keeping them at arm’s length. I believe the best advertising comes from a highly personal relationship with your creative team.

4. Tissue session

When you have an entirely new campaign or you’re working on a high-risk campaign, you should ask to hold an informal tissue session where the creative team presents roughed out conceptual ideas, usually with hand-drawn visuals, with a simple headline and description of a story. This meeting is an excellent chance to get your hands dirty, understand where the team wants to go, either encouraging them to further explore some ideas or talk about how some ideas might not fit. You get to see behind the creative curtain. Do not abuse this privilege by adding your own ideas to the mix. Focus on big ideas and use the meeting to inspire and push for better.

5. Creative meeting

How you show up at the first creative meeting is crucial to the entire project. You are now on the “hot seat,” and you should feel the pressure. You are being judged as much as you think you are there to judge the work. Think of the first creative meeting like a first date. I have seen the relationship fizzle within seconds. Be on your best behavior. Stay positive and focus on big-picture decisions. Give direction and make decisions. Stop thinking that your job is to fix or change the ads you see. Do not get too wrapped up in small details, as there remains plenty of time to keep working on those details. Use your feedback to inspire the team.

6. Feedback memo

Work it out with the agency ahead of time that you will give a feedback memo 48 hours after the creative meeting. This memo is your chance to gather your thoughts, balancing your creative instincts with your strategic thinking. The memo should clarify details you did not have a chance to talk about in the creative meeting. Where you are stuck, frame it as a problem, but avoid giving your specific solutions. Use the memo as a chance to create a new box for the creative team, an evolution from the box you created with the creative brief. Give them your problems, not your solutions.

7. Advertising testing

The use of ad testing depends on timing, budget, or degree of risk. Where you have a new major campaign, test the ideas you feel have the best chance to express your brand positioning, communicate the main benefit, break through the clutter, and motivate consumers to purchase. You can use qualitative focus group feedback to help confirm your instincts, or quantitative testing to replicate and predict how it may do in the market. I am a big believer that you should only use ad testing to confirm your pick, never to make your decision. Choose in your mind, what you think is the best ad. In case the results are close, go with your gut and select the one you chose before the test.

8. Gain approval

It is essential to keep your boss aware at every stage. Use your first meeting with your boss to state your vision for the project. Through each update meeting, keep your boss aligned with every decision. However, you always need to sell-in the ad! With every great ad I ever made, there were many resistors. However, with every possible bad ad on the table, I seemed to be the only resistor, who was trying not to make it. Own your vision, own your favorite ad, and find a way to make it happen.

9. Production

The production process can be a very complicated element of the project. Remember, you have zero expertise in any production area. Do not even pretend you do. Your main role is to deliver as close to the original script that was approved while managing the tone to ensure it fits your brand. During the shoot, try to get more options than you need, just in case, as it may look different in the final edit room.

10. Post-production

As you move to the post-production stage, you become even less of an expert. Many clients decide to stay close to their agency account person. I believe you should talk directly with every expert (editors) you work with. A personal approach will enable you to get the most out of each of the experts. Your greatness happens through their greatness.

You can find this type of thinking in my Beloved Brands book

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find Beloved Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books

Oh how I yearn for the “BIG WOW” creative that seems to have left the world of advertising

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

big creative execution neat vs wow

What am I missing? 

I keep looking at a lot of so-called ‘great marketing’ of today, and I think “ok”, but where oh where is the “Big Wow, oh my god I wish I made that stuff!!!”

  • Let me define BIG WOW creative ideas as the work that makes our eyes go wide and we immediately shout out “Wow!” while we secretly think “I want to make that one!!!”
  • Let me also define the “small/neat” creative as little marketing gadgets and tricks that make us say, “Hey, that’s pretty neat”.

The reality is that a brand needs both big and small creative. I have always been a fan of the small neat stuff. When I launched the dishwasher tabs, I created a sell-sheet that used elastic bands to create a 3 dimensional tab once the sel-sheet was open. Apparently, the buyer at our largest customer took that sell sheet around the office showing all the other buyers. But, that’s small/neat stuff. I enjoyed it, but never got overly excited.

Big work is exciting.

After 20 years in Brand Management, I have vivid memories of each time I saw a “BIG WOW” idea for one my brands. I can remember where I was and how it felt. I was also lucky enough to work on some amazing campaigns. I remember one of the creative guys stood up with around 30 boards under his arm for one TV ad, and I wanted to make it after he presented the 9th board. I remember seeing another in this small room that was the top floor of an antique book store. My brand team had mistakenly put in the brief “no funny ads”, yet we left that book store laughing our asses off and made one of the best ads I have ever been part of. I can remember everyone who resisted every idea I ever managed to get on air. There were always more who resisted the truly great work, while sadly, on most of the OK work we were about to make, I always seemed to be the only resistor. That should tell you something.

With all the clutter of small ideas, it seems too many brand leaders think they need lots of small ideas. Pretty soon the media market looks like a cluttered community bulletin boards where every brand is content to just have you grab their phone number.

Are the media choices getting in the way of big creative?

Everyone loves the Oreo tweet in the middle of the Super Bowl. Sure. while the moment was “pretty neat” and likely had the Oreo team giggling, it really is just a small, neat idea that went viral. Everyone giggled and shared it. But is it a Big Wow? Paying a celeb to tweet about your product is pretty cool, but it’s not really big creative. Oreo Super Bowl AdJust cutting a check. A Facebook ad that pops up on the side of your laptop in a “3/4 inch square” is about as exciting as a bench ad outside a bus stop. I am on Twitter all the time. It feels like the modern-day version of junk mail. There’s too much, all telling me I can get stuff for free. Each time I open Twitter, I just see a collection of messy stuff. Do not get me started on SEO sales people. I equate them with air-duct sales people. Maybe I am getting old and I am missing the golden age of great creative.

Oh how I miss those TV ads that offer the ideal combination of sight, sound, story telling. They can make you laugh, give you goosebumps or even make you cry. Maybe, we just in a valley of creativity as we adjust to some of these new media choices. But now, you cannot convince me that most of the work out there is pretty crappy. Sadly, it just bores me.

Are we too fixated on big data proof? 

I once approved a campaign that failed miserably in testing. It was just too different for consumers to truly grasp. But my gut feel said it was the right way to go. The campaign lasted 10 years, and doubled the market share of the brand. Sure, I was scared. It was early in my career and the resistance was incredible. I would have surely been tossed out if it failed. That level of risk/reward excitement never exists on the small stuff. Is there a conflict between taking a chance on something and needing the big data to prove that it is correct? Sometimes your gut feel knows more than the data that reflects the history of work, not the future.

Marketers tense up when the work get “too different”

Great advertising must balance the creativity and smart. Advertising has to be different enough to break through in a cluttered world, yet smart enough to motivate consumers to see, think, feel or act in ways that help the brand. One problem I see for Marketers is they tense up when the creative gets ‘too different’. In all parts of their business, Marketers relax when they can see past proof that something will work. Unfortunately, when it comes to advertising, if the ads start to look like what other brands have already done, then the advertising will get stuck in the clutter.

Marketing Execution Big Smart Ideas Wow

When it gets too familiar, it bores consumers and it will fail to break through. Brand Leaders should actually be scared when the ads seems “too familiar”. You have to push the work and take a chance to ensure your ad breaks through. The advertising must also be smart in delivering the desired brand strategy in moving consumers to see, think, feel or do, while expressing a brand positioning that can form a future brand reputation. The ideal sweet spot is being both smart and different. Smart without different will not even break through the clutter. Different but not smart might be entertaining but will not do anything for the brand. Push yourself to find Smart and Different.

My baseball analogy: “Swing for the fences. It feels amazing”

In baseball, I rarely hit home runs. I was a singles spray hitter. (an Al Oliver wannabe) I likely hit 10 over the fence in 1,000 at bats in my entire life. But I can tell you that as the ball leaves the bat, your hands turn to mush. Oh, what a feeling. Now, that is the level of excitement I want to see from the Big Wow creative. All this small stuff is terrific, but that’s just a bunt single.

I believe the Big Wow ideas will energize a team, give them the guts to take more chances. Creativity is infectious to the spirit of the team. Get your nose out of the charts and look up into the sky.  Find work that will make your hands going mush and make you scream “WOW”.

Show me some big wow stuff that will make my heart beat wildly and make me scream “WOW” again.

To read more about how to create amazing marketing execution, here is our workshop we run:


Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. 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 will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution.

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

Beloved Brands Graham Robertson


How to judge creative advertising

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Great execution must balance the creative and strategy, finding ways to be both different and smart. Finding the space where you are different will help to break through the clutter in the market. Being smart ensures that your message will motive consumers to see, think, feel or act in the way you need for your brand to succeed. Many Brand Leaders tense up when the creative gets “too different” yet they should be scared when it seems “too familiar”.How to judge great advertising

While we encourage you to use a balance of your instincts and strategy, many Marketers need tools to help with their Advertising decisions. That’s how we came up with the ABC’S model.

This will drive higher awareness and higher persuasion scores.

  • Branded Breakthrough: How you say it helps break through to connect with consumers, while linking brand closely to the story. This is all about driving Attention and ensure your Branding is part of that breakthrough.
  • Moveable Messaging: What you say as your main message connects with consumers and motivates them to think, feel or act differently about the brand. This becomes all about your executions to deliver the Communications of your main message in ways that ensure Stickiness in the consumers mind over time.

Said another way, we believe that the best ads start with a Creative Idea that helps to:

  • Garner the consumers’ Attention to break through (A)
  • Puts spotlight on Brand so it is remembered (B)
  • Communicates brand’s benefits through story (C)
  • Sticks over time making brand seem different (S)

The ABC’S is a great tool to help you judge the potential impact the ads will have on consumers and your brand.

The ABC’S Decision Tool

  • Attention: Get noticed in a crowded media world where consumers see 7000 ads per day. If your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight.
  • Branding: Tell the story of the relationship between the consumer and the brand will link best. Even more powerful are ads that are from the consumers view of the brand. It’s not how much branding there is, but how close the brand fits to the climax of the ad.
  • Communication: Tap into the insights of the consumer helps tell the brand’s life story. Keep your story easy to understand, not just about what you say, but how you say it.
  • Stickiness: Build a consistent experience over time to drive a consistent reputation in the minds and hearts of the consumer.

Just like the Strategic Big Idea should drive all parts of your brand, the Creative Big Idea should drive all parts of your brand communications. It should be the creative idea that earns the consumers’ attention, the creative idea that draws attention to the brand, the creative idea that builds benefit into story and the creative idea that consistently builds a reputation.

How to judge great advertising




The best way to grab attention is to take a risk and do something creatively different. Here are 7 ways to gain more attention:

  • Be incongruent: Get noticed by being different from what they are watching. Different type of creative can help drive a high score on “made the brand seem different”. A lot of brand leaders are afraid of this, because they feel it exposes them.
  • Resonate: Leverage consumer insights to connect with the consumer, in a true way they see themselves or interact with the brand.
  • Entertain them: Make them laugh, make them cry, or make them tingle. Consumers interact with media to be entertained.How to judge great advertising
  • The evolution of the art of being different: As much as movies, TV, music continue evolve, so do ads. Reflect the entertainment to capture consumer attention.
  • Location based: Be where your consumers are most open and willing to listen. Make sure your creative makes the most of that media choice.
  • Be part of the content: As much as consumers are engaged in the content, not the advertising, then having your brand front and center and part of the story.
  • Be Sharable: Amazing story-telling ads getting passed around on social media vehicles. These long videos are great for engaging the consumer emotionally.


The best BRANDING comes when you connect the Brand to the Climax of the ad. There is an old Advertising saying: “Half of all advertising is wasted, but we aren’t sure which half.” Coincidently, the average brand link is usually around 50%. Your goal should be to get past that mark. Here are 6 ways to increase the branding in advertising:

  • Make your brand a central part of the story: It is not how much branding you use, but rather how closely connected the brand to the climax of your ad.
  • Is it the Truth?: It sounds funny, but if there is a disconnect between what you say, and what you really are, then the brand link won’t be there.How to judge great advertising
  • Own the Idea: Be a bit different—make sure that what you do sets you apart from anyone else.
  • Repeat: Simplest way to get stronger branding is to repeat and repeat and repeat.
  • Avoid cutting away to a white screen: My pet peeve in advertising is when I hear creatives say, “And then we cut to the pack shot”. When I hear that, I wonder why people are afraid of the brand? That’s the “gag and tag” approach where consumers like that ad, but then “can’t remember what brand its for”. The way to get maximum involvement is to force your creatives to make the brand part of the story.
  • People remember stories: If the story involves the brand naturally, we would have more branding. A powerful story can capture the consumer, and hold them, but also leave them with a little magic. It is the brand’s life story, the purpose or the reason for being and that will make the brand much more memorable.


The best way to communicate is through story telling that involves the brand. Communicating is about selling. Keep in mind, communication is not what is said, but what is heard.How to judge great advertising

  • Start a dialogue: If you can do a good job in connecting with the consumer, the branding idea can be a catalyst that enables you to converse with your consumer.
  • What are you selling?: You have to keep it simple—you only have 29 seconds to sell the truth. Focus on one message…keep asking yourself “what are we selling”.
  • Powerful expression: Find one key visual that can express what you are selling and stand behind it over time.
  • Find your “More Cheese”: This is where the benefit is so obvious what people want, we need to scream it or find ways to demonstrate it.
  • Sell the solution—not the problem: Brands get so wrapped up in demonstrating the problem, when really it is the solution consumers want to buy.
  • Diminishing returns of messages: Tracking studies show that the more messages you put in an ad, the less the consumer can retain.


The best way to stick is to have an idea that is big enough.

  • Dominant Characteristic: Things that are memorable to the senses (visual, sounds, smells, etc) and have something that dominates your mind
  • How big Is the Idea? It is proven that a gold fish will get bigger with a bigger bowl. It is the same for ideas. How to judge great advertising
  • Telling Stories: While visuals are key to communicating, people remember stories—that’s how we are brought up—with ideas and morals designed to stick.
  • Always add a penny: With each execution, you have a chance to add something to the branding idea.
  • Know your assets: Build creative and brand assets into your ad so that it sticks. Keep using in new executions or in other parts of the marketing mix.


To read more on Marketing Execution, here is our workshop that we run for Brand Leaders:


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.