creative brief

This cartoon follows this theme of the Marketing Strategy post a couple weeks ago. Jennifer Nelson shared a comment on that post that struck a particular chord with me: “If you can’t invest the time in developing and aligning on a good brief, why should your company invest (potentially) millions of dollars in A&P to execute it?”

In marketing planning, we focus carefully on ROI calculations based on previous campaign results. X media spend = Y volume lift. Yet creativity is the more overlooked part of the equation. The actual creative briefs are often given significantly less attention.

Denny Haley, retired BBDO chief creative officer, put it this way: “Creativity is a force multiplier, the better the work, the higher return on your investment.”

This idea of creativity as force multiplier is particularly important in today’s social media world. But you will rarely find it on a marketing planning spreadsheet. In practice, the process of creating a campaign is like the Mark Twain quote about laws and sausage: it’s better not to watch them being made.

In 2001, I remember everyone in marketing sharing “Truth in Advertising”, a 12-minute viral video that illustrates that process. All of the characters involved in creating an ad say exactly what they feel. A quick warning that the language may not be safe for work.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. I’ll pick one comment. Thanks!)

  1. Stephen Macklin says

    I have been given creative briefs that were so awful they were not even cut and paste. Briefs in whch they did not even bother to elimnate the example text in the form. I used to get annoyed, even angry, and sent them back.

    Now I greet them with a smile. I see a hack job brief with little to no thought put into it as license to design for my favorite audience. Me.

    I like it when I’m hadned a brief that allows me to do whatever I want.

    This has lead to some contentious first round creative reviews in which an upset client explains in detail what they want to accomplish and how they want to accomplish it. They don’t usually have an answer to the question of why that wasn’t in the brief from the start.

    The good news is that some clients actually learn.

  2. Laurie Tema-Lyn says

    Love the cartoon…the equivalent to the creative brief in my world tends to be the research brief…and perhaps I’m just lucky with the clients with whom I work, that they are more often than not, well thought out. Of course, the fuzzy research briefs I receive provide a different kind of opportunity for me to work with the client to clarify the scope of the assignment, identify what is and isn’t appropriate via quali research, identify where the project fits within the broader strategic framework, understand how the findings will be used, etc…Looking at the video again, reminded me of when I saw it years ago. I think back then I found it more humorous than I did this morning. Today it seems way too cynical, vulgar and depressing. Is it just that I’m getting older? Probably more that I’m working with smarter, more professional, caring clients.

  3. Bill Carlson says

    There is much ground you could cover when bringing up creative briefs…

    The quality of the document itself is just one part of it. I have seen poor ones as well as some very thorough ones including performance expectations (not just broad goals for a creative effort but specific targets for results — you know who you are, P&G…). That said, I don’t believe it’s *only* about the quality of the doc itself.

    I am an advocate of the concept but there needs to be organizational commitment to: 1) spending the necessary time doing the necessary homework to create a truly meaningful, actionable direction for the creative process; 2) not allowing creative to start without a brief that’s not only done well but signed off by the client (not sure I advocate Stephen’s approach as I think it’s a resource’s job to pull their clients, internal or external, through the process that yields a good creative brief rather than feel like you’re teaching someone a lesson by “doing whatever I want”); 3) actually honoring the brief — creative seems to occasionally :) disregard the direction, feeling they know better what should be delivered (sometimes understandable where a brief is of low quality, but let’s assume #1 and #2 above apply); 4) presenting concepts which can be shown to address the direction from the brief — connecting design concepts with specifics from the brief.

    Somewhere in one of those points I would add a need for financials and results (success!) metrics. If it’s new packaging, program in some way to measure pre vs. post. It it’s new advertising, measure sales before, sales during, sales shortly after, etc. Creative efforts are investments and marketers should be considered venture capitalists who expect some ROI.

    In my experience, it’s rare to see all the dots connected in a brief: brand strategy, marketing strategy, product positioning, goals, budgets, metrics, etc., etc. And usually because it’s actually a bit time-consuming to pull it all together. I am so over Sun Tzu but one lesson applies here: “the battle is won in the tent.”

  4. says

    Hi all,

    Great feedback everyone, thanks! This week’s print goes to Bill for the very useful check list on how to win the battle from the tent. The good news is that such preparation is so rare that a well-done creative brief can help you stand out with a creative partner, and draw the creative A teams.



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