The ad creative process can be just as circuitous and political as the classic Schoolhouse Rock video about how a bill becomes a law.
Creative briefs often read like peace treaties between the client and agency that pack in everything about a brand (except for a meaningful point of difference). When advertising falls flat, the root cause is often a vague and watered down brief.
This dynamic creates a lot of frustration all around, as R/GA and Beats by Dre voiced in presentation at last week’s Cannes Lions Festival (provocatively titled, “F*** Briefs”). They caused a stir by proposing to do away with briefs entirely, particularly when there’s such a need for real-time marketing and no time for navel-gazing or “numbing consensus”.
Rather than kill the brief, I think marketers need to kill the “numbing consensus”. A brief is simply a container. It’s a reflection of whether there’s a real story to bring to life in marketing communication.
I like how BBDO CEO Andrew Robertson framed it after the R/GA talk:
“Precisely because you want to be able to move in real time, you have to have had a really crisp, well-thought-through, well-articulated strategy. If everything just becomes an impulse, instead of creating a stronger wall, you’re just going to end up with a pile of rubble.
“You don’t restart every time you start another piece of work, because you know what you’re working with. You take Snickers—’You’re not you when you’re hungry’ is so precisely defined, we could, right now, write a Snickers ad set at this table in this location because the idea is so crisply defined.”
Taking the time to get to a “crisply defined” central idea is the trick. And yet so often the brief lacks that kind of powerful hook, and instead recites time-worn platitudes about the brand.
I like how this Ad Age article illustrated the situation:
“When you write a creative brief, you’re not filling out a form. You’re crafting the story of your product and its reason to exist and thrive in the world. This is the first, and arguably the most important creative act of the entire process. And yet it’s often approached with all the delight of passing a kidney stone.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the role of the brief and how to avoid the “numbing consensus”.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)
Here’s a related cartoon I drew in 2011.