Complaints are often disguises. Each one is meant to hide a central truth, a truth that emerges only after you listen carefully to the rant. When the blame for some marketing shortfall lands on the creative brief, an easy target, the real culprit lies elsewhere.
Here are three of my favorites:
1. The creative brief is no longer relevant.
2. There’s something wrong with our creative brief.
3. If the brief isn’t great, the creatives will figure out the Big Idea.
I’ve heard versions of these whinings in conversations, in articles, and online. They’re all full of shittake mushrooms.
You don’t have to be a psychologist to understand what the real issue is. But I’ll play psychologist today and shed some light on these laments.
First: The creative brief is no longer relevant.
I hear this one the most. When I ask for elaboration, the line of thinking goes like this: There are too many platforms today (meaning social media and mobile) requiring different messages to reach our target consumer. The old models of advertising, like feature/benefit or information-based messages, don’t work in these settings. We have to change our approach…blah, blah, blah.
So look carefully. The complaint starts with the brief, but veers rapidly into the message, the communication. The bickering has nothing to do, in the end, with the brief itself. If you’re present enough in this conversation to stop and point this out to your interlocutor, the funny thing is: They agree with you!
It’s not about the creative brief. The complaint is about the work that arises from the creative brief!
Second: There’s something wrong with our creative brief.
I hear this one quite often. It always makes me laugh. I typically respond with this story:
Imagine you had the opportunity to visit the home of your favorite clothes designer, say Yves St. Laurent or Giorgio Armani. You walk into his personal clothes closet and look around. Even if it were empty, you have to believe the space itself would be impressive.
But you don’t care about the closet, do you? No! You want to see what’s in it! You want to see the suits, the jackets, the material they’re made of. The shoes, the sweaters, the hand-made shirts. You want to see and feel and smell the quality around you. If you like clothes even just a little bit, you want to be surrounded by this genius’ creations.
So the creative brief is like a closet. It means nothing when it’s empty. It’s just a piece of paper with boxes or questions.
What we care about is the contents! The answers to those difficult questions. The clothes, baby! The clothes!
Stop worrying about the creative brief template. Even the worst template can dazzle if the answers to its questions are inspiring and thoughtful and engaging.
If you blame the template, you’re making an excuse for an ill-prepared creative brief writer. Please stop!
Third: If the brief isn’t great, the creatives will figure out the Big Idea.
This one hurts. This one clearly misses the point of the creative brief. It’s just plain wrong.
The brief, after all, is the first step of the creative process. It’s the first swing at solving the problem.
In other words, the creative brief is the Big Idea.
The creatives assigned to read it, work from it and be inspired by it deliver executions of the Big Idea. They translate the Big Idea into communications that sell. If the writers of the creative brief have stepped up, the heavy lifting has been done.
You know instantly when you’re reading a stellar creative brief. You can see how others are reacting. Look at their body language. Their wheels are turning. They’re asking questions. Talking about executions. They’re already working on the problem. They’re excited!
The opposite is equally visible. If the brief is uninspiring, everyone feels it. Or doesn’t feel it to be more accurate. Garbage in, garbage out.
Handing over an unfocused document filled with unfiltered thinking, lacking a compelling claim (the single-minded proposition), and passing the buck to the creative department to fill in missing information, disrespects the brand, the client, the agency, and all the people involved with making and selling the product.
We like to blame the creative brief for many ills, but we can’t blame it when the problem has nothing to do with the creative brief itself.
If old models of advertising fail, fix the models. We’re seeing this happen everyday. Brands talk about storytelling.
If you’re not getting the right information from you brief, remember: It’s a blank piece of paper until you fill it with questions. Change the questions if you must! But don’t blame the questions. Blame the answers!
If you don’t believe the creative brief is the repository of the Big Idea…well, maybe it’s time you found a different line of work.
No wonder you blame the creative brief.