How versus what

Think of the creative brief as more than your way of elucidating the assignment for your creative team. Think of it as an opportunity to influence the creative results. When you do that, you realize how important your task is. And why the document deserves serious treatment. 

When you write an inspired creative brief, it's the equivalent of stating your value to the team. Don't forget that.

Which is why you need to go beyond stating what the assignment is, usually crystalized in the single-minded proposition, and offer your ideas about how to do it as well.

But wait, you say, that's the job of the creatives!

No, it's your job too. It's your responsibility. It's your opportunity.

If your creative brief template doesn't have a "creative starters" box, I suggest you add one. Or maybe the easier thing to do is to think about creative starters and put your ideas somewhere else on the creative brief.

I know it may be intimidating to suggest creative ideas to a team of creatives, but if you can step back for just a sec and understand that your thoughts are intended as nothing more than step one, it's easier to relax and not feel pressured.

And it's not like you'll be writing headlines. You're making creative suggestions.

So use phrases like this:

Perhaps you could focus on…

Maybe you might want to consider…

Think about…

Or, you could use the first person so the creative team can start thinking like the person using the product or service:

I used XX so I could…

I wanted to do…

I liked the idea of…

The point is, you're the conduit for the brand to the creative team, so you have a point of view. You need to make sure the creative brief reflects a point of view. This section of the brief, wherever you put these starters, should have many ideas that spring from your point of view.

Chances are they'll all be rejected. So what. It's like you're the parent whose child doesn't listen to you, at least that's the way the kid wants you to think. Behind your back, when he thinks you're not looking, she's actually considering what you've said. 

Creatives need to start somewhere. Give them a stepping off point.

Your how is the place to begin.

Thoughts on writing the creative brief: the single-minded proposition

In an earlier post, I quoted John Hegarty on the subject of the brief as the first ad for a new project in the form of the proposition.

Meaning the single-minded proposition (SMP).

This little sentence, and it should be no more than one sentence, is perhaps the hardest group of words to write in the entire brief. Precisely because it carries so much weight, because it has be influential.

So, how do you write an SMP that becomes a work of art? A great first ad? An inspiration to the creative team?

It's not easy. It shouldn't be easy. As I've said elsewhere on this blog, it gets easier the more you work at it. Which means the answer to the questions above is:

Practice, practice, practice.

Here are a few tips to get you in the right frame of mind:

If you look at the task as if you're writing the "first ad" think about a billboard rather than an ad. Why? Because the best billboards are short. Very short.

Get a copy of a recent Communication Arts Advertising Annual or an Archive and find examples. 

Here's one for the new Volkswagen Beetle convertible over the tagline "Dare to be happy":

Woe isn't you.

Get the picture? Keep your single-minded proposition short, quick, headliney, tagliney.

To help you visualize this short, snappy, headliney single-minded proposition, here's an exercise I like to recommend. It puts you in the mind of the receiver of the ad message, the target audience:

Imagine yourself on one side of Broadway in Times Square just after all the theaters have let out on a Saturday night. Your target audience is standing on the other side of Broadway. In the din and mass of bodies around you, what can you yell (because you're gonna have to yell, right?) that gets your message across?

You can't yell an entire paragraph. You can't yell even a long sentence. Think about that billboard-like line and maybe you could yell that. Loudly.

That's the effect of a well-written, inspired single-minded proposition.

In fact, if I were a brief writer and I had to write the brief for a billboard project for the Beetle convertible, I'd have been very proud to write a single-minded proposition close to or suggesting "Woe isn't you."

That's a hell of a good "first ad." Turns out it's a great billboard.

Here's another technique that works (and I'll continue with the Beetle convertible as our example):

"When I drive the Beetle convertible, I feel…"

Think about a short, billboardy line that you'd yell to your target across a busy Broadway on a Saturday night, then finish that sentence.

You'll end up with a pretty good "first ad" single-minded proposition.

Most of the time, creatives go right to the SMP. So there's a bit of pressure on you, the brief writer, to write something juicy. Hey, that's what you signed up for, right?

But you got it. 

Piece of cake.

Short and sweet.

Okay, I'm done.

Alchemy is alive and well, if you believe

(A tip of my hat to my old friend Frank Quadflieg, EVP/Creative Growth Catalyst, at Bolin Marketing for inspiring this post.)

The popular understanding of the word alchemy is the transformation from one substance, say stone, into another substance, usually gold.


I'd say that's a pretty darn good definition of what a creative brief can achieve. 

It all depends on you, the brief writer.

How grand a promise does your brand make? Can it reach higher? Could it promise more?

How deep can you penetrate the heart of your brand's zealot? Or the heart of the one who's perched on the edge of trying it for the first time?

In my experience, the typical answer to these questions is, "I dunno, we'd need tons of research and the client doesn't want to spend the money."


I'm not belittling research. On the contrary. I'm challenging that kind of narrow thinking in the absence of a research budget. You may never get the research budget you want or need. But that can't and shouldn't stop you if you know how to make the most of the creative brief.

The brief isn't a box. It's a door with a sign on it reading, "I dare you to enter."

Just about every creative brief template I've read has all the right questions that can lead you and your team to bigger, more exciting transformational places for your brand. The question is, are you willing to take the time and energy to arrive at bigger, more exciting transformational answers?

Most briefs ask a question along these lines: "What is the single-minded message we want to communicate?"

What if you proposed this response (doesn't matter what the brand is):

"Brand X will let you live forever."

Riiiiiight. You can just see the product manager's face now, can't you?

Can you defend that statement? Can you substantiate it?

Hmm. Probably not.

But remember, you're working on the creative brief. This is the I dare you part.

My advice is to ask yourself, "Okay, so if I can't promise immortality, how close can I get to it and still have a believable brand message?"

I can't answer that one. You're the brief writer, not me.

My mission is to open your eyes to the possibilities the brief gives you.

Your job is to take the dare.