Build a better box.

When I began my career as a copywriter, I viewed rules the way other creatives viewed rules: with disdain.

I wanted nothing to interfere with the creative process. Nothing to stand between me and a big idea. You know, the whole “live free or die” thing. It’s a philosophy the young and inexperienced find especially appealing.

Now close to 25 years into my career, I have a different view.

It’s not that I’ve become a conformist. Hardly. It’s that I understand the liberating nature of constraint. The tighter the box in which you force me, as a creative person, to work, the more likely it is that I’ll find a way to produce a big idea.

I was reading an article somewhere, I no longer remember the publication, when I came across the following three words:

Rules inspire creativity.

They brought to mind the thoughts I expressed above. And they also got me thinking about the creative brief. Because the brief is a document filled with rules. You might even say constraints. These constraints are imposed on the brief writer for a reason. The brief is designed to be an act of reduction, of summarizing as succinctly as possible, the very essence of a brand’s most desirable attributes.

You are forcing your creative team to live inside a box. The size of that box, big or small, is in your hands to decide. But no matter how you look at it, you’re a box builder. You’re creating rules for the creatives to follow (and, one hopes, about which they feel liberated not constrained).

So why not approach the task with the same sense of possibility?

As I’ve discussed here before, to write an inspired creative brief requires you to bring creativity to task. It requires you to dig a little deeper, research a little more, ask pertinent questions (maybe even impertinent questions now and then). In short, to write an inspired brief requires the same things of a brief writer that creatives need to produce great work.

Rules may seem like speed bumps, but only to the uninitiated and inexperienced.

The challenge of identifying to whom you are addressing the communications can either be phoned in, and the result is a list of bullet points that mean nothing. Or you can be inspired and create a persona, a word-picture of Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Brand User with the same attention to detail as a short-story writer or poet. It’s up to you.

You can cut and paste the client’s suggestion for the key message and let the creatives figure it out. Or you can make the effort to write that “first ad” for the creative team, and put your mark on the project from the beginning.

Creatives, the really good ones that is, use rules to help them. To inspire them. To liberate them from perceived constraints.

Brief writers have the same opportunity. You can let the apparent constraints of a brief template smother your creativity. Or inspire it.

I think you know which option I’d recommend.


Creative Brief: The Blog is taking off the entire month of August. It will be sunning itself on the beaches of the Greek island of Mykonos, where, it is said, briefs are not required. Traitor!

The Blog and I will return in September. One of us will have tan lines.

What account planners don’t want you to know about the creative brief.

Bless your hearts, account planners. You’ve changed advertising for the better.

But let’s be honest: Even though you gave us the tools to make creative more effective by means of insights into the consumer’s minds and hearts, you suffer from some kind of -itis that compels you to fiddle with the very thing that gave practitioners of advertising this new power: the creative brief.

You deride it as no longer useful. Like engineers, you always want to change things!


There’s an equivalent disease among creatives. I don’t know if it has a name, but it fits nicely in the A.D.D. category. Creatives tend to get tired of their best work far sooner than the consumer does. That’s because they’ve lived with their own creations far longer. So of course creatives grow bored. We think the work loses its zing, its ability to move people, to get them to act.

What’s really happening here is a loss of objectivity. Creatives forget that consumers don’t wake up each morning and say, “Gee, I wonder what’s going on with BRAND X today. Why haven’t I heard from them?”

Ditto with account planners. Too many think that the creative brief they work with loses its effectiveness to impart the insights they hand off to brief writers to deposit into it. That if they somehow just reframe those insights into a better or different brief, then voila! Better creative appears as if by…by I don’t know what.

Not so!

So here’s what account planners don’t want you, who toil at writing inspired, billiant creative briefs, to know about the creative brief itself:

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to write an inspired creative brief.

Yeah, I know: what a let down. You’ve read those words before. Right here. I’m starting to sound like a broken record.

Get used to it. And don’t let this utterly true fact (redundancy intended) distract you from your task.

You still need to write the first ad for the creative team with an inspired creative brief, as John Hegarty said.

You still need to collaborate with your creatives. They don’t do creative in a vacuum. You shouldn’t attempt this either.

You still need a focused summation of what it is that your product or service does for the consumer that is relevant and compelling.

All of this requires insights from our beloved account planners.

But planners be warned! Leave well enough alone! Do your digging into the hearts and minds of consumers and let the brief writers do what they do best:

Inspire creatives with brilliant creative briefs.