Keeping things simple

by Jean-Francois Fournon, Creative Director, Shem’s Publicite, Casablanca, Morocco

I like American people.

They don’t intellectualize things. They keep it simple. And advertising has to be simple if we want consumers to remember our messages. So that may be one of the reasons why Americans are very good at advertising.

Another reason I like Americans is their habit of explaining how to succeed, how to speak in public, earn more money, be successful in life and write a good brief.

Here we are. Very simple rules, full of examples, step-by-step explanations. Nobody gets lost.

I spent most of my creative career criticizing briefs, making planners feel uncomfortable until they said they would go back to the drawing board.

In fact I was a lazy writer and like really lazy people I tried to gain time. Nowadays I know that it’s not because you refuse a brief that the date of presentation will change so you end up getting stuck with less time to work on a brief. So it’s better to fix things during the briefing session if possible.

Anyway this rebellious attitude needed some convincing arguments to oppose the planners. And that’s how I started digging into the inner logic of briefs. And I discovered that even if there are nine or 10 sections in a brief, only three really mattered to me.

First one: what do we want to achieve with this brief?

This can really be inspiring and you may find unusual solutions when the rest of the brief guides you toward more classical ways, a nice :30 TV spot or a print campaign. At the early stage and this one is the earliest, everything is possible and I like this feeling!

Second area that I find inspiring: the consumer.

Most of the time our target is summarized by abstract figures. Here in Morocco, people are defined by their CSP (socio-professional categories according to their income). So you are allowed to do smart campaigns when targeting CSP+ and down to earth ones when targeting CSP-.

Which implies that the more money one makes, the smarter the person is.

Come on, this doesn’t reflect life. People with less money need to be smarter and ingenious to cope with life. They need to be imaginative.

So reading a brief I cannot really understand who I’m talking to unless I get an in-depth description of these people. And the best way I’ve found is to personalize the target, to give him/her a first name and describe his/her life as precisely as possible. Even if it doesn’t have any obvious connection with the product we are advertising. At least it enables me to put my feet in someone else’s shoes. And that’s a lot.

Last key point: the single-minded proposition.

I know that I can sometimes find a good idea including two benefits but I keep these exceptions for myself and prefer to officially shout that without a unique proposition the idea cannot be simple, pure and great. This short sentence (because the SMP needs to be concise) can be inspiring to the point that on several occasions I used the line without modifying it.

On an RSF (Reporters without Borders) campaign I did in 2002 with Saatchi Paris, I used “Don’t wait to be deprived of news to stand up and fight for it” as a baseline (tagline). It was written by a great young planner and was so powerful that I didn’t find anything better. The line was actually so good that when my art director and I got stuck for ideas, we came back to the meaning of it to develop new ones. And it remained the tagline of RSF for the next six years.

This is my learning after some 20 years spent reading briefs, trying to crack them and occasionally succeeding. While getting older, I’ve noticed that a perfect command of the brief gives you an advantage as a creative (less time spent complaining which is highly unproductive) and forces the planners to push the boundaries and be creative ¬†themselves. And when everybody is creative in what he/she does, the whole agency wins.

“One team, one dream” as the Saatchi brothers used to say.