The proposition is dead. Long live the proposition.

Thanks to relatively new research in the effectiveness of advertising, which pits fact-based information messages against emotion-based non-propositional messages, I see a unique opportunity to strengthen the creative brief in general, and the proposition in particular.

No matter which side of this debate wins, and there’s a decent chance that both will end up playing equal parts, the creative brief is not going away.

All communication projects require a roadmap, a set of directions, some kind of objectives document that sets the standard by which we can assess the work.

My passion is the brief. In particular, it is about bringing clarity to the brief. Clarity that drives inspired work.

So here is what I have learned. It’s heady stuff, filled with academic jargon. I will summarize in clear English:

About eight years ago, two advertising researchers, Paul Feldwick, a veteran account planner and author of the book, The Anatomy of Humbug: How To Think Differently About Advertising, and Dr. Robert Heath from the University of Bath School of Management, published a scholarly article in the International Journal of Marketing Research in which they argued that the existing model for advertising does not work. They titled their piece, “50 years using the wrong model of advertising.” 24802652

This model, called Information Processing (IP), is premised on the idea that people make decisions based on reason and information, and that effective advertising conveys facts about a brand.

In other words, good information equals good advertising. Consumers, who act rationally, will respond to this advertising, or so the argument goes.

Feldwick and Heath disagree and offered an alternative. They argued that emotion, rather than facts or reason, drives consumer decision making and is therefore a more effective tool for building brands. They believe that consumers make decision based on their emotions, not reason. They called this model Critical Realism.

In one enlightening example, Professor Heath and colleagues tested 43 TV spots (23 aired in the US, 20 aired in the UK) for their emotional and rational content. The authors presented impressive, empirical, statistically significant evidence to support their position in 2006. Even with different advertising styles in the US and the UK, their results were consistent:

…the experimental results show clearly that it is the emotional ‘creative’ content in advertising that builds (brand) favourability, not the rational message. This again contradicts the idea in the information processing model that it is the communication of the factual message that gives advertising its power.

What is the implication for the creative brief?

Here is what the authors say:

…creative departments will have to abandon their obsession with simple, functional briefs and creating ‘impact’ , in favour of creativity that influences emotions and brand relationships — which in truth is what the best creative work has always done, normally in spite of prevailing theory rather than because of it.

From the day I began writing about the creative brief in 2008, I repeated one thing over and over: the brief is only a template and must adapt to circumstances. That remains true today. In spite of Feldwick and Heath’s recommendation, there is still an important role for the creative brief in this (not so) new world of advertising.

And I can’t help but think that the unique-selling proposition, or single-minded proposition, also still has a role on the brief and in sparking the advertising that arises from it. Except that it, too, must adapt to be effective.

Ergo, I submit that the proposition is dead.

Long live the proposition.

An updated proposition, that is.

Call it the unique emotional proposition—UEP.

This should be music to creatives’ ears. Let me explain my thinking, which, admittedly, contradicts some of what I wrote in last week’s post.

What Feldwich and Heath are proposing is a reliance on a message-less advertisement. Or to use their words, a communication without a proposition. One that can be taken in subconsciously, below the level of awareness.

If you’re too young to remember cigarette commercials on television, here is a classic example: The Marlboro Man. This spot has no proposition, yet it communicates quite clearly.

This idea may strike fear in the hearts of analytical corporate America, but Feldwick and Heath have strong evidence that ads that function on this level are effective. More effective than ads grounded on information.

Their research, along with that of many others, offers a strong argument for a new kind of proposition. A proposition based far more on an emotional relationship between brand and consumer. Perhaps entirely on this emotional relationship. emotions

But if you are a creative, this is simply the day-to-day reality in a typical creative department. Creatives understand the nature of the emotional relationship between a brand and a loyal user.

The creative brief is still the vital first step in the creative process. It must provide the framework within which creatives can operate and establish a standard against which the creative work is assessed.

So the proposition, whether it’s information based or emotion based, must set up this framework. That is the job of the brief.

Here, then, is my three-step prescription for strengthening the proposition—the Unique Emotional Proposition—so that it can function on the higher level of an emotional relationship.

1. The proposition must evoke a feeling.

This may sound obvious, but it must be stated clearly and up front.

We know that consumers make decisions based on how they feel about a product, not based on what they think about it. The proposition should reflect this truth.

2. The proposition must provoke behavior.

Typically, a brief would ask these questions: What do we want the target to think? What do we want the target to feel? What do we want the target to do? studia-psychologiczne

Strike the first question. Only the second and third questions are relevant.

When consumers have a positive emotional reaction to the product or service, only then does brand loyalty emerge.

3. An emotion-based proposition requires the right VERB.

I have written on this subject before. Verbs are the John Wayne of words. They describe action. Consumers act when they feel a connection to a product: They like it. They love it. The product makes them feel something the did not feel before. This is the power of brands.

The proposition sparks creative ideas when you choose the right verb to express the desired action and the desired emotion.

Assure your brand’s power by writing a proposition with a strong call to action.

Whether you fall into the camp that believes in information-based advertising that assumes a rational consumer or emotion-based advertising that assumes a consumer driven by her feelings, one thing is certain: Your creative brief must be clear. And your proposition must compel the creatives toward solutions that drive action.

I am convinced that infusing the proposition with emotions and emotional sparks will result in better creative solutions.

Long live the Unique Emotional Proposition.

 

 

The creative brief embraces both the emotional and rational support for brands.

When I worked for Team One Advertising back in the late 1990s, I learned something fascinating about the material created by a group devoted exclusively to designing, writing and producing the expensive, glossy collateral for the Lexus Automobile account. These folks spent weeks and months on each brochure and I envied the copywriters. I was trained as a long-form direct-response writer, so the chance to sink my teeth into a brochure-length piece about one automobile was tantalizing.

Alas, they guarded their turf and never gave me a shot.

But what I learned taught me a valuable lesson about advertising in general and about the creative brief in particular.

What I learned from my colleagues in the Lexus collateral department at first startled me: Research told them that their beautiful brochures did not drive sales as might have been expected. Instead, Lexus collateral reinforced purchase decisions.

Translated, that means these expensive perfect-bound booklets were often acquired by someone after they had purchased or leased a new Lexus. Why? To provide the buyer with empirical evidence to support a purely emotional buying decision. emotion

It’s not an oddity at all. It makes perfect sense. My experience bears this out after 30 years as a creative. I just couldn’t prove it. Then in 2005, the Harvard Business Review published a study that offered quantifiable evidence to support the notion that the only way to achieve brand loyalty is when a consumer establishes an emotional connection to that brand. No emotional connection? No loyalty.

Ask any creative in the advertising/design/communication business and they would tell you this is a truth. They know this from experience. But until 2005, there was no empirical evidence to back it up. Psychology, on the other hand, understood these connections earlier and some advertising academics have picked up on it.

So what does this have to do with the creative brief?

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Whenever the head and heart do battle, one side wins while the other loses.” Or something like that. heart-vs-mind

In other words, when emotions and reason confront each other, it’s a zero-sum game.

But not so with a creative brief. Emotions and reason share equal billing, although creatives believe, and now have the evidence, that to spark the best creative solutions, a truly inspired creative brief must, by definition, tap into the emotions of the consumer if the connection is to take root.

Let’s not forget that the creative brief is only a shell with questions. It is how those questions are answered, and ultimately, how those answers incite the full monty of a creative solution that determines whether or not the brand lives or dies in the hearts of consumers.

Ah…but let’s also not forget this opprobrium: Garbage in, garbage out.

The creative brief is your starting point. Get it wrong there, and everything that follows falls apart.

So the creative brief must contain both facts and emotions.

There are many boxes (or questions) on the brief where facts reside.The-Facts-2

There is, however, one question on a creative brief designed to inspired an emotion: the proposition.

This is where some in the academic world might raise an eyebrow. They might argue that few, if any, propositions do this work. They may be right. A close look at the emotional content of ads today or in the last decades, is stultifyingly void. Whether this is the result of an emotion-less proposition or just uninspired creative, or both, is open for debate.

The fact remains that the creative brief is organic and malleable. It is also a shell waiting for inspiration. How it is filled in and by whom determine how compelling the spark is.

There is no argument that we humans make decisions with our emotions, not our reason. Reason is sometimes used after the fact, as the example of the Lexus collateral material testifies. Advertising creatives have known this for a very long time, and now there is plenty of evidence to back it up.

Which means that the creative brief must reflect this reality. To engage a consumer in behavior that results in brand loyalty, they must be inspired by an emotional connection to the brand. The creative brief is the first step of the creative process. If the spark is weak, the emotion will be, too.

How to convince your agency or in-house creative department to use a creative brief.

There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.

Imagine that I hand you two identical boxes that contain identical contents.

One of the two boxes comes with a set of instructions to assemble the contents. The second box comes with no instructions. Suppose I told you that you had exactly one hour to complete the assembly.

Which box would you choose?

If you’re sane, you’d choose the box that comes with instructions. Why make your like difficult, right? keep-calm-and-follow-directions-35

But that’s exactly what it’s like for the creative department when you give them a project without a creative brief. You handicap them from the start.

Why on Earth would any professional communications firm even contemplate handing over a communications project to its creative team without a set of instructions? Why? Would someone please explain this concept to me? Because I just don’t get it.

Yet it happens. Every week or so I get an email from a reader or fellow creative bemoaning his or her situation where the creative brief (ad-speak for “set of instructions”) either does not exist, is ignored or is given lip service at best.

There is more truth to the cliche that the worst communicators are people in the communications business. They’re outstanding at talking to everyone on the planet…except themselves. They know every trick in the book to reach this audience or that, but when it comes to commiserating with each other, they are mute. They think the rules don’t apply to them.

This is a sad state of affairs.

If the decision makers where you work wouldn’t try to assemble the contents of a box without instructions, and that stark fact doesn’t convince them to use a creative brief, what can you do?

I have some advice that could change their minds.

I have witnessed more spinning wheels when a creative brief is ignored or underutilized. Meaning that creative work is rejected internally or by the client, or both, because something was missing, something was overlooked. More often, something was simply not clear.

The result is predictable: The creative team is forced to go back to the drawing board, but not necessarily with any clearer direction. Sometimes this happens repeatedly. I have painful memories of one project early in my career where I revised copy 17 times before it was finally approved. I learned quickly not to take it personally.

There is another route. The creatives will actually figure out the project, deliver some good (maybe even great) work and everyone is happy. This happens more often than you might imagine.

The question is: Why must it be this way when there is an alternative?

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Here’s how you can fix the problem: Try an A–B split. ff_abtesting_f

If you’re not versed in direct response, this means that you conduct a test with two approaches to the same project: one team gets a creative brief, the other doesn’t. If the creative brief isn’t part of your agency’s culture, you’ll have to do your best to create a template and fill in the boxes yourself. You must acquire evidence to show tangibly what happens when a brief is a part of the project from the beginning.

My experience shows that a creative team working from an inspired creative brief delivers better work the first time with fewer re-dos and miss hits.

You may have to try this experiment without buy-in from your bosses. You may also have to do it on the sly. You absolutely must find a creative (or an account exec) so there is collaboration between the two groups. Creatives will leap at the chance to work from a creative brief if none is currently available. Account folks should too, but may need persuading.

If your agency is too small for multiple teams on the same project, then choose two projects with similar objectives, similar target audiences or similar creative tone.

The point is, build your case for the creative brief with experience using a creative brief. Specifically, you should be able to answer the following questions in the affirmative before the work is submitted for review:

1. Is the direction from a creative brief clear, resulting in focused creative solutions?

2. Does the single-minded proposition inspire good thinking?

3. Is there an insight about the product or the target consumer that also inspires good thinking?

4. Does the creative brief establish a yardstick against which creative solutions can be assessed? In other words, can you say for certain whether or not a creative solution is “on brief” or “off brief”?

5. Does the brief establish clear expectations regarding the tone of voice for your product or service?

You’ll notice that these five questions are variations of those you would find on a creative brief itself.

So how do you measure the results of creative solutions arrived at “with” a creative brief versus those “without” a creative brief? A degree of subjectivity is inevitable, but if the creative solutions (meaning the ad ideas or concepts) address these questions successfully, you have demonstrated that the set of instructions you wrote (the brief) delivered creative that followed those instructions. Sometimes, that’s proof enough of the creative brief’s value.

Essentially, you have shown that #4 is achievable: You’ve proven that creative can be assessed, and your brief is the yardstick. high-jump-bar

This is the most important criteria for any brief: You set the bar at a certain height and ask whether or not the work at least achieves it. If it exceeds that height, wow. What a benefit. If it underachieves, you have a way of discerning why (the standards established by the brief) and a way to fix what doesn’t measure up.

Without a brief, how can you know if the work is good enough? Even if everyone in the room agrees that the work is good, even great, can they say why?

Since no one created a check list in advance (another way to describe a creative brief), no one can say with assurance that the work they see fulfills any criteria.

Your creative brief becomes the check list. The road map. The yardstick. The standard to which you can point and ask, “Did we get it right?” yardstick-measure-ruler-inch

Don’t let another day slip by if your creative work place does not use a creative brief. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to work with a set of instructions. It’s very possible to assemble a piece of furniture from Ikea without any, but why would you want to even try?

The creative brief doesn’t make producing ideas easy. Hard work takes care of that. But it certainly makes everyone’s life easier…if you put it to the test for which it was designed.

How to recruit a creative to collaborate on writing a creative brief.

It never made any sense to me that an account planner or account management executive would write a creative brief on his or her own. Yet it’s not uncommon. It’s also a mistake, one that many ad agencies are addressing.

If your agency or marketing firm is not one of them, allow me to suggest three steps you can take to recruit a creative (copywriter, art director or creative director) to be your creative brief-writing partner. I don’t mean a one-time team up. I mean a long-term partnership.

Creatives have had collaborating partners for decades. No one comes up with ideas in the vacuum of solitary effort. The results of creative collaboration reveal themselves daily in ad agencies and corporate environments all across the globe. You, the creative brief writer, must join the party.

1. Find the creative who complains the loudest (or most quietly) about the creative brief.

Before you make your approach, stop and listen. At your next briefing session, pay attention to who dislikes the brief you, or one of your colleagues, present. complainer-657x360

Be careful: The creative who likes a brief least may be the one who says nothing, but sits sullenly and steams. You may have to attend many such briefing sessions to figure out the most likely creative. You may know already without having to think about it.

Believe it or not, hhis is your best collaborating partner.

Understand, some creatives love to complain. They may never be happy with a creative brief. We see so few truly well written briefs that another bad one, even a mediocre brief, merely lives up to expectations.

When you find the right creative, the one who seems like the least approachable candidate, you have to have a plan.

2. Ask this “least likely” creative candidate what she hates the most about your creative brief.

Get your creative to commit to telling you exactly what he/she likes and dislikes most about the creative briefs you’ve written. If you work with the creative, you may already have heard these complaints.

No matter. Ask again. Ask with seriousness. Be proactive. Don’t wait to here complaints. Ask. Expect a clear, direct answer.

My guess is, you’ll disarm this creative by simply asking the questions.

But don’t ask “What would you have written?” kinds of questions. You’ll put the creative on the spot. They may or may not have a good response. Instead, ask process questions: What can I do to arrive at better answers? How could I frame the responses so you get more out of them? Do you have examples of briefs you thought were well written so I could study them?

Your preparing the ground for your ask. You’ll get a sense of how serious this creative is about a the brief, and whether or not the complaints you hear reflect a passion for the process or this creative is simply complaining.

You want to work with someone who cares about the process. Not every creative does.

3. Don’t ask for help. Challenge.

You’ve prepared your ground by asking pertinent questions that will show your creative colleague that you’re interested in making improvements.

Don’t ask for help. Challenge your creative to solve a problem. 30-Day-Challenge-Soldiers1

Creatives, after all, are problem solvers. You are too, of course; that’s why you chose advertising as your profession. But creatives define themselves by those two words. A creative is far more likely to step up if he knows there’s a uniquely difficult problem to overcome.

And remember your objective: To establish a collaborate partnership for the long term. To tap into a creative’s unique insight into the creative process to help the agency deliver selling (and award winning) creative solutions.

There won’t be a learning curve. Creatives work from briefs regularly and know the drill. But getting them to sit with you in the “fill in the blanks” stage will pose a new kind of puzzle for most creatives. Many may claim to have “re-written” lots of creative briefs in their time. This will tell you who’s speaking the truth and who’s blowing smoke. Once they face the pressure of committing words to these difficult questions, they’ll quickly learn what’s at stake.

One last suggestion:

Once you find your creative-brief writing collaborator, insist that he or she briefs the creative team with the brief you wrote together.

Why?

It’s about putting her money where her mouth is. When she sees how her fellow creatives react to a brief she co-wrote, or at the very least on which she collaborated, this will communicate to her creative colleagues that she has some skin in the game. It speaks loudly and clearly that your creative collaborator owns (or co-owns) this brief.

It’s called street cred. You’ll get some. The briefing process will get some. The work will get it.

Creative partnerships work. Art directors and copywriters function as teams because together they produce better advertising. Decades of experience proves this.

Creative brief writing must adopt this team-based collaboration now. You can take a step toward this goal. Use these three steps to find, approach and partner with the right creative colleague to make your next creative brief truly inspired.