Three clues to spotting a poorly written creative brief, Part 2

Last time I talked about how you can spot a lame effort on the part of a brief writer by checking out the Proposition. If it's vague, not singular, it's a likely bet that the rest of the brief will be equally fuzzy. You're left to fend for yourself. Not a promising prospect, believe me.

Another clue that tells you the brief writer is having a bad day: when the language of the brief sounds more like it's meant to be read by a marketing manager or, worse, an accountant.

What do I mean?

I started noticing this trick—it's more like a cover up for not knowing what the heck to say—very early in my career. The brief writer drones on about how the creative you're being asked to produce is designed to...here comes the business language:

  • drive up sales
  • lift quarterly profits
  • reduce inventory
  • expand market share
  • respond to the competition
  • This kind of drivel has no place on a creative brief. It ends up in the brief for two reasons:

    First, because the writer isn't even trying to think like a creative, like someone who has to translate the brief into sales-driving concepts. He or she is engaged in silo thinking, as if the writer of the brief were an island separate from the creative team.

    And second, because of silo thinking, there's no concept of collaboration with the creative team to write the creative brief. It's almost as if the brief writer stepped into a time machine and transported back to pre-1960s, before the days of the Golden Age of advertising when the copywriter and the art director started teaming up and created a revolution in our profession.

    It's a sad state of affairs.

    So what can you, our intrepid creative, do when you read this kind of language?

    Well, now's the time to ask a pertinent (no, I didn't mean impertinent) question of your brief writer: how do any of the examples I listed above, and the variations that all account folks know how to come up with, address one simple question:

    Do these requests answer WIIFM?

    Do you all know what WIIFM stands for?

    What's in it for me?

    If your brief writer can't answer that question, anything in the brief that doesn't answer it doesn't belong in the creative brief.

    The well-written brief will tell the creative team what the ad has to say directly to the reader, directly to the user of the product or service.

    If the brief focuses on what the ad is supposed to do for the product or the bottom line or the quarterly report, do yourself a favor and hand it back and ask for "WIIFM-" related information.

    Unless, of course, the brief writer doesn't mind an ad with a headline like this:

    "We bring 97.8% of good things to life, which is 14% higher than we did last quarter."

    Or—

    "I'd like to buy the world a Coke (and can you start, like, right now so we can meet our sales goals?)"

    Brief writers remember: the brief helps the creative team unlock the "WIIFM" secret that needs to be communicated directly to the consumer. If you get lost in business lingo, your creatives will flounder. Think like a creative, talk to your creatives, collaborate, escape silo thinking and put your "consumer" hats on.

    Creatives: Never be afraid to ask questions until you get the answers that help you figure out the WIIFM for the consumer.

    Avoid business jargon, lingo, marketing-speak, bean-counting terms.

    Next time: Clue #3: Bullet points can kill—draw word pictures instead.