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.