How To Write A Single-Minded Proposition:


Five insights on advertising’s most difficult sentence. Plus two new approaches.

The creative brief is the most important part of the advertising creative process. Everyone struggles with it. Even harder is the Single-Minded Proposition. It asks: What’s the one most important thing to say about the product? A close examination of five elements on every brief reveals the thinking behind this sentence. You’ll also meet two industry innovators, and learn how their thinking can unlock better, more memorable creative.


"Ibach's book should be required reading for all account people, strategists, and creatives. It's the best, and briefest, book on briefs I've read."

Luke Sullivan, author, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Advertising.

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Every junior account executive, and for that matter Chief Marketing Officer, should be issued this book day 1, before the HR paperwork.
— Reid Holms, Group Creative Director, Ogliby/The Lacek Group Minneapolis, MN
Read this book and you never have to read another word about SMP’s. Ever. It’s all here. And it’s inspired.
— Claire Hassid, Principal, Claire Hassid Brand Planning Forest Hills, NY
After greedily absorbing every word of ‘How To Write An Inspired Creative Brief’ (a must read for anyone in advertising, marketing, design, and PR), I was more than a little excited to read Howard’s latest book on the single-minded proposition. A whole book on one sentence? One short sentence in most cases. Is this necessary? Yes. Is it overkill? Not in the slightest.

I was fortunate enough to work in an agency once that showed me the true value of a considered and inspired brief, and by far the toughest part to write was the SMP. The SMP has always been my “x marks the spot,” and most of my creative brethren would agree. It’s the first section of the brief we look at, and as John Hegarty has said often, it’s the first headline of the campaign; the one that has to be beat.

Howard takes you deftly through the whole process, citing examples from great brands like Tango and Red Bull. This is not one of those “you’ll figure it out” books. Instead, the problems and solutions are presented hand-in-hand, replete with exercises to get you up to speed. If you have ever struggled with creating a killer SMP, or know someone that could use the help, this is probably the only book out there that deals solely with this issue. And it’ll only take you a few hours of your time for a wealth of knowledge. Great stuff.
— Paul Suggett, Creative Director, Starz Entertainment
Distilling a brand’s value down into a single phrase is perhaps the most daunting task in marketing. Howard’s book makes it a little less so with tons of good advice and relevant examples. The book delivers on its title “How to Write a Single-minded Proposition” but just as important, it helps us understand how this concept has evolved since the 1960s and why it’s still relevant today. Recommended reading for anyone who writes, reviews or receives creative briefs on a regular basis.
— Sean Duffy, CEO, The Duffy Agency New Hampshire and Sweden
There’s something wonderfully clear after reading Howard Ibach’s “How to Write a Single-Minded Proposition”: most people in advertising need to re-study this topic. I had intended to skim Mr. Ibach’s book... It was slender and looked easy to glide through. Then I ran across something I disagreed with. So, I kept reading, mostly to satisfy myself that I could debunk his point. But he changed my mind instead. Which happened a few more times as I kept reading and focused a little harder. By the time I was done, I was persuaded to keep the book handy.

No matter how much the media landscape changes, there is nothing more powerful than a big idea. And the truly big ideas require a single-minded proposition. You may think you already know what that is. Maybe, like me, you could use a refresher.
— Neal Foard, Executive Experiential Design Director, Czarnowski Los Angeles
Howard Ibach has written about ‘How to write a Single Minded Proposition’. Knowing that in my own book The Anatomy of Humbug I’ve posed a fundamental challenge to the usefulness and validity of this approach, he’s been gracious – and brave – enough to devote several pages in this short book to a resumé of my arguments. He’s been even more brave in asking me to review his text.

The idea that a creative brief has to be ‘single-minded’ seems to have originated with Rosser Reeves, inventor of the Unique Selling Proposition. This idea has been hugely influential in our business, but seems to me to be based on no evidence at all, and I have to say that this book has offered nothing to change my mind. If you’re writing fact-based advertising, evidence from Claude Hopkins through to any direct response ad or infomercial today (and not excluding Reeves’s own ads) shows that multiple selling points appear more common and more effective. If you’re not writing fact-based advertising – and I’d argue that most brand advertising is not really about facts whether or not it includes them – then the very notion of the ‘proposition’ is often confusing and unhelpful.

These criticisms aren’t that new. In 1967, Stephen King rejected the idea that you could separate ‘proposition’ from ‘execution’, and insisted that creative briefs must be written in terms of desired response rather than content. About the same time Stanley Pollitt challenged the ‘tyranny of the watertight creative briefs of the past’ and argued that the strategic planner’s job was more often post-rationalisation of the creative work. That sounded heretical then, and apparently to most people it still does.

In my view, the way forward for advertising today (and I’d like to think others are discovering this too), is to get rid of the fetishisation of the Creative Brief as some kind of magic incantation, and the fallacy that strategy can somehow be separated from execution. People are influenced by ads, not by briefs or strategies, and the production-line process we’ve evolved over the years serves more to deflect our anxiety from the terror of the blank sheet of paper than to produce effective outcomes. It may be that in practice Howard Ibach’s actual experience of what works has more to do with collaboration, exploration, and emergence than with the endless wordsmithing of words on a brief, but that’s not what he’s written about here.

Nevertheless, thank you, Howard, and respect, for inviting a contrary view. You encourage your readers to think for themselves, and I can’t wish for more.
— Paul Feldwick, author of "The Anatomy of Humbug: How To Think Differently About Advertising" London
Howard has given those of us who work in this business a gift. And contrary to what people may think, it is not just a gift for creatives, but for our account management and media colleagues, as well as the clients they serve. The reason it is a gift for ALL of us is that it provides the kind of focus that can lead to truly breakthrough work. A clearly articulated single-minded proposition, powered by a true consumer insight is what can make a “Think Different” or “Just Do It” or “Priceless,” instead of the forgettable work we mostly see. He makes a compellingly readable case for investing the time and energy upfront that makes the truly memorable possible.
— Marc Williams, Executive Creative Director, Chase New York
What is the first thing any creative team looks at when they see a creative brief? The single-minded proposition of course. This book provides some terrific lessons, insights and exercises to help agency strategists laser focus their efforts on writing the best single-minded proposition possible. A must read for any ad student or any ad strategist.
— Mark Jensen, Lecturer, Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication University of Minnesota
This is a great read for anyone who believes that tight strategies actually free creatives to do their best work. HTWASMP is loaded with insights and helpful exercises – do the exercises, seriously. Howard is not afraid to let this book be a living document. It’s clear he knows this arena will evolve. He’s giving you stuff here that is proven to work, but the inclusion of some other ways to skin the cat at the end of the book prove that Howard’s dedicated to helping you be your best strategic self.
— Bob Harrison, Creative Director, Luckie Birmingham, AL
Once again, Howard Ibach strikes gold. His new book, “How to Write a Single-Minded Proposition,” lays the stepping stones to unleash your inner creative. And most importantly, it provides his practice warm-ups that you take into the woodshed, to come out with that one note, that’ll do the work of ten.
— Richard L Gant, Chief Experience Officer, The RL Gant Group Inc., Adjunct Professor of Marketing, New York University
In a time when everything in marketing seems to be driven by technology, many practitioners don’t have a clue regarding how to clearly and effectively communicate a message that breaks through the clutter and sets their client’s product apart. Howard’s book provides some really great insights and tools to help practitioners do so.
— Richard Schwartz, CEO, The Launch Crew LLC Minneapolis, MN
It’s the numerous examples and detailed how-to write a brief that make this book worthwhile. The chapter on Paul Feldwick and Lance Saunders should be required reading for students, agencies, and especially, for clients.
— Hart Weichselbaum, Consumer Insights and Brand Strategy, The Planning Practice Chicago, IL
[...] engaging, valuable, and of interest to a wide group.
— Ramona Liberoff, COO, Innogy Innovation Hub Berlin, Germany
Once again Howard has written a simple and insightful book about the essence of creating simple and insightful strategies.
— Steve Wehrenberg, Teaching Professor & Program Director, University of Minnesota School of Journalism & Mass Communication
This is a must read for anyone wanting to improve the creative brief. It makes you want to be better and put more effort into something commonly overlooked.
— Tim Holmes, VP Group Account Director, Martin Williams Minneapolis, MN
As lecturer in creative strategy and concept development, this is the best book available to train students in the key process of creative briefing. It is kind of a Rosetta Stone as it is written from a creative perspective by a seasoned creative professional, therefore fundamentally different from the common strategic, more theoretical and less inspiring perspective.
— Maurice Maas, Lecturer, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences School of Digital Design and Creative Industries
A good way of measuring the impact of a book about advertising on me is: does it give me an irrepressible desire to go to the drawing board and write something. Howard Ibach’s new book does for sure. Beside all the qualities I already appreciated in his previous books (clarity, humor), I’ll add another one, honesty. Howard doesn’t hesitate to present new theories that put in danger the single-minded proposition he’s been the passionate advocate of for so many years, and opens a debate which is not about to end soon. Exciting.
— J. F. Fournon, Owner Machin, Truc, Chose Paris, France
What I loved most about ‘How to Write a Single-Minded Proposition’ is that the content is relevant across the spectrum of industry roles and years of experience. Whether the reader is a newbie or veteran, in creative or accounts, the deep dive Howard provides into the single-minded proposition explains, clarifies, enlightens, reinforces and (for those of us who’ve been doing this a while) reminds us of the hard work that leads to great work.
— Bonnie Nijst, President/CEO, ZEESMAN Los Angeles, CA
Should the single-minded proposition speak to the head or the heart? Howard Ibach offers inspiration and practical advice for nailing a single-minded proposition that can fuel better creative work for any brand.
— Hilary Markow, Creative Director/Owner, Good Thinking LLC Chicago, IL
Advertising and marketing technical books are hard to find. When we do find them, we have to praise them as if they were a miracle. Real good Advertising and Marketing books are like legends, like unicorns. The balance between didactical and inspiring, between a fit for juniors and for seniors, made Howard’s book more precious than any Bitcoin in the world! A must-read book for anyone who works with brands.
— Utymo Oliveira, Group Strategy Director, BETC Sao Paulo, Brazil