creative briefs

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One of the challenges when writing a brand brief is knowing which insight to use to fuel the claim. (The claim is the idea at the top of the brand strategy, supported by 3 proof planks.) Often in a brief there are 2 or 3 really exciting insights, all of which offer enough power to motivate brand predisposition. But which to pick, that’s the question.

What I love about the brief I use, borrowed from McCann-Erickson’s Peter Kim 2 decades ago, is that it has a serial framework. One section leads to the next. Like puzzle pieces, they don’t always fit, but fit they must. Until they fit, you need to keep working. Until there is a linear story you are only bumping along the cobble stones. Chank a chank.

As I work the brief, key insights find their way into the story. But some must be let go. What’s funny is the outcome of the story – the claim – is often not known until the story plays out. Insights float in the back of the mind as you work toward the end, some more strongly than others, but the big finish is often a bit of a surprise.

There can’t be two endings. Enjoy the ride.


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Red Blooded Target.


LBT stands for living breathing target. (You were thinking lesbian, bi-, trans weren’t you?) This is a classification I use in my brand and creative briefs. It’s not particularly brilliant or anything, but it is one element of my secret sauce. Most briefs contain a target, a key insight, a prevailing attitude and a reason to believe on their way to the big idea. Mine do too. But often, in this “I want a short brief” creative atmosphere, these inputs are combined. Me? I like a living breathing target. Not a demographic descriptor, not a customer journey, not an archetype – a target that has blood pumping through his/her veins. One that feels and does. A target with a conscience. I don’t write a book, but do find by going all anthropologist on its ass it gives me a deeper think about purchase context. A deeper think, rich in importance.

So when meeting people, interviewing consumers and doing fieldwork, look past what they say and what they do, look for emotion, mannerisms and feeling. These are the things you can parley into a red blooded target.



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In the advertising and marketing business thousands of briefs are written every day. 98% of them are tactical.  I was visiting an acquaintance at Wieden and Kennedy and he had to go off to write a couple of ESPN briefs for women’s tennis, or some such.  Sounded like a cool job. Briefs are what planners do. Planners also fill the holes in their day with insight decks.  I’ve done quite a few. 

The other 2% of briefs written are brand briefs the briefs under which all insight deck and tactics briefs will magnetically hover. These are the most important. Frankly, with a great brand brief, many of the other briefs need not be written at all. With one good idea (claim) and three planks (proof of claim), the organizing principle is set and the creative teams prepared.

Sure, specific tactics with unique goals may require a new lens through which to look at a program. A tighter target segment. A new product feature. Yet the organizing principle that is the brand plan is the default marching order. The reality is, many, many companies don’t have a brand brief, just digital folders with scads of the tactical variety. It’s sad and inefficient.

Tactical briefs are for now. Brand briefs are for when. Or better put, for ever. Campaigns and agencies come and go, a powerful brand idea is indelible.  Peace on Monday!

PS.  I am not suggesting here that W+K does not do brand briefs. The shop is too good not to.



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In the marketing world there are “approvers” and “inspirers.”  I’ve been both and the latter is a much nicer place to live. Both must teach the people who work for them, but approvers tend to look at work product, evaluate it, then recite the right way or provide principles for good work. More often than not this comes off as preachy and pedantic. Using a pedagogy metaphor, they teach from the front of the class, broadcasting the lessons.  Inspirers, on the other hand, instruct by creating an environment for people to do great work.  It’s not judgmental it’s inspirational. Rather than instruct from the front of the class, continuing the metaphor, inspirers allow for learning through participation, experience and discovery.

When writing creative briefs or insight decks my job is to inform through stories and observations pregnant with possibilities. Telling an art director and copy writer to sell more absorbent paper towels is different than finding a moment when an absorbent paper towel is important. (Baby in arms, new skirt on backwards, presentation in 35 minutes, sitter late, orange juice spill.)

We are all big boys and girls.  Not everyone deserves a trophy. Some work is not good and doesn’t deserve to be approved.  Balancing feedback with inspiration forth can make a world of difference. Find ways to inspire and everyone’s work will improve…including your own. Subtle peace.

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There are two kinds of marketing strategy people: brand planners and strategists.  Brand planners create a brand architecture comprising brand strategy and support planks that organize the 4 Ps of marketing. Once that architecture or band plan is done, so are the brand planners.  Then it is up to the brand managers to toe the line – to make sure all things marketing align with the plan.  If you want to keep the brand planner around to handle that function, you can, but the key is sharing the plan with all interested managing parties. You rarely find brand planners in marketing jobs, they tend to work at agencies or consultancies.  Frequently they’re involved in new business.

Strategists have the brand planner bone, but tend to spend their days improving the focus or the quality of specific tactical work.  Good strategists mine market insights, behavioral insights, even product insights and present them, usually in deck form, to the makers of things – the creative teams. Say you are strategist at Wieden and Kennedy in NY working on ESPN — right now you might be getting ready for the men’s NCAA basketball tournament.  What are you doing?  Writing creative briefs. By the end of the week you may need two briefs for radio, one for TV and two for an in-arena mobile programs. The paper you make (the strategy) will be judged by the quality of the creative ideas generated.  And with good creative people to work with it’s a fun, nice living.

Brand planners take their orders from the brand.  The brand is their master. Strategists often view the creative product as master. It’s why strategists will allow good work through when it is off plan. Because it is good work. And it will get noticed, and talked about, and may even spike sales.

It is this dual marketing planning reality that drives Naked Communications.  Naked is a brand planning organization. As the marketing business gets more exciting, granular and complicated, the need for more Nakeds will emerge. Bright Sun in the 90s understood this…they were first. Peace.  

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Loss of Control is one of marketing’s 6 most motivating selling strategies. (I haven’t locked down on the other 5, though “save money” and “better service” have to be included.)

I wrote a brief once for a home healthcare service catering to well-heeled, upscale individuals who didn’t need to rely on Medicare for payment. I called the target “Captains of the Castle,” a mixed metaphor indicating that not only were these people heads of household from a financial standpoint, they were one-time captains of industry.

Let’s just say, back in the day these individuals were powerful, proud and in control.  Now in their 70 and 80s, Captains of the Castle are still proud, but in failing health and no longer powerful or running the show. (You’ve seen this black and white movie, no?)

Most healthcare marketing in the home care category targets the caregiver. This brief was aimed not at the caregiver but at the care recipients — the Captains. The promise or offer was a specialized homecare program that gave them control back.  Control in their own homes.   (In fact, the brief generated a new product idea.) 

As you are writing briefs and segmenting your targets, don’t forget to ask yourself about the loss of control as a motivator.  And, as you are selecting your media, message and proof, don’t cede control to the consumer.  Media Socialists think that’s the haps and they are largely wrong. Peace!

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