The Creative Brief as a Sacred Text
In my old world of account planning the creative brief is something of a sacred text.
It is often described as a quasi-legal ‘contract’ - between all interested parties.
The brief is the planner’s key tangible output. Proof they exist and are adding value - a professional badge of honour.
It is wordsmithed, poured over, signed off and presented at every meeting as the primary ‘source’ text.
It is often a written distillation of an agency’s philosophy of how advertising works - beware an agency that treats it purely as a job start!
The creative brief certainly is the purest distillation of how the team thinks this particular advertising task should work.
Last but not least, it is a document of inspiration - the springboard from ‘intelligence into magic’ - the inception point for the creative idea.
What Role Does it Play in the Media World
So, if that is the status of the creative brief in my old world, what of its role in the world of media ideas?
Well, it is fair to say that I have found, over the years, that the creative brief is not so much sacred as totally invisible.
Over the last couple of years I’ve chatted to a number of media planners, buyers and owners, and asked them about their use of the creative brief. Their answers shocked me - most had never seen it. Those who had seen it had never been ‘briefed’ with it. Only one or two had been asked to actually get involved in writing it.
So, why is there such a massive disconnect? Why, if a creative brief is our best articulation of how we want the advertising to work, is it being ‘lost in translation’?
The answers have a lot to do with the systemic fragmentation of our business that I talked about in my last piece
, and the resultant ‘Game of Thrones' mentality.
But again, instead of focusing on those excuses, I want us to think about how we might work positively to better use our creative briefs to glue ourselves back together again.
In terms of the creative brief itself, there are three areas for improvement - namely, the three core questions of strategy; the what, the who, and the how.
1. What Are We Trying to Achieve?
The first question of any strategy is ‘what are we trying to achieve?’ - if we can’t all agree on that how can we hope to agree on anything?
In the case of the creative brief, the fundamental purpose has to be converting business metrics into people metrics.
However, the gap to be bridged here relates to the intended receiver of the brief: is it the creative idea process or the media idea process?
For example, a creative team needs only to know inasmuch as; ‘we are recruiting new users’ vs. ‘we are persuading existing users to use more.’ Whereas, a media team needs much more precision: ‘how many new users?’ ‘acquired from whom?’ ‘at what cost?’ etc.
With this in mind, my first suggestion is to offer more precision into the actual number of people required to achieve the conversion of business metrics into people metrics.
In my experience, much of that information is in the backstory of the creative brief - information often discarded to achieve simplicity of narrative for both media parties and creative teams.
So, if the backstory isn’t there, then maybe it should be. It would certainly make its role as a contract more robust and its inspiration far more precise.
2. Who Are We Trying To Reach?
Secondly, we have to think harder about the second key question of strategy - who it is we’re trying to reach.
At BBH, it was the esteemable Guy Murphy who suggested the question be amplified to ‘who are we talking to...and what else do they engage with in their lives?’
That simple addition forced brief writers to think beyond top-line demographics or single unifying insight; competitors for time and attention; different segments with different values and needs and journeys. Instead, it invited a broader, more vivid description of an audience.
It was a great addition designed to help engagement thinking. And I am glad to say we adopted it.
To be clear, I am not suggesting all this can be fitted into the ‘who’ box on a single page brief. But, all of this thinking would be a useful ‘click-through’ into the ‘Audience World’ the brand is trying to be part of.
And again, I would argue that much of that material has been left on various cutting room or research debrief floors. The truth is we forget how much we know about our ‘who’.
High time, I would argue, for us to remember it and share it!
3. How Do We Do This?
The third question of strategy is ‘how’?
Over the course of building the creative brief; the planner, the team and the client build up an idea of how the comms might work - in the market, for this brand, and as a differentiator from competitors.
For Boddingtons, we wanted to change the way beer communications work, from ‘humorous user imagery’ to ‘product on a pedestal.’
On Häagen-Dazs, we wanted to seduce by promising the ‘Häagen-Dazs moment’ - a mood of the quasi-sexual euphoria user experience.
On Johnnie Walker, we wanted to change how the brand worked - from being an 80’s status symbol (drink this and look like this) to the icon of a new generation’s beliefs; a call to inspire people to ‘Keep Walking’.
On DiG, we wanted communications to encourage people to act on our vision that ‘Dirt is Good’. We wanted communications that were calls to experience Dirt.
A clear vision of how the communications will work has to be the final part of how we brief our media partners - not least because it will accelerate their understanding of how media can power that.
A New Way Of Working
This last suggestion on creating shared vision brings me to my final point - not so much about the key strategy questions of what, who, how but about the overall process of gluing it into the media and creative processes.
No planner in their right mind would brief their creatives without sharing the creative brief with the Client. We want their builds, their insights, their buy in.
And yet do we have the same instinct to share and align with our media partners? Or is our instinct to create the brief separately and wait until it is ‘signed -off’ before sharing?
So, I believe the fourth thing we need to do is: let the media perspective in at the front, not the back.
How can we work together on putting precise numbers to broad business objectives?
How can we work together to produce deeper exploration of our consumers and what they engage with?
We must integrate sooner to create a more robust strategic approach to our communications.
A New Meta Brief for Total Creative and Media Ideas
In fact, as a final provocation, the real truth is that we probably need to stop thinking of this document as just a ‘creative’ brief. We need to think of a new type of brief to spark the process. We need a ‘Credia’ brief, or maybe less clumsily and more simply, an Ideas Brief. One that both inspires media and creative agencies.
Fundamentally, we need to change our mindset as account planners. The creative brief, is not our sacred text anymore. We need to remember to be generous and recognise it belongs to everyone.
If we don't take a chance to step back and think how to make the brief, and the briefing, useful in inspiring both media and creative ideas, the creative brief will inevitably be seen as essentially irrelevant and unfit for purpose.
And as our most tangible output, who knows - maybe we will follow soon after?!