Rather than bang on about that trite Sistine Chapel “briefing” analogy (look it up on the interweb), I thought we’d try a new one. Imagine you have a pot of cash, and want to go all Grand Designs and get a house built from scratch for yourself. You’d employ an architect and you’d need to brief them. Brief 1: I want a house. It needs to have three bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. The outcome of this could be anything. But it is far more likely to be dull and functional. They can answer a brief like that day in day out (after all, don’t all houses have those features). You aren’t going to get something new and exciting out of this. Where is the inspiration. Brief 2: I know what house I want. So I’m going to draw out the solution for you and you can work to that. The outcome of this will be only as good as your skills as an architect. You may as well just hire a builder to answer your directive brief. This is not using the brief as a launch pad for the architects talents. It is boxing them in. Brief 3: I’ve finally grown up enough to have a real home. I need somewhere ridden with all the nostalgic elements of the home of my youth, but entirely contemporary. A place for me now, but also an expansive adaptable place where my future family can grow and thrive. Open enough for parties, but private enough to warm myself by a fire watching antiques roadshow on a Sunday. This gives the architect a sense of my emotional and rational needs, but does not prescribe the answer. Note that I haven’t told him how many bathrooms etc I need. That is a given. It is a house after all. And you never know, he may have a clever new solution for my bathing requirements, that’s the freedom that this brief offers.
So, courtesy of Merry Baskin of the APG, here are three guiding principles: CLARITY – tell me what I need to know confidently and directly without any waffle and sidetracks to cover over the fact that you haven’t thought the brief through properly. BREVITY – there are very good reasons why a brief should be short. Make sure it is. At some stage you are going to have to discard those reams of irrelevant insight that you found along the way. Keep it simple. FERTILITY – The difference between a functional client brief and a creative brief is that the latter needs to inspire. However dull the product or brand, you need something that will spark a new exciting creative idea. That requires fertility in your insights, your propositions and the language you use.
CLARITY: Stealing a Bogusky analogy – consider your creative as a talented fisherman. They know how to fish, that’s what they are good at. But if they were on holiday near unknown waters, they would need a local guide with local knowledge. This guide can show them the best places to fish, give them an idea of the best fishes they can get there, and even have a view on the best fly to use. They need clear straightforward instructions to aid them to do what they are already great at. This is the role of the planner and creative.
BREVITY: As Devin Liddell has spotted, Police sketches are shit for helping people identify suspects. We spend hours trying to pin down the tightest and tiniest detail to make the mug shots as accurate as we can. But look at these sketches and then the mugshots of the actual baddies.
Not a lot of similarity is there? But when you delve into them, some of the features are telltale. But how do you know which ones to look for? How accurate was someone’s memory for ALL of the features? This is the problem with too much detail. Some bits will ineviatably be better than others, but the real telltale points will get lost amongst all the other bits. The brain can’t process this much information accurately.
Whereas, this charming story tells another side to the picture. Read about Bill Green here: http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/making-a-mug-of-a-robber/2006/01/17/1137466991594.html When robbers broke into his home, he was able to draw a caricature of the perpetrator within minutes of the police’s arrival. The exaggerated simplistic nature of the drawing allowed police to find the culprit within minutes. This is why we need brevity. Our brains naturally process straightforward exaggerated features far quicker than masses of cluttered detail. Creative briefs should be caricatures.
Finally, we must remember that this is a CREATIVE brief. It exists as a launch pad to creative ideas. And in order to do this, you must inspire the creative team with a brief. This is easier said than done, as it is rare (despite what you’d think from reading lots of briefs) that we are the target audience. Think of Preparation H. As a brand it is of terribly limited interest to us as twentysomething, Guardian-reading Londoners who have all the latest gadgets and fashions. But it is of HUGE interest to someone with piles. We need to use the brief and the briefing to give the creative team hypothetical piles. Make even the most boring of products or brands the fertility that they need to inspire a team to produce something that will truly resonate with the intended audience.
It is important to clarify the brief writers role. And the slightly shit “forest of knowledge” is a suitably icky analogy to work with here. Imagine at the start of the briefing process, the planner has to wander into the huge tree of knowledge. Every leaf another nugget of information, every branch taking you off somewhere new. The planner must sift through all of this infinite information and filter it down viciously. Rip the trees apart, discard branches, leaves everything along the way, until all you are left with are two twigs of information. Ideally these twigs won’t even be from the same tree. It will be the first time that these two nuggets of information and insight have been brought together. Then rub the two sticks, and kaboom, that’ll be your creative spark. And from there the creatives can be launched off into a thousand interesting places (all ties to a singular thought). It is tempting as a brief writer to try to squeeze in every last bit of info into a brief. You spent so long in the forest, it would be a shame to lose all that cleverness. But no. That is the worst thing to do. Pick your insights. Discard the rest. It will only confuse or box in the creative process. See. Told you the analogy was a bit shit.
So. Here are some hard and fast rules: Don’t believe the hype: Clients live and breath their brand. They love it above their spouses. And when it comes to briefing us, they will shout from the rooftops how ace it is and expect us to do the same. Don’t listen to them. Look at the product through a cynical consumer’s eyes. They don’t give a toss for internal rhetoric. You are targeting them. You need to speak to them in the terms that they would expect of that brand. Sometimes revelling in the flaws of a product can lead to the best creative. Skoda anyone? Speak like and for a consumer: Marketingese has no place in a brief. Actually it has no place anywhere. In a brief, you are writing an “advert” for the creatives to interpret. Write in wank, get wank out. Speak with personality (ideally that of a consumer), and immediately you’ll use far more evocative inspiring language and not hide behind generic marketing nothingness. Creatives write from a brief: A briefing is not a dictation. Make a brief closed or directional, and you’ll know what the creatives will produce even before they go away to work on it. A brief should be a platform from which they can launch off from. Not a means for you to force your ideas on a team. Always double check – can you think of two or three planner ideas from the brief you’ve written immediately? Are any of them your pet ideas? Briefs are organic: Never should a brief be written in exclusion of others. Yes, the planner should own the document, but absolutely go a speak with the creative teams when writing it. Take some options, get their POV. And never be afraid to let it grow organically over time. It’s not just a brief: Never, ever, ever email a brief to a team and expect them to get on with it. Actually, never even give people the brief until after the briefing. As much time should be put into the briefing (how do you get the team really into the brand, market or consumer insight), as you put into the brief itself.
Here’s a creatives interpretation of a brief. All very insightful as to the common fuck-ups you expect to see in briefs. Laugh. But don’t copy.
There is a good specific point here about target audience. I hate them. People love to fill these out like they are a media demographic, or worse as a pen portrait. No no no. If digital has taught us anything, it is that we are not a herd neatly delineated by who we are culturally. The only delineation lies in our need states at any one time. I don’t care if you are 90 or 20, or whether you are Oxford Educated or a mass murderer, when you buy car insurance, you have a very particualr mindset. That’s what we should be identifying. That’s what should feature in the brief. Bring the consumer need to life, not just the magical “target” person.
Based on reading through everyone’s practice brief attempts, these are the pointers to avoid the most common mistakes. When writing a brief, these are the top tips. Consistent – The brief is brief for a reason. There is no space for tangents or asides. Pick your core theme, and trail it through EVERY element. If it is as fertile a thought as it should be, this will be easy. Boxes – Often they get mixed up. Insights that are objectives. Proof points that are propositions. Get the right info in the right boxes. And importantly, there are no “dull, functional” ones. Everything should inspire and stick to your theme. Even the objective. Personality – If you can read it back and spot who the writer is, then you are looking at a good personal brief. Even better if the voice is that of your ideal audience. Language – Marketingese is not evocative. 99% of a briefing can be wasted, but the 1% of inspirational spark can come from the smallest word. Work hard to avoid the mundane. Let your vocab flower and inspire. Every word – Write the brief. Rewrite it. Rewrite it again. Every word is sacred. Make them all work hard. Remember, if you leave a loose word or loose thought, what’s to stop the creatives picking up on this and basing their idea on it… Template – It is a fixed template for a reason. To stop everyone guffing on for pages. If you need to shrink text or expand boxes, you are writing too much. Edit yourself, not the template.
So this was the homework that was set to the workshop group. They had a very limited time and very limited info to go and write a brief to flog Apples (props to Russell D and the Account Planning School of the Web). I was a bit more specific and wanted the brief focussed on the maligned English Apple. The attendees were planners, suits, researchers and information architects. Many had never used a brief before. This is the client brief, what follows are the results: Client : British board for the promotion of Apples Background : Britain produces an epic variety of locally grown apples, but the industry has been in decline for a very long time. Business problem : People love the inorganically perfect freak apples that you get in supermarkets. Plus supermarkets love buying the year-round crop from the Southern hemisphere. And on top of that, people are just eating less and less “traditional” fruit, both in terms of total consumption, and as part of their wider fruit repertoire. Objectives : We need to improve the perception of British Apple’s, but also increase sales. Agencies task : Create me something sexy that will win awards, but also not get me fired by my CEO. Oh, and if you could do something digital like a Facebook page, then I’ll look like I’m forward thinking.
I didn’t ask the guys to write a brand propsition. That is a whole other workshop. But some tried, and this was pretty good.
Objectives are always so bland. This wasn’t.
This was from an insight box. But it is actually a very characterful objective. Maybe not pristine, but a far more ferile objective than most.
This is by-the-textbook perfect. It’s SMART, but is it too SMART? Clients and planners would love this. But I’m not sure it has my creative juices going.
This is your classic brief objective. It tells me nothing. And frankly, I’ve seen this on briefs for all sorts of brands and products. No idea how it helps anyone.
Kudos for trying to stick NPS in there. But to a creative? WTF?
They are getting under the skin of their chosen audience, but are we being a little too precise? What if my creative idea only motivated fanatics to ingest 33.1% of their antioxidants? Shit. Better throw out the idea.
As insights go, this is ace. It’s based on his factual research, but is converted into real concise and direct insight. Plus it is full of personality. Fruit’s got pretentious is almost a campaign idea right there.
Different choice of audience. But still a lovely exaggerated caricature of an insight. We don’t really want to target placenta eaters, but by pushing extremes, you’ll get tastier creative results.
Stolen from a number of people’s “Why would they”. This is actually an insight, not a support. And a good one at that. Obviously it isn't fleshed out, but it is the start of something interesting.
Another good insight, found in the wrong box.
Brilliant research to find these facts. But they are just that, facts. This is useless to a team as they have to interpret the insight themselves.
Business problem, not an insight. Where is a team supposed to take this? Where is the solution?
This carries just about all the different insight starters that all the rest did combined. All good. But not in one brief.
The Active Proposition box gets misused a lot. Mostly because it is a pretty unique addition to a creative brief. This is not a call to action box. Digital marketing is about getting people to do things in a branded way, not what we say to them. So when writing a “Do” proposition, we need to treat it like a “say” propositon. Keep it pithy, inspiring and tight. And most importantly make it emotive and active. Whereas “explore” and “being different” aren’t the most brilliantly unique words, combined with awesome suddenly gives me far more creative kick.
This is tighter. And true to a human insight as well as the product. I can immediately see campaigns galore out of this starting point.
This was in the “say” proposition box. But “rescue” is active. It’s not perfect, BUT, I think the use of the word species is clever (unintentional or not). It conjures images of polar bears and pandas, and in the context of a humble fruit, this juxtaposition is suddenly fertile.
Written by a creative. And great as a result. Avoiding the client hype – “Sin?!” Great active proposition. Only flaw, is that this is a proposition for Apples. Not English Apples.
Classic mistake. Write the proposition as an objective. That’s an instruction to the consumer, not inspiration to a creative.
Proposition rule number 1 – be single minded. This is three ideas in one.
This is instructional to the creative team about what the idea should be.
The “saying” proposition is the more traditional proposition. And very hard to write. But this one is great. Intriguing, explanatory, and positively focussing on the negative. That’s two branches from the forest of knowledge being rubbed together right there…
Love this. Brings in the British angle perfectly. And resonates as a human truth. Makes you want to get behind the campaign right away.
Cheekily derivative of Avis. But interesting nonetheless. Very evocative of the taste. Letting the creative or consumer fill in the blanks is a great route to engaging creative.
Just adore the word quirkier. Oozes Britishness. Shouts organic. And celebrates imperfection.
Clever bastard. If you are being picky, you could say this is cliched. But its only a cliché in cosmetic advertising. Here it’s really fresh.
Was there ever a spirit of the Great English Apple? Nope.
Keep yourself healthy. Keep your community healthy. Two different ideas.
This may be the truth that we are trying to advertise. But here it is just fact.
This tells me what the campaign is already.
Ahem. Crème egg. Ahem.
See. Good and bad. Derivative ideas pigeon hole creative thinking into pre-existing campaigns. Hard to break them out of that.
This box is oft abused. Filled with a zillion utopian client proof points. Really this box should be “Why would they bother?” Put on your real cynical consumer hat and ask, why would they give a flying fuck about this campaign. Answer it for real here, or you are just fooling yourself that you have something compelling in your brief. This one feels pretty realistic to me.
Again, here, this rings true.
Fruit based demons. Ace. See, even in this box you should be trying to use evocative language.
Lovely use of apple names to start sparking creative thoughts.
I’m pretty sure I’ve never interacted with a campaign just because it is new.
This is the client marketing problem, not a support to a proposition.
Using the box to prescribe strategy, not consumer justification.
This is assumptive of the campaign idea. If you are relying on the creative alone to make this compelling or resonant with your audience, then your brief is crap. That’s hoping that clever creative will paper over the soulless heart of your campaign.
There are more briefs to come. If you want to get involved, email me: [email_address]