Making a good creative brief great: the thinking behind the thinking

Powerful creative work is impactful, emotional, engaging and enduring. But, have you considered what it takes to develop it? No, contrary to urban legend, it does not fall majestically from the lips of God into the mind of a rising creative star. On the contrary, powerful creative execution is informed by equally powerful strategic thinking and planning. More than just background research, it takes a vibrant and insightful strategy to bring smart creative to life. Otherwise, the creative alone risks being little more than eye candy.

So, what are the hallmarks of a great creative brief? First and foremost, just like Mom said, honesty is always best…

Tell the truth… compellingly

In 1912, Harrison McCann, who would later merge his advertising firm with a competitor’s to form McCann Erickson, launched his first agency with a credo to live by: “Truth Well Told.” This slogan would not only go on to become forever associated with the powerhouse agency, but it would also inspire generations of strategists and creatives alike to seek the holy grail of identifying a powerful truth that would resonate with consumers.

Today, it is a textbook starting point for developing a great creative brief. Do your research, lay out the objective facts, as well as the contextual environment that shapes them, and go beyond mere features and benefits to find the “why.” Why do consumers feel the way they do about the brand? Why do they connect with it, and if they don’t, why should they care? A well told truth, doesn’t merely reveal any truth – it reveals a compelling truth.

Know the target audience like you know yourself

A good brief will describe the target audience; age, gender identity, socio-economic status, and perceptions about the brand, product or service. It will also describe how their perceptions need to be changed for them to be inclined to purchase. But a great brief goes further.

A great brief doesn’t just tell you who they are in cold, statistical data points. A great brief paints a vivid picture of the consumer. A picture so vivid that you feel you know this person. And it will paint that picture in such a way that you could imagine yourself living their life, virtually “walking in their shoes.”

A great brief paints a vivid picture of the consumer.
A picture so vivid that you feel you know this person.

Do they live in a 5,000 square-foot house in the suburbs on an acre of land? Or do they live in a third-floor walk-up in the inner city? Do they drive a Tesla? Or do they take the bus? A great brief will do all this and more. It will tell you not only what they think, it will also illustrate how they feel. Understanding their feelings – and imagining yourself feeling as they do – provides the empathy needed to create emotionally rich advertising.

Inform to inspire.

A good brief will provide all the information a creative team needs to start their work; a clear problem to be solved, ample background on the client, the competition and the industry, an understanding of the target audience and their perceptions, the media that will be used to create and disseminate the campaign idea, and a succinct distillation of the strategy to best persuade the target audience in our favor. But a great brief will go further. A great brief will provide a thought-provoking strategy and uncover a meaningful insight that will not only inform the team, but also inspire them.

A great brief is the spark that starts the fire.