The creative brief: keeping pace with the times

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‘What is the one thing we want to say?’

That question, or variations thereof (‘what is the single minded proposition?’) as part of the written Creative Brief, has baffled many an Account Executive in ad agencies. It may have been a source of mirth for many a Creative Director too, as they view such briefs as unfocused and uninspiring. The best of the creative folk usually have a clear understanding of the brand’s business problem and are able to figure out what needs to be ‘said’ and how it needs to be said. But the larger issue remains: is the ‘one thing we want to say’ relevant in the new media age? The industry has been talking about advertising having moved to a two-way dialogue with the consumer for a decade now. So is the inherently one-way ‘saying something’ still valid or is there a need to develop an industry standard ‘new media brief’? Even the current brief followed by most agencies has pretty much common elements: the business problem or opportunity the advertising must address, the target audience, the proposition, support and maybe a suggested idea or direction.

In 2010, Gareth Key, Chief Strategy Officer & Associate Partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners talked about ‘The brief in the post digital age’. He spoke about some fundamental differences between the pre & post digital age. While the former was about interruption, saying things to people & changing perceptions the latter is about participation, doing things for people and affecting behaviour. He goes on to urge industry folks to start asking different questions about the project at hand largely aimed to evoking participation from consumers. I wonder how many of the agencies actually practice it nowadays but seems like a mighty sensible way to approach brand communication nowadays. Many of the successful campaigns of late, have followed some of these principles.

P&G’s ‘Thank You, Mom’ campaign is a great example. Just a decade ago, the campaign might have just had a heart-tugging TV spot and that’s that. Today, P&G demonstrated that they understand what it means to be a marketer in the new media age. They did not just stop at mouthing platitudes through a TV commercial but did something. They sponsored the trip of US athletes’ moms to the 2010 Winter Olympics. The sponsorship involved the cost of travel and accommodations, setting up Procter & Gamble ‘Family Home’ and a meeting place for athletes and families to watch the events. The campaign subtly brought in the role of P&G brands too: a Pampers spot, for example, noted that “before they [American athletes] were wearing Gold, Silver or Bronze, they were wearing diapers…Thank you, Mom.” The campaign paid rich dividends: 50,000 tweets about the work, 400,000 new Facebook friends, and an estimated $130 million in incremental sales of P&G products. The initiative was taken forward to the 2012 London Olympics too resulting in even greater global coverage.

All of this was based on classic, timeless advertising principles (or shall we say, pre-digital) : a great insight (celebrate that special person in the lives of Team USA athletes who supports their child selflessly to help them succeed), a simple idea (‘to their moms they will always be kids’) and a creative expression that was suited for digital media & its various platforms: ‘Thank you, mom’. I think the last bit, creating a property that is conducive for digital media & its platforms is critical – the idea must be suitable for participation from consumers via tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, video uploads and so on. And that’s where the successful campaigns of late have scored. Our very own, ‘Women against lazy stubble’ also comes to mind as a campaign that best utilizes the digital age. Many of the winners at the Cannes Lions, 2013 have also been about doing good. And that act of doing something, gets the buzz going (voluntarily at times) for the brand. A mobile app, which utilized dated event apps in order to drive home the point about organ donation, is one such idea that went beyond traditional advertising.  Some of them have potential for global impact as this firs-timer at Cannes, notes: The Potable Water Generator created by Media Connection BPN for the Universite of Engineering and Technology in Lima demonstrates how engineering can change the world – a billboard that produces drinking water out of air. Or the simply brilliant Mobile Lions Grand Prize winner DDB DM9JAYMESYFU for Smart Communications in the Phillipines, which puts school textbooks into analogue mobile phones. 

The kind of questions we need to ask when writing briefs could be on these lines:

  • What can we do so that people talk about the brand? Maybe taking a leaf out of the classic Direct Marketing briefs (more specifically direct mail briefs) may help. They were always about that specific offer that is most likely to evoke a response – a price off, a free gift and so on. Similarly, can the brand do something specific that evokes a reaction & participation from relevant consumers? This is not to say that a 30-second spot or a promo spot should be done away with – it is about the larger context of engaging with the consumer to gain preference and involvement.
  • How can we be of value at the personal digital spaces of our consumers? This I think, would be the clincher. Of late, a Facebook brand page (with emphasis on number of ‘likes’) has become de rigueur for brands. Almost all the brand pages have a cookie-cutter approach geared to garner likes & shares. It is amusing to find a diverse set of brands (cars, soap, deodorants, telecom…you name it) creating virtually the same kind of Facebook posts – it could be about Rahul Dravid playing a great innings – as far removed from the brand as possible. In this context, see what Cravendale milk (as mundane a category as possible) did with their Facebook page. They created a page out of one of the characters from the advertising, Bertram Thumbcat.

With or without a new kind of brief, some agencies (notably ones that don’t have a specialist digital division) have produced some cracking new media stuff. W+K and their work for Old Spice, Nike and P&G come to mind. Surely there’s a lot to learn from them in terms of keeping pace with the times. Will our creative briefs do too?


photo credit: Heike Giesler (slow) via photopin cc

This article first appeared in the Storyboard epaper on

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