The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

How Brief Should The Creative Brief Be?
November 13, 2008, 6:30 am
Filed under: Comment

Photo: Jacob K

As far as I am concerned, the creative brief is evil.

That’s not just because they are partially responsible for some of the World’s truly horrendous advertising [with the majority of the blame going to the guys who wrote it, agreed to it and worked off it] but because they have this ability to continually undermine my confidence and get me questioning everything I’ve ever done and will ever do interms of communication.

You’d of thought that after all the years I’ve been doing this, I’d be quite a dab hand at knocking a brief out, however I’m not and there’s 3 reasons for this …

1/ You should never just ‘knock a brief out’ … infact, the writing of the brief should be the middle part of the whole brief writing process because thinking/conversation and deliberation should come way before any words hit the page.

2/ I always worry whether I’ve covered off all the important issues of the brief whilst still giving the guys an interesting way to look [and be inspired] by the challenge.

3/ The best creative I’ve ever been involved with has come from multiple and varied conversations, never a piece of paper.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the importance of a brief – not only does it give the client something to ‘sign off on’ [which means in theory they can’t object as long as it meets the previously detailed criteria] but it ensures creative consistency as time, creatives, agencies and client change … however I don’t mind telling you that I find them bloody torture.

Of course part of the pain is that you have to get a shitload of info down to single page – or a couple of sentences – and whilst there is always the temptation to write everything in a really small font, that isn’t really going to get you a good end result.

Saying that, I don’t agree that there should be a defined process to how a brief is done/written – it’s all about adapting to how the team operates, so you get the best out of them.

My view – which I accept might be founded on the fact I don’t like writing formal briefs much – is that as long as the fundamentals are covered, and there’s been breadth, depth and rigor in the development – you should be able to approach it in whatever way is the most effective and interesting.

It is because of this that I’ve adopted all sorts of methods of briefing …

From watching the Dam Busters and listening to Vera Lynn/Iron Maiden records for Tango to taking creatives to chat with single 30-something ladies for VB [This is a stealomatic for the ad/new positioning we wanted to make [with Angelina Jolie!!!] after ‘Stubby Symphony’ but couldn’t because of ‘corporate political issues’. It still needed work – the endline wasn’t quite right for a start – but hopefully you get the idea, especially if you’re an Aussie], my attitude is anything is possible as long as there’s a purpose behind what is being done… because planning shouldn’t stop when the creative development starts.

Of course Andy thinks I do this because I want to either [1] share the glory and/or [2] share any possible blame … but he’s a cynical ol’ bastard because the real reason is I know collaboration can make more of a difference than isolation.

[I mean collaboration in the real sense of the word, not the sort of brainstorming ‘love-in’ where all ideas get equal credit even when they’re total shit]

One of my favourites was when I worked on Guinness in Australia.

The brief was to basically try and help Guinness have a direct association with Australia Day – in other words, make an Irish brand, Australian without looking overly contrived.

Hmmmmn ….

Anyway, when we stated looking at the 2 places, we saw a lot of similarities …

Both are part of a family they’d rather not be part of.

Both are island.

Both are known for enjoying celebration – be it something happy or sad.

Both have a load of English in them.

You get the idea …

So what we wanted to say was basically ‘Every Aussie has a bit of Irish [ie: the spirit of the Irish] in them and Guinness helps let it out‘ – and to ensure this idea really got across to the creatives, we did this …

For those ignoramuses out there who don’t know what this is – it’s [a very bad version] the Aussie flag – however instead of the Union Jack in the corner, it’s the Irish flag.

Whilst I know the creatives would have got what we were talking about without this visual proposition, it helped get their brain ticking in different ways and it led to the creation of County Bondi, where Guinness basically took over Bondi Beach and gave away promotional that took Aussie Icons and Irishified them. [which we created for them]

I’m not really explaining it very well – and sadly I have no visuals of what we did – but what I can say is that Guinness sales were the highest they had ever achieved [and by the end of the year, they had achieved their highest ever sales in Australia], they sidelined a bunch of competition that had been getting closer and closer to them over the previous few years and they generated more publicity [every media channel covered the event] than the value of their annual communication budget.

I guess what I’m saying is that you should use a creative brief rather than a creative brief using you – because if you approach it just interms of ‘filling boxes’, you can’t blame the creatives when they say they have little to inspire them.

To be honest this is a major issue and I want to write more on it because over the years, I/we have identified a bunch of rather effective methods to answering a clients brief in an interesting way – from forcing a client to give their brief infront of a real customer [so they can see if it’s corporate shit or not] through to getting creatives to develop thought starters at the initial briefing – so if you don’t mind hearing an old bastard bang on about the ‘good ol’ times’, come back sometime otherwise go and do something less boring instead!

25 Comments so far
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Very happy to have a ringside seat to what will follow.

Comment by John

In an age where everything in advertising is being processed to death this is a great reminder that inspiration rarely comes from a page of A4 and that creation should never be done in a silo but as part of a community.

I love the VB ad you guys were trying to do. I liked the orchestra thing a lot but that would of been great and again represent a valid and pragmatic evolution of the short and singlet image they’ve fallen into. I know it’s a stealo but it’s a stealo that beats many finished articles especially the cliched to death category of Australian beer ads.

Brilliant post, I hope planners and creatives read it and let go of their imposed and seld imposed shackles.

Comment by Pete

aussie men as rounded and grounded chick magnets? no wonder that fucking vb ad didnt happen, youd of proved adland was a bunch of lying shit.

good fucking post campbell. for you. but to any little planner out there who wants to do something half decent in their little job i suggest you do like campbell and not sit in your office for days on end then shout “eureka” when youve written a side of toilet paper, get out and fucking involve us because were not a bunch of crayon holding monkeys were actually the fuckers who can make you look like brad fucking pit when you deserve to stay as the lyle lovetts you are

Comment by andy@cynic

This is a very good post Robert, I am very happy you are back to writing about this sort of subject but I feel you’re doing yourself a disservice because your contribution is much more than simply finding interesting ways to get the wider team to understand and feel your strategy ideas. Despite what Andrew may say. 🙂

I look forward to the next posts on this subject though I assume I may be in for a rather long wait if history represents the future.

Comment by George


Comment by fredrik sarnblad

So you can be serious sometimes.

Excellent post Robert, it has implications well beyond just the advertising industry, it is relevant to anyone within an organisation that requires others to “feel” their strategy/idea.

I look forward to reading more.

Comment by Lee Hill

Amen again.

Comment by fredrik sarnblad

I once worked for a ‘creative’ agency who wouldn’t let me use a picture on the creative brief. They also didn’t let us have personal pictures on our computer screens. I didn’t stay long.

Comment by Emily

EMILY … how the bloody hell are you???

Settled in? Happy? Getting any sleep?

I owe you big time for your cafe reccomendations in SF, it single handidly kept me sane when all the technical talk just was frying my brain.

Amazing the healing qualities of a good cup of tea and cake – soul Prozac, ha!

As for your experience, dare I ask which agency or will it scare/anger me too much?

As for all the other comments – as nice as it is you like what I’ve spouted off about – it’s somewhat disheartening to hear the ‘shock’ in all of your comments – it’s like you don’t think I could ever say anything of genuine interest. Please don’t respond to that 🙂

Comment by Robert

An awesome post.

Comment by Charles Frith

On a mobile in the tropics so keeping it brief 😉

Comment by Charles Frith

I don’t know what upsets me more – the fact you’re in the tropics [which I appreciate could simply mean Bangkok but it sounds much more palm-tree-filled glam than that] when I’m not … the fact that given you’re on a mobie, you won’t have updated your blog recently [which is on fire at the moment] … or the fact that despite being in the tropics AND on a mobile phone, you still felt the need to write a comment on here.

I suppose it’s a massive compliment, but I’m not used to that so can only assume it’s a ‘taking-the-piss’ kinda thing.

Don’t you love a guy with self belief, hahaha!

Comment by Rob

This is a really great post Rob but I agree with George you are underestimating your involvement because I’ve seen first hand how powerful your contribution can be throughout the whole team and process.

I hope you do end up writing more about this subject because you’ve only covered a fraction of what I learnt under you guys and I know if others heard how you guys think and work they’d find it inspirational as well.

The best compliment I can give is I still feel lucky to have worked for you. It was just the pay and conditions that made me leave. 🙂

Comment by Bazza

It’s obviously very nice [and shocking] to have all these nice things said, however I have a feeling that once you’ve read tomorrows post, you’ll all be singing a different tune …

And Baz, that is a truly great compliment. Thank you.

Comment by Rob

And that VB ad is great. Another lost op.

Comment by Bazza

Did you know today is international ‘Be nice to Rob day’? Happens a few months after every Olympics 🙂

Comment by Bazza

So, the existence of the one-liner – “Andy we’ve got nothing, please save us” – is just an industry myth?

Comment by John

Stop creeping. That’s to both Baz and Dodds … though at least Baz is creeping to me, which is much better, ha!

Comment by Rob

still 10 comment to go to get a triple 29. wouldn’t that be unusual?

Comment by Tom Jones

OK I’ve made it to an internet cafe, shut down someone’s open yahoo mail account (again – are these people nuts?) and will just say that this post is ace because one of the things about you is you’re a consistent heavy hitter and you should post about the things you did to make even reasonably good ads because it’s like childbirth getting a cracker out.

I also loved it because the best brief I ever ‘wrote’ was just music. Tapped into a certain era, highlighted what was going on at the time and let the creatives get on with it. As it happens they ignored my brief but still went on to win some awards in Singapore. But that’s bloody planning for you 🙂

I like to think the brief was so creative they had to outdo me.

I’m on the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand. Yes there are coconut trees, totty and beaches. I like to call it the tropics because I work in advertising.

Truth well told. 😉

Great post Rob. We all learn when you share this stuff and you are well entitled to talk about your work so more please.

Comment by Charles Frith

you bugging our fucking office dodds?

i like you chaz you talk a lot of fucking sense but this halle berry oscar speech isnt one of those times. for fucks sake this is campbell were talking about. heat got to your brain?

Comment by andy@cynic

the fucking lot of you are my sworn enemies. Take the compliment and get over it Campbell!!

Comment by Niko

stop fucking flirting niko 🙂

Comment by andy@cynic

Andy, u know any good lawyers in case I don’t 🙂

Comment by niko

is the fucking pope catholic?

Comment by andy@cynic

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