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

If You’re Going To Change The Brief, Change It For Their Benefit, Not Yours …
August 31, 2011, 6:13 am
Filed under: Comment

One of my most hated responses is “it’s off brief”.

Far too often, it’s muttered by people who wouldn’t even know what being “on brief” is.

Too many mediocrity merchants use it as a shield to protect themselves from either [1] saying what they really mean or [2] doing something that they think their boss will hate.

However it’s not always the wrong term to use and it’s not always something adland can claim is someone else’s fault.

One of the things that bugs-the-shit out of me is when planners suggest a strategic direction that completely ignores the objective that has been set.

It’s all easy to blame those sorts of situations on clients who haven’t set their core objective clearly enough, but one of the roles of a planner is to uncover or identify the real issue/challenge/goal that has to be addressed and so if that has not been done, then there is an issue with the planner in the first place.

Just recently I saw something where the planners involved had completely shifted the objective that had been set.

Sure it was interesting … sure it had a lot of additional benefits … sure it would be fun … but the fact is, it no longer captured the core objective that had been clearly and concisely articulated and while their new focus would have added a broader perspective to the challenge, they had diluted the heart of the objective to such a point that it was now genuinely ‘off brief’ and as such, wrong.

Maybe if they’d explained their reason for changing the objective in accordance with how it played into the original goal, they’d of got a better response from me … maybe I was in a bad mood and wasn’t prepared to listen … but as much as strategy needs to expressed [at least in adland] in a way that encourages imagination and creativity, if it doesn’t address the fundamental goal, it’s not strategy, it’s indulgence.

I am absolutely all for turning challenges on their head … adding things to it … moving things around … approaching things in incredibly weird and wonderful ways … giving the client stuff better than they ever dared hope or expect … but if you ignore what the client wants addressing, you’re wasting their time, our reputation and everyone’s cash … so either remember the real meaning of the term, or go start your own company.

PS: The planners involved were not from my team. They know who they are and they’re being watched very fucking carefully at the moment.

39 Comments so far
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Nice one. What time do you wake up in the morning man?

Comment by adphyco

1) never call campbell a man. hes an it.
2) he prewrites this shit so he probably wrote it at 3pm on a fucking wednesday when he should be working. my guess is dan doesnt mind because while hes writing this shit, he cant meddle with the fuckers who are helping pay his undeserved fucking wages.

Comment by andy@cynic

Errrrm, what Andy said.

Comment by Rob

It’s amazing how many people forget a brief has to achieve a business objective as well as a creative objective. Then it’s amazing how many creative “free thinkers” believe the answer to every brief is an ad, whether it’s a 30 second TVC or an experiential outdoor campaign.

A brief has to ignite the imagination but it has to let everyone know what we’re trying to do and putting some weak “awareness goal” doesn’t count.

Great post Rob.

Comment by Pete

Not everything can be solved by building a new car, bike, plane or banking system. I know Rob doesn’t accept that but I thought you weren’t as fucked up as him. I was wrong.

Comment by Billy Whizz

well fucking said billy. if i got a brief from campbell that didnt talk about the potential of building somefuckingthing beyond an ad i cant fucking remember it. still, better than getting a brief to do some ads around some yoda statement planning bullshit statement like “super happy”.

theres nothing fucking wrong being descriptive in a brief if it shows imagination with a fucking purpose. the problem is too many fuckers in adland dont know what clients need just what they fucking want.

almost a good post.

Comment by andy@cynic

This comment is some of the best advice about writing a brief I’ve ever seen. Planners and creatives should take note.

Comment by Pete

of it course it fucking is.

Comment by andy@cynic

I don’t think everything can be solved by building a car etc … but then I don’t think everything can be solved making an ad.

For me the issue is that too many people go from defining the problem to making the ad – whereas my perspective is you define the problem, you come up with an idea/ideas that solve the problem and then use comms to amplify that solution to the World.

It’s not that hard or difficult but it means you end up promoting a solution rather than simply making an ad about a problem. If that means a moped or a lobby group or a new interior is the most effective solution to achieve the short term business goal within the longer term business objective and brand voice, so be it. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it should be considered more than just making another piece of flat comms that few are interested in due to the creativity and lack of relevance to their particular needs, wants & perspectives.

Comment by Rob


Comment by andy@cynic

I love briefs, they come in handy when I’ve forgotten to steal ass wipe paper from the office.

Comment by Billy Whizz

That’s funny Billy, because that’s what I used your typed up ideas for.

Comment by Rob

If you clearly understand the business need, you can write a powerful and captivating brief. If you don’t, you can’t.

Comment by George

thats what i said except i said it without sounding like a smug bastard.

Comment by andy@cynic

Thank you for your guidance.

Comment by George

send me a fucking cheque then you tight fuck.

Comment by andy@cynic

He does have a point George. Ha.

Comment by Rob

Inspirational creativity should not be at the expense of addressing fundamental business needs, but because of it.

Comment by Lee Hill

are you and george in fucking cahoots?

Comment by andy@cynic

If cahoots is some tropical paradise, then you know the answer.

Comment by john

“define the problem, you come up with an idea/ideas that solve the problem and then use comms to amplify that solution to the World.” nice

Comment by Jacob

It might be nice, but it should be obvious.

Comment by Rob

As usual, to the point.

Comment by Bazza

Where are you? It’s either very early, very late or you’re out of the US. I’m impressed you’ve commented though, what with all the dramas of the last week. Your lack of commentary on yesterday’s post was noticeable by it’s absence. Just like Lee’s. I have no idea how you can be so professional but I’m impressed by it. Hope all is good with you.

As for being blunt, not really – just stating what I think should be the bloody obvious.

Comment by Rob

It is.

Comment by john

These were the people that made you angry the other day, aren’t they?

Comment by Marcus

One of them Mr Freud. One of them.

Comment by Rob

A brief is not a commandment set in stone handed down from Jesus (though some planners may feel that way); but if you stray too far then the point starts to get lost.

A brief should be flexible one way only, for the better; and that takes decent judgement to manage.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I don’t know if I completely agree with that Mr M.

I agree that being descriptive in the ‘output’ is a no-no, however I don’t think flexibility in what is needed to be achieved is up for much debate – unless you’ve not done your job properly in the first place, of which acting like an island is one of the biggest mistakes.

There’s no hard and fast rule, but at the end of the day, as long as we achieve what the client needs [versus ‘wants’] and do it in a way that let’s people feel excited and inspired, then I’m pretty open to anything.

For me the key is having a great relationship with your colleagues so that when you suggest you could build a new kind of moped, they don’t immediately laugh at you or say “that’s not your job” – they discuss the reasons why you think that way and what would have to be considered if it was to be done – and then, and only then – talk about what you could do to promote the solution rather than be of the attitude that [1] the ad will always be the solution and [2] they are the only ones who can come up with it.

Doesn’t always work that way, but that’s why I think a great brief is something made of steel and lollipops, if you get my drift.

Comment by Rob

But isn’t advertising all about fulfilling the artistic aspirations of the creative department despite the best efforts of the client?

Comment by john

I take your point, I am thinking more in output; but given there is never a perfect answer, sometimes an idea is good enough to achieve the aims better – especially in smaller agencies where client briefs are often less clear and planning has less time (relying sometimes on instinct and fast planning).

Also, we shouldn’t be scared of saying “We think this is a better way” 🙂

It is all about relationships. If we all respect each others’ point of view it’s much easier to get somewhere good!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I’m sure Instinct and Fast Planning have offices in Shoreditch.

Comment by john

John sounds like David Crutton in Matt Beaumont’s legendary book, ‘E’ with that comment.

That is meant as a compliment. I think.

Comment by Rob

Legendary in the sense of being the only book you ever cite?

Comment by john

Only book I’ve read. If I don’t count ‘Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’ or Playboy.

Comment by Rob

No, that’s Intoc Faust and Pauling…

Comment by Rob Mortimer


just curious as I rarely hear you on the subject: how do you tackle digital/social media client briefs..

I know that you believe in “idea neutrality”, as one should, though just curious if you feel it does require a slight change in the ” problem- solve it – communicate it” approach…

or in general your thoughts on the digital briefing format?

Comment by niko

Why should a digital brief be any different from “regular” brief? I mean we are still talking about “problem – solve it – communicate it” approach, however because this time we do it solely on digital media therefore we need to define on how the idea would be best adapted on digital channels.

Comment by Tofan

Wow. It’s like reading an internal email chain. Ouch.

Comment by Bystander

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