How to Judge Advertising Copy: Approve the Good. Reject the Bad.

Over the years, I’ve seen so many Brand Leaders who love Advertising, yet just don’t love their own advertising.  

I’ve always found this odd.  These Brand Leaders use their instincts on other brands’ work but can’t find those same instincts on their own work.  They are likely the ones sending Super Bowl ads around the office, yet they are the first to crap all over the work of their own agency.  

What really holds back most Brand Leaders from greatness is they actually under-estimate their own role in the process of getting to great advertising.  How they show up does more to make or break an ad than even how the agency shows up.   slide1-1After all, the Brand Leader gets the “final say” on every aspect of the ad–brief, script, director, casting, music, budget and final edit.  The agency can only recommend.  What the Brand Leader does with that “final say” can make or break the ad.  

If you knew that how you show up to your agency got better work for you, do you think you would show up differently?

In terms of giving feedback at that first creative meeting, a Brand Leader can really only do three things.

      1. Approve an ad
      2. Reject an Ad
      3. Give direction on how to make the Ad better 

If you’re sitting in the hot seat, how will you know?  It’s not easy to sit in the hot seat as the decision maker.  I’ve seen some Brand Leaders use all instinct, and no fundamentals.  They miss the most basic of things.  While other Brand Leaders strictly use fundamentals and forget to use their instincts.  They miss the magic or are the first to put together a Frankenstein from various things on the brief.  

Clients aren’t Ready

I come at this discussion from the client side.  I’ve never worked at an agency in my life.  But I have 20 years of CPG experience and have been in the shoes of the Brand Leader at every level.  I feel comfortable to say that Clients are not ready.    

Here’s the problem with the math.  Most brands make 1 campaign per year, and in your first 2-3 years as an Assistant Brand Manager, you might get a few comments in at the meeting. Then all of a sudden, you’re now the newly promoted Brand Manager and expected to lead the campaign.  As bright as you might be, you have never been on the hot seat and you might not be ready to give feedback to the agency.  Even your boss, who will coach you and judge your performance might have made 5 ads in their career.  Across from you sits a creative team, a creative director and a Group Account Director, who each might have 10+ years of experience and each work on 20+ campaigns per year.  

And what you have to say at the meeting will make or break your ad.  If you aren’t nervous at that meeting, good for you.  And good luck.  Because, you should be nervous. 


How well prepared are you?  An ill prepared Brand Leader will more than likely deliver a poor ad.   How many hours of training have you had on giving direction to a creative team?   How many times did you role-play giving feedback to the agency?  How good was the coaching you received on your feedback?  Not only do you need the fundamentals through solid training, but you likely need someone coaching you through a role-playing exercise.  

How will you show up?  Are you ready?  Or will you just be another brilliant Brand Leader who can’t seem to make a great ad on their own brand?

Judging the Ad:

The Creative Meeting is not Easy.  You’ve got to balance, the head, the heart and the gut against the good of the brand.  Take your time and sort it through asking the following questions:

  1. Do you love what it can do for your brand?  If you don’t love it, how do you expect your consumer to love it?  A great ad has to have everyone’s heart and soul put into it.  If you “sorta like” it, then it will be “sorta ok” in the end.  If you love it, you will fight for it.  (The Heart) 
  2. Is it on strategy?  Is the Advertisement an expression of what you have been writing in your strategy documents?   Is it doing what we hoped it would do?  I love the ABCS technique (outlined below) because it helps me to frame things in my mind, so I can evaluate it past how I feel.  I think you need something to ground yourself.  (The Head)  If  there is something in your gut says it’s off, it likely is.  (The Gut)
  3. Is it long-term Idea?  Is a big enough idea that fits with the brand, does the hard work you want to do for the brand and can last 5 years.  Think about leaving a legacy—which forces you to think of campaign-ability.  (The Brand)  Look at the Creative Brief and if the ad is not on strategy, then it has to be rejected   Advertising is an expression of strategy.  If it’s not on strategy, it has no value.  

I once was in the midst of fighting for an Ad campaign as it was going up through the approval ranks of my own senior management.  It was a very odd campaign.  Yet I loved it.  One night, I was out for a walk with my wife and she said “what if it gets rejected”.  And I said “it will be the end of me”.   She thought I was crazy and said “you can’t think that way”.  And I said “I have to think that way”.  The question of whether you love it or not, is not a “sort of” question.   You have to be all-in, ready to battle for it’s life.  If you don’t love the work, how do you expect your consumer to love the brand?   The campaign was approved, and it doubled the business over the next 10 years.  

The ABC’S of Advertising 

Here’s a potential tool you can take into the room that is very easy to follow along.  You want to make sure that your ad delivers on the ABC’S which means it attracts  Attention, it’s about the Brand, it Communicates the brand story and Sticks in the consumers mind.  

  • Attention:  You have to get noticed in a crowded world of advertising.  Consumers see 6000 ads per day, and will likely only engage in a few.  If your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight.
  • Branding:  Ads that tell the story of the relationship between the consumer and the brand will link best.  Even more powerful are ads that are from the consumers view of the brand.  It’s not how much branding there is, but how close the brand fits to the climax of the ad.
  • Communication:  Tapping into the truths of the consumer and the brand, helps you to tell the brand’s life story. Keep your story easy to understand. Communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it—because that says just as much.
  • Stickiness:  Sticky ads help to build a consistent brand/consumer experience over time.   In the end, brands are really about “consistency” of the promise you want to own.  Brands have exist in the minds of the consumer. 

Buying media and putting something on air does not attract attention for your ad.  Why would consumers want to listen to what you have to say.  You have to EARN the consumers’ attention.  The best way to grab Attention is to take a risk and do something not done before. Here are the 5 ways to attract attention.

  1. Be Incongruent:  This is a great technique to get noticed is by being a bit off kilter or different from what they are watching.  A lot of brand leaders are afraid of this, because they feel it exposes them.  Avoid being like “wallpaper”   If you want a high score on “made the brand seem different”, it starts with acting different.   kitkat
  2. Resonate:  Connect with the consumer in the true way that they see themselves or their truth about how they interact with the brand.
  3. Entertain them:  Strike the consumers emotional cord, by making them laugh, make them cry, or make them tingle.  From the consumers view—they interact with media to be entertained—so entertain them.
  4. The Evolution of the Art of Being Different:  As much as Movies,  TV music continues to evolve, so do ads. As much as your art has to express your strategy, it needs to reflect the trends of society to capture their attention.  Albino fruit flies mate at twice the rate of normal fruit flies.  Be an albino fruit fly!!!
  5. Location Based:  Be where Your consumers are open and willing to listen.  The Media choice really does impact attention.  Make sure your creative makes the most of that media choice.  

There is an old advertising saying “half of all advertising is wasted, but we aren’t sure which half”.  Coincidently, the average brand link is 50%.  Our goal should always be to get higher.  The best Branding comes when you connect the Brand to the Climax of the ad.   It’s not about how much branding or how early the branding arrives.  

  1. Be Part of the Story:  in the spirit of big ideas, how do you tell a story, using your brand.  It’s not how much branding you use, but rather how closely connected the brand to the climax of your ad.
  2. Is it the Truth:  It sounds funny, but if there is a disconnect between what you say, and what you are….then the brand link won’t be there.  People will discard the ad.
  3. Own the Idea Area:  Be a bit different—make sure that what you do sets you apart from anyone else. 
  4. Repeat:  don’t be afraid of building your brand—and the simplest way to get branding is to repeat and repeat and repeat.

Communicating is about selling.  Keep in mind, communication is not what is said, but what is heard.  The best way to Communicate is through Story Telling that involves the brand.  The modern-day world of the internet allows richness in story telling.  

  1. Start a Dialogue:  If you can do a good job in connecting with the consumer, the branding idea can be a catalyst that enables you to converse with your consumer.
  2. What are you Selling?  You have to keep it simple—you only have 29 seconds to sell the truth.  Focus on one message…keep asking yourself “what are we selling”.drill
  3. Powerful Expression:  try to find one key visual that can express what you are selling.  This visual can be leveraged throughout
  4. Find Your “More Cheese”:  Many times its so obvious what people want, but we just can’t see it or articulate it. 
  5. Sell the Solution—not the Problem:  Brands get so wrapped up in demonstrating the problem, when really it is the solution that consumers want to buy. 

We all want our ads to stick.  You need to adopt a mindset of “will this idea last for 5 years”.  The Best way to Stick is to have an idea that is big enough.  You should sit there and say is this a big idea or just an ad?

  1. Dominant Characteristic:  things that are memorable have something that dominates your mind (e.g.:  the red-head kid)
  2. How Big Is the Idea?  Its proven that a gold-fish will get bigger with a bigger bowl.  The same for ideas.
  3. Telling Stories:   While visuals are key to communicating, in the end people remember stories—that’s how we are brought up—with ideas and morals that are designed to stick. 
  4. Always Add A Penny:  With each execution, you have a chance to add something to the branding idea.  Avoid duplicating what you’ve done…and try to stretch as much as you can. 
  5. Know Your Assets:  There has to be something in your ad that stick Know what that is and then use it, in new executions or in other parts of the marketing mix.


If you don’t love the work, how do you expect your consumer to love your Brand.

To see a training presentation on Get Better Advertising: 


If you are in the mood to see stories on great advertising, here’s a few other stories:


Do you want to be an amazing Brand Leader?  We can help you.  

Read more on how to utilize our Brand Leadership Learning Center where you will receive training in all aspects of marketing whether that’s strategic thinking, brand plans, creative briefs, brand positioning, analytical skills or how to judge advertising.  We can customize a program that is right for you or your team.  We can work in person, over the phone or through Skype.  Ask us how we can help you. 


At Beloved Brands, we love to see Brand Leaders reach their full potential.  Here are the most popular article “How to” articles.  We can offer specific training programs dedicated to each topic.  Click on any of these most read articles:

Ask Beloved Brands to help you with your advertising or ask how we can help train you to be a better brand leader.

5 Ads that Will Make You Burst Out Laughing

The use of humour can be a great way to connect with your consumer, but you have to make sure that the laugh is connected to the main message you are trying to convey.  A misplaced laugh does nothing really–yes, it can attract attention–but they are usually the ads we forget what brand name the ad is for.   Humour can help articulate the insight or it can be a great way to demonstrate the  experience the brand helps address.  Humour can also differ over time, across different geographies or demographics.  Some of the best humour is when only the target market gets the jokes.  Skittles ads are hilarious for teenagers, but anyone above 35 years old just looks at those spots with total confusion.

Here are five ads that will make you laugh out loud, and link in nicely with the idea the brand is trying to communicate.

Berlitz “What are You Thinking about?”

When I show this ad to an executive training classes, it usually generates one of the biggest laughs.  Most of us when trying to learn a language start to learn the basics of the language and rarely get past the point where it becomes useful.  This ad really hits that insight, by taking a very important moment and showing how the coast guard can’t even save a life when it’s obvious to us all. 

Zazoo Condoms

I remember when I worked on Child Cereals, we used to do focus groups with 5 and 6 year olds taste-testing new Lucky Charms and Trix. I used to refer to it as “birth control for brand managers” Loading a kid up with sugary cereals for 2 hours ends up with kids that seem like this kid.  This ad was done as people were just starting to email ads around and it was an early favourite.  Now we see the power of YouTube for showcasing funny ads.  

ESPN “Michael Jordan”

Perfect humour for the serious sports fan target market of ESPN.  I love ads that make the target market laugh harder than those not in the target–makes the joke even more insightful.  I love the restaurant scene.    

Nicoderm “Flight Attendant”

I have to slip in one of my own ads with this Nicoderm spot.  This ad in it’s simplest of terms is a side-by-side demonstration of what it’s like to quit “Cold Turkey” (evil, horror, terror) versus using a patch (sweet, nice, gentle) through the personification of the actress.   It really speaks to the emotional and psychological benefits of quitting smoking.  This has generated millions of hits on YouTube and it won J&J’s global ad of the year in 2006.  

Impulse “Art Class”

With TV being a visual medium, demonstration through visuals is a great technique.  In training, I’ve used the Tango ads to showcase how to demonstrate taste through visual.  This Impulse TV spot does a great show to the impact that scent can have, leveraging a human insight that we can all laugh at.  

If you are in the mood to see other great advertising, here’s a few other stories:

To see a training presentation on getting better Advertising: 


Do you want to be an amazing Brand Leader?  We can help you.  

Read more on how to utilize our Brand Leadership Learning Center where you will receive training in all aspects of marketing whether that’s strategic thinking, brand plans, creative briefs, brand positioning, analytical skills or how to judge advertising.  We can customize a program that is right for you or your team.  We can work in person, over the phone or through Skype.  Ask us how we can help you.

At Beloved Brands, we love to see Brand Leaders reach their full potential.  Here are the most popular article “How to” articles.  We can offer specific training programs dedicated to each topic.  Click on any of these most read articles:

Ask Beloved Brands to help coach you on Advertising or ask how we can help train you to be a better brand leader.

How to write an Effective Creative Brief

BBI Learning LogoThe best Advertising is well planned, not some random creative thing that happens.  The value of a creative brief is focus!  Like a good positioning statement, you’re taking everything you know and everything you could possibly say, and starting to make choices on what will give you the greatest return on your media dollars. If you’re not making choices then you’re not making decisions.  

Unlike other creativity, advertising is “In the Box” creativity.  The best advertising creative people  are problem solvers, not blue sky thinkers.  Therefore, the role of the creative brief is to create the right box, enough room to move, but enough direction that defines the problem.

Advertising is a balance of freedom and control.  But, oddly enough, most Brand Managers allow too much FREEDOM on the strategy but want to exhibit CONTROL on the creative.  It should be the reverse.   Brand Managers should control the strategy not the execution.  Briefs with multiple objectives or many main benefits send the signal to agencies that you aren’t quite sure and want the agency to pick the strategy.  But a long list of mandatories sends the signal that even though we don’t know the strategy, we do think we know what we want the creative to look like.  This is where the marketer should get a bit more comfortable in dealing with ambiguity and allow some creativity to come about.

The agency should write the brief.  I’m not sure why this is so contentious–but it seems that half of brand people still want to write the brief.  Let it go!  You can still write an advertising strategy, but let the Agency Translate it into a brief, in their words and their format.   You can still debate every word for hours or even days to ensure that it aligns to your strategy.   But having them write it, allows the agency to own it and believe in it.  It also allows the account team to communicate with their creative teams–which is the main role of that brief.  Using the agency format makes it simpler for the creative teams.  This is the first step in giving the agency some freedom, while still maintaining control over the strategy.

The smaller the brief, the bigger the idea.  A good brief should be brief.  One page maximum.  I’m still in shock when I see briefs reaching 5 or 6 pages.  That’s not a brief, that’s a long!  Take the pen and start stroking out words, forcing yourself to start making decisions.  Avoid the “just in case” type of thinking.

The Brand Plan and Advertising Strategy

In the smallest of words, the brand plan should be focused

  • We have some long-term thoughts on where the brand can go (vision) and the special assignment to get us on our way.  (mission)  And help shape the things we want to achieve with our brand (objectives) To get started, the brand has different options (strategies) for how to get there (tactics)
  • We try to find a slice of the population (target) to get them to take an action (expected result) that makes our brand bigger.   We then find out what to say and how to talk to them to trigger that action (main message) We need to re-enforce why we can do it and others can’t (support)
  • We then create the most motivating stimulus (product, ad, promotion) to get them to take action and put it in part of their life where they are most likely to hear it and act on it (the medium

Within a good brand plan,you should have an advertising strategy that should answer the following six key questions.

  1. Who Do We want to sell to?  (target)
  2. What are we selling?  (benefit)
  3. Why should they believe us?  (RTB)
  4. What Do We want the Advertising to do?  (Strategy)
  5. What do Want people to do?  (Response)
  6. What do we want people to feel?   (Brand Equity)

For those looking for a basic creative brief format, the best I like includes something that outlines a) the long-term consistent brand essence and strategy b) consumer knowledge including target definition and insights and c) the core of the brief, outlining the problem to solve, focusing on stimulus and response.


Most Brand Managers struggle with the target.   I once sat in a room where a brand manager had a target of 18 to 65, current customers, potential customers and employees.  Basically, everyone but prisoners and tourists.   While it’s tempting to sell to everyone, you should focus your resources on those most likely to buy, pays off.  Focus on those who may love you, not everyone who just might tolerate you.  Spreading your limited resources across an entire population is cost prohibitive.  While targeting everyone with a “just in case” attitude might make you feel safe at first, it’s actually less safe because you never get to see the full impact.  You should use consumer insights to bring the target to life.  The dictionary definition of the word Insight is “seeing below the surface”.   Too many people think data, trends and facts are insights.  However, these facts are merely on the surface—so they miss out on the depth. Insights can be sorted into three types: life Insights, brand insights and category insights.   You are really looking for these “aha” moments that brings the focus onto the consumer.

Brand Managers also struggle with the main message.   Sell the Solution, Not Just Your Product.  Keep in mind that “people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole!”   Agencies use so many tricks to get it down to the ONE THING.  And whatever works for them or you, the better.  If it’s a

postcard, a bumper sticker, “what would you say to get someone to marry you”….find your own way to think about one thing.  One of my favourites is the “SHOUT FROM THE MOUNTAIN”.  It forces you to want to scream just ONE THING about your brand—keep it simple.  Yelling just one word is so much easier than a 13 word sentence or even worse, a long list of 6 bullet points.  Another good exercise, once you are close on the brief is to challenge yourself to go through the brief one more time, and see if you can take out 5-15 words.  You’ll be surprised how much better it gets.  And lastly, I always have fun throwing three objects at people, starting one at a time and then all 3 at once.  It’s so much easier to catch one than all three.

To read about how to write a mini version of a brief follow this link.  How to Write a MINI BRIEF

The Smaller The Brief the Bigger the Ideas

To read more on Creative Briefs, follow this presentation

email-Logo copyABOUT BELOVED BRANDS INC.:  At Beloved Brands, we are only focused on making brands better and making brand leaders better.Our motivation is that we love knowing we were part of helping someone to unleash their full potential.  We promise to challenge you to Think Different.  We believe the thinking that got you here, will not get you where you want to go.  grOur President and Chief Marketing Officer, Graham Robertson is a brand leader at heart, who loves everything about brands.  He comes with 20 years of experience at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke, where he was always able to find and drive growth.  Graham has won numerous new product and advertising awards. Graham brings his experience to your table, strong on leadership and facilitation at very high levels and training of Brand Leaders around the world.  To reach out directly, email me at or follow on Twitter @grayrobertson1


At Beloved Brands, we love to see Brand Leaders reach their full potential.  Here are the most popular article “How to” articles.  We can offer specific training programs dedicated to each topic.  Click on any of these most read articles:

Ask Beloved Brands to run a workshop to find your brand positioning or ask how we can help train you to be a better brand leader.