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

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