A Simple Way To Get Better Creative

Think for a moment about the best TV ad you’ve ever seen. (In a nod to the season, here’s mine.) Now ask yourself: how did that happen? It probably didn’t come as a result of a creative genius at an agency or the inspired vision of a hard-driving CMO. Instead, it probably was a result of someone further down the corporate ladder, someone who knew the product and customer best, and, most importantly, had a plan for producing breakthrough creative. I’ve overseen the production of more digital video, TV commercials, banner and print ads, packaging, retail end caps and displays, posters and signs for events, and executive presentations than I can remember. While each project differs, and I certainly don’t claim to have produced award-caliber stuff every time, I have used the same process to guide every project. At its heart: a creative brief that serves as the blueprint for production. The good news is that you don’t need an MBA to write a terrific creative brief. Its components are really simple, even if the insights they require are not.

“Get these four things right, and you’ll be 75% of the way to better creative.”

Though it can contain a lot of useful information, a creative brief has to do a just four essential things. Get these things right, and you’ll be 75 percent of the way to better creative.

  1. Identify the key communication: what do you want to impart upon the audience? What’s the call to action?
  2. Define the target audience: whose behavior do we hope to change? What do we know about where they live, how old they are, what motivates and troubles them, their purchasing power, and their preferred acquisition behavior for the category?
  3. Describe the product or service: what is it that we want the target audience to engage?
  4. Set a measurable objective: e.g. number of completed views on YouTube, drive downloads, etc.

The remaining 25 percent of a world class creative brief will include the following:

  • The tone: are you going for humor, leadership, poignancy, or something else?
  • If a video, how long it should be: assume that about half of the views will come on a mobile device, so when in doubt, keep it short.
  • Important stuff the creative must accommodate: e.g. if you’re featuring a partner’s product, what requirements does the partner have for the treatment of its logo? Do your lawyers require that you include a copyright or trademark acknowledgement or a disclaimer? Does the creative need to accommodate brand guidelines for things like font types and the use of your company’s logo? Does it need to link to something else?

Though this content may seem simple, the information behind it requires that you do your homework. Make sure you know who your target audience really is. Study your analytics. Talk to people who work in market research. Set an objective based on comparable performance of similar creative, as well as company, product or brand priorities. Know your brand so that you can design proactively for consistency, not react to your Brand Police later. And when you’re done writing the brief, ask others to read and comment. Take the time to present it to the team building the creative, as opposed to just emailing it. Remember that memorable content doesn’t just spring forth from the earth. Thoughtful design drives inspiration. With the right preparation, you can become a powerful producer of break-through creative.

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