Reading between the Advertising Brief

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In advertising, most briefs serve one purpose only : saving skin when you-know-what hits the ceiling. Most creatives will not begin work without access to a brief. And most account managers will create briefs with ambiguous words that cover everything, yet could mean anything. God forbid, if the campaign fails, nobody can lay blame on the no-man’s land brief.

As agency professionals, we are aware that creating an effective campaign from a vague brief is like a blind date : meeting someone you’ve never met before and hoping to click anyway. Even a blind date may have better chances of success because you’ve probably been set up by someone who knows you. Bad briefs are more like Russian roulette : playing the game anyway, and hoping the campaign doesn’t get shot down.

It’s intriguing to see how managers and creatives tackle briefs. While some take a flying leap and immediately begin ideating, others use the brief to brainstorm and then get on with the process of coming up with ideas. The main issue with both these approaches is the assumption that the brief is accurate.

This can be resolved by truly getting to the heart of the matter, studying the brand, understanding what exactly it is trying to achieve and comparing that against the brief given to you. Because, let’s face it. Sometimes, clients either don’t know what they want or end up misstating the problem. And truth be told, it isn’t their fault. Very often they haven’t been asked questions, and more importantly, the right questions.

The right questions are frequently not asked because it involves a lot of spadework. Digging deep, gaining an in-depth understanding of the client’s business, its competitors, internal climate, its issues at a grass-root level. Truly getting to the soul of the business, and not just the advertising and marketing aspect. Only then can you solve a problem that exists, rather than cater to the statement of a perceived problem. Like Virginia Magaletta aptly said, “Start with nothing and you get anything.”

As vague briefs go, it takes all kinds to make the advertising world go round. There’s the “Tight Fit,” where the brief is so inflexible, that there isn’t any wiggle room at all. You wonder why the client didn’t do it themselves. Then there’s the “Flip-flopper.” The brief which changes frequently, the client is constantly inspired by things they’ve seen and keeps the agency on its toes for all the wrong reasons. And of course, all marketers would have come across “The Fantasist”– the brief with the highest expectations, but the lowest budgets and the tightest deadlines.

There’s no lack of examples of bad briefs.

So what constitutes a correct brief? One that has stated the correct problem through a deep understanding of the client’s business. Eventually, it should provide a guideline to ‘what to do’ and not ‘how to do’ it. And most importantly, it should state a problem that exists and not one that is imagined.

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