Sunday, December 4, 2011
THE “CREATIVE” BRIEF: WHAT’S THE OBJECTIVE?
A few years ago, back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, marketing management at PepsiCo, North America came up with a simple but extremely practical internal message placement. They printed cardboard signs that read, “This Will Be a Successful Meeting If…” and hung them in plain sight in every conference and meeting room. They also insisted that no meeting start without the participants completing the message on the sign. It was a very effective way to remind everyone of something that should come naturally, but for all kinds of reasons often doesn’t: namely, to clearly and precisely articulate the objectives of whatever is about to take place.
Actually, something similar to this occurred within Procter & Gamble marketing even years before this. They also placed a simple, often framed, placard in offices and meeting rooms that asked a similar fundamental question, “What’s the Objective?” It was virtually impossible, in those days and in that environment, to get any senior marketer to engage without first clearly and precisely expressing the objectives; and, if those objectives were not clear or precise enough—or if they were incorrect or incomplete—they were resolved before continuing with the planned agenda.
Since “management by objective” or, “MBO,” has for so long been considered the American way of managing a business, it really is a wonder that we so often neglect to preface each of our efforts with a statement of objectives and a consensus-building discussion around them. Over the years in our consulting assignments, we have found that we bring some of the highest “value-added” thinking to our clients and their brands on those occasions when we prompt and help them to clearly and precisely state the objectives of the consulting assignment—well before it gets underway! Of course, it is essential to have documented objectives and outcomes agreed to prior to investing the company’s resources against new strategies and initiatives. But, you know, it’s also essential to remind ourselves of the objectives and outcomes for those more “everyday” or “typical” efforts that we repeat again and again (and that also invariably involve investment of the company’s resources).
What kind of everyday or typical efforts might we be thinking of here? Well, one that we encounter almost weekly with our clients is the development of the Creative Brief—that incredibly important document that directs the creation of winning communications for our brands. The funny thing is, you almost never hear anyone on the Brand Team or at the Communication Agency ask the question before embarking on the actual brief, “What’s the objective of this (or any) Creative Brief?” That’s probably because it is assumed that everyone already knows what the objective of the Creative Brief is. But do they, really?
Based upon the relatively low quality of a good many briefs that we see, we more and more conclude that not everyone involved in writing or contributing thinking to the Creative Brief understands or appreciates what its real purpose is. For example, when you typically read consumer insights that are no more than need-states warmed over (such as, “My kids don’t drink enough milk; I need a way to get them to drink more of it so they will grow big and strong”), or that are self-serving means of making sure that the right product features get talked about (such as, “My blackheads are so deep in my nose—why isn’t there a ‘deep-cleaning’ action kind of product that will penetrate to the bottom of the blackhead?”)…then you know, right away, that the real objective of the Creative Brief has been ignored, or more likely, misunderstood. Non-insights like these illustrate that the authors are not all that concerned with helping the creative teams come up with compelling ideas; rather, they are more concerned with ensuring the communications tell the full product story.
But if the combined Brand-Agency Team were to first remind themselves of the real objective (actually, objectives) of the Creative Brief they intend to develop, non-insights such as these would never pass muster. And, since we’re reminding ourselves, what are the objectives of any and every Creative Brief? There are only two:
- Provide the creative teams with the essential information and stimulus to create the most and best ideas;
- Provide the entire team a sure-fire way to “inspect what they expect” (that is, to ensure the communications deliver the chosen strategy and, after implementation, the required consumer or customer behavior).
It follows, then, that the objectives of the Creative Brief are not to (a) ensure the resulting communication is something the boss likes; (b) keep R&D happy by driving home all aspects of how the product works, or (c) come up with a look that will “fit in” with what the rest of the category is doing.
And any Brand-Agency Team that honestly adhered to the two real objectives of the Creative Brief stated above would no doubt reject two-thirds of the briefs they have penned in the past out of hand!
BOATS & HELICOPTERS
1. Give it a try. The next time you and your team initiate Creative Brief development, open with these two objectives. Even better, print them on some cardboard and hang them on the wall where you’re working together.
2. As an alternative, simply begin each Creative Brief workshop by having the Team complete the following: “This will be a successful Creative Brief if it....”
3. But don’t limit your review or articulation of the objectives to Creative Brief development. Take the P&G and PepsiCo approach of making it a habit to start every meeting with a clear and precise statement of the objectives—with discussion to ensure alignment, if need be.
4. And, as a further help, you might want to even remind the Team why it’s called the “Creative Brief” and not something else. The real target audience is the creative team (otherwise, it could rightly be called the “Senior Management Brief” or the “Brand Manager’s Copy-Writing Brief”).
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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