How deconstructing any ad can help you polish your brief-writing skills.

December 9, 2022

(Published originally in June 2012)

When was the last time you even saw the word, “deconstruct”? Unless you were an English major in college you likely never came across it at all. There’s nothing mysterious or complicated about the process. Deconstruct simply means to take something apart and analyze the pieces. In this case, I’m talking about an ad.

The easiest ads to work with, of course, are television commercials. Anyone who spends the average amount of time in front of the TV sees plenty of examples.

When you see a TV spot that you like, one that causes you to react with a smile, a laugh, perhaps a double take, you know automatically that the message worked. You got it. You don’t need to belabor the details.

On the other hand, you’ve no doubt seen plenty of stinkers. Ads that you either don’t connect with because you don’t get it or they just don’t make sense. Or because the ad wasn’t intended for you. But even ads not intended for you (jock itch cream if you’re a woman, or feminine hygiene products if you’re a guy) can still resonate if they’re done well.

So if you begin from the premise that any well-done advertisement will make sense from a selling proposition, how can you use the concept of deconstruction to become a better creative brief writer?

I was wondering when you’d ask me that.

Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. Next time you’re watching Mad Men, pay attention to the first ad that comes on rather than head for the kitchen. You can do all this in your head without breaking into a sweat.

So, after the ad runs, ask yourself these questions:

Who is this product or service for? Is it me or someone else? Can you actually figure it out? The more detailed the answer you give, based on your powers of deduction, the better the spot was.

What’s the Single-Minded Proposition? Was the central message clear? Was the spot focused? If not, you will probably have a hard time answering this one.

Can you make a list of product benefits from watching just once? How many are there? Probably not many. Not more than two. Maybe three tops.

Can you Sherlock-Holmes one or more consumer insights from the spot? Now we’re getting into serious deconstruction. You’re doing some heavy lifting, putting your brain synapses into overdrive. If you can answer this from a 30-second television commercial after one viewing I’m going out on a limb and say it was a damn fine concept.

Finally, what was the call to action? Did the spot ask you, the viewer, to do something?

Make mental notes of the answers and ask yourself: Do they add up to a reasonably well-written creative brief? Would you sign your name to it? Would you ask your creative team to work from it?

This is a simple exercise you can do anytime you’re watching TV. I call it doing the creative brief backwards. Watch the creative and see if you can figure out the brief from it.

If you can’t it’s not necessarily a reflection on your lack of skills. It may very well be because the spot was poorly conceived, which is a likely clue that the creative brief was…a stinker.

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