Who writes the first ad?

I was reminded of a few lines from Jon Steel’s book Truth, Lies and Advertising: The Art of Account Planning:

If the creative brief is not itself creative, if it does not suggest solutions to problems, present information in an expansive and interesting way, and interpret that information with imagination and flair, then its authors and presenters have no right to expect anything different from their creative teams.

I think we can agree that Mr. Steel is saying, rather generously, what we all have come to understand as “garbage in, garbage out.”

In other words, if the brief is flat, chances are the creative will be flat too.

Sort of puts pressure on the writer of the brief, yes?

If that job falls on you, how do you go about doing it? Not being flat? Being inspired?

Mr. Steel points the way. He quotes a legendary British creative director, John Hegarty. Mr. Steel wondered what Hegarty looked for in a creative brief.

(Hegarty) replied that he looked for a very simple, single-minded idea, which is usually expressed in the part of the brief that many agencies term the proposition. Hegarty said that it was his habit to take that one sentence and write it on a large piece of paper, above or below a picture of the product, almost as if the line from the brief were a headline. Then he would pin it up above his desk and ask himself first whether the juxtaposition of that line and that product made some rational sense, and second, whether it also started to suggest something interesting on an emotional level.

If the answer was yes?

There’s the first ad in the campaign. It’s my job to create something better.

No matter how many times I talk about the importance of collaborating with creatives when you write a brief, or understanding your target audience or all the other vital aspects of preparing this document, none of them matters more than infusing some life, some sparkle of creativity, some inspiration where it matters most.

In the proposition.

Mr. Steel chose not to say this himself. He turned, instead, to a giant in the field who spoke for all creatives who are tasked with the challenge of translating the brief into brilliant creative to speak for him.

Pressure? Damn straight.

You say you’re not creative? Balderdash!

Hegarty tells us that your “creative brief as first ad” doesn’t have to be a great headline. It doesn’t even have to be good. But…

…it does have to be interesting on both a rational and emotional level.

In other words, he’s saying, please give me at least that much. Break a little sweat on this and give me something interesting! I can take it from there!

As the creative brief writer, you get the first say. You have the chance to play a major roll in what your creative team ultimately delivers. You get to put your stamp, your mark on the document the creative team uses for inspiration.

Make it count.


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