From How To Write A Single-Minded Proposition: Five insights on advertising’s most difficult sentence. Plus two new approaches, available in May 2018.

2. A Hard Question. A Simple Answer.

Writing a Creative Brief in general, and the single-minded proposition in particular, are exercises in reduction. They are about getting to the essence of a product or service. That’s why I love to share Albert Einstein’s famous challenge:

“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Substitute “it” with anything — blue sky, love, your brand — and the challenge becomes tangible. 

If, for example, you work for Nike, you can’t just hand a child a pair of sneakers and say, “See? This is what Nike is.” That’s not an explanation. It’s not even a demonstration. She knows intuitively that you put them on your feet. She will know instantly whether or not the pair you gave her is cool. Her body language will be impossible to ignore. But that does not add up to an explanation. You have to use words that a six-year-old comprehends. And when was the last time you read a copy of See Jane Run?

Now you begin to see the enormity of the dilemma Einstein lays at your feet — no pun intended.

I had this conversation with a senior marketing person for an internationally renowned musical instrument manufacturer. He told me his kid hears him talk about his product every day. The kid has seen it, touched it, likely tried to play it or maybe even knows how to play it. But the marketing guy confessed the difficulty of trying to explain what that musical instrument is, and why it matters, in words his child knew and understood. This from a guy who lives, breathes and plays his own brand.

LET’S GET SPECIFIC. Can you explain Nike Air More Uptempo basketball shoes for girls? What is it about this specific Nike product that you can clearly put into words for a little girl so she gets it? You can go out on a limb and assume lots of little girls know exactly what Nike Air More Uptempo basketball shoes are. But that’s not the assignment, is it?

Because if you can’t explain these “old-school kicks,” as Nike’s website describes them, I have to agree with Einstein that you not only don’t understand the shoes yourself, but you’re also likely not communicating their “why you should own a pair now … today … ” to your ideal buyer, who’s not necessarily a six-year-old girl. But she might be! on the showroom floor unsold. In other words, you could be leaving product

This is precisely what we’re struggling with when we write a single-minded proposition. It doesn’t need to be written for a six-year-old. But when you read a killer SMP, you marvel at its simplicity.

And so will the creatives who deliver the ideas that sell the product (even though they might not admit it).



Howard Ibach’s new book is available online in May. He is the author of the critically acclaimed “How To Write An Inspired Creative Brief 2nd edition.”


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