The creative brief is about subtraction not addition.

As we are about to add another year to the calendar, it’s time to remind brief writers about the importance of subtraction.

The creative brief, by design, by definition, is about strategic reduction. It is about stripping away excesses to arrive at the ideal essence of your brand.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince, summed it up nicely:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

One of my favorite exercises in my college composition classes was to ask my students to write a short essay, say two pages, then ask them to cut the essay in half. It’s old school. The next step? Cut one page to half a page. Then half a page down to one paragraph.

The twist is, the writer must maintain the message of the original two pages. The thesis, in other words, must be clear.

A creative brief requires the same commitment to clarity. But unlike a college essay, the brief must also be inspiring. Or as Sir John Hegarty likes to say, the brief (or in his words, the “proposition”) is the first ad. The creatives take the proposition as a challenge and try to write a better ad.

As brief writers, we so easily forget the brief’s objective: to simplify and inspire.

If you do New Year’s Resolutions, a creative brief maxim to work on in 2022 is: 

Be fearless. Cut your brief down to the bare bones.

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