Creative briefs are never optional. Brand zealots need them most of all.

When I teach my creative brief workshops for the ANA (, I often use the terms Brand Advocate or Brand Guardian to describe the marketers I meet. I think either one is an apt descriptor of the people responsible for nurturing the products under the brand umbrella for which they work.

Sometimes I see nods of recognition among the participants of my workshops. Sometimes not.

As an educator, I use both terms interchangeably and they are meant as compliments. Brands need Advocates and Guardians. When someone who works for a brand does not believe in the brand, it makes for a bad situation.

Advertising agencies can be Brand Advocates once removed. They are advocates for hire. They bring an objectivity about the brand that is missing on the part of employees of the brand.

Brand Advocates are true believers. Ad agency folks are believers in the power of branding. It’s a yin and yang relationship, at once simpatico and adversarial.

When a Brand Advocate crosses a line and becomes a Brand Zealot, problems arise. Now understand that I admire Brand Advocates and Brand Zealots alike. I’d rather work for either group than someone who doesn’t believe in the brand at all. I think it’s easier to rein in a zealot than it is to pump up a cynic or worse, the marketer who is indifferent. I’ve worked with them, too. It’s no fun.

I credit David Moore (, a recent guest on The Brief Bros. (episode 33), which I co-host with my friend and colleague Henry Gomez ( with sharing a revealing story about a Brand Zealot for whom he once worked.

This zealot was a senior brand executive who hired David’s ad agency, where David was creative director, to produce a major new advertising campaign that launched in conjunction with a splashy event at the brick and mortar location. When a major rain storm washed out the event, the senior brand executive was livid.

“The ad campaign failed!” he harrumphed, according to David.

“But it rained all weekend,” replied David to the sullen exec.

The brand executive would not see reason. He was the true believer, the unrelenting self-righteous Brand Zealot who would not allow himself to accept that a downpour would stop sane people from attending an outdoor event for a product, his product, that was without question superior to its competitors.

You gotta admire such steadfast belief.

Except that such zealotry can lead to brand disaster.

In our world, there are many such Brand Zealots. Also in our world, the ad agency has many tools at its disposal to corral such zealotry. One of the more effective tools is the creative brief.

In the right hands, a creative brief forces both writer and reader to focus on singularities: a single problem, a single objective, a single customer (who represents the universal customer), a single insight, a single proposition.

To the Brand Zealot, this is no doubt an uncomfortable document because the zealot cannot contain the ways his product can make your life better, easier, more fun, and so on.

A brief forces the zealot to endure a kind of product benefit surgery, limiting what ought to be communicated.

This is the brief’s gift (to creatives) and its curse (to Brand Zealots).

But it is a necessary requirement for the sake of the brand.

I may be wrong, but Brand Zealots tend to reach the highest levels of a company’s leadership. More often than not, Branding Zealots tend to reach the highest levels of creative leadership in the advertising industry.

And thus the fertile ground for battle.

The creative brief may not stop the rain, nor rein in the Brand Zealot.

But as a tool for brand clarity, it is hard to beat. Which may cause you to think I’m a Creative Brief Zealot. Not so. I just play one on TV.

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