Three clues to spotting a poorly written creative brief, part 3

A quick refresher:
If the Unique Selling Proposition (USP), or a single-minded proposition, is neither unique nor single-minded, you’re enduring a poorly written creative brief.

The USP is the essence of a well-written brief. It’s the first thing we creatives look at because if this part of the brief is weak, little else matters.

Two: did the writer choose marketing speak and business language? Or words a creative can use? Is the brief filled with useless information that would never be found in good advertising? This is a sign of laziness and inexperience. Go back to your brief writer and work together to improve the brief.

Finally, the third clue that will tell you a brief is poorly written. It stands out in the box labeled “Target audience” and the technique is used rampantly…


It looks like this:

  • HHI = $76K
  • 21–54 years old
  • 50% men, 50% women
  • College 39%
  • HS 58%
  • Owns 43%
  • Rents 59%
  • Blah, blah, blah 107%

This offense is just inexcusable. It’s about as imaginative as a block of cement. Actually, that’s an insult to the cement.

Unless you’re expect to create lifeless advertising, and I know you don’t, bullet points filled with statistics about who uses a product add up to almost less than nothing. They mean nothing. You can extract zero valuable conclusions and therefore no inspiration from information…factoids…such as you find in lists like this.

And it passes for acceptable.

Only if you let it. If you see this kind of drivel on a creative brief and you say nothing, you get what you deserve. And you’ll be left to fend for yourself.

What’s the alternative?

Try this one on for size. It’s from a creative brief written by someone at Leo Burnett for a Proctor & Gamble product:

Cold sufferers. You know how you feel when you’ve got a cold—that pathetic little inner-child of yours suddenly wakes up and, before you know it, you’re moaning & whining, you’ve gone all whiney & wimpy, all snivel, snot & slovenly; red raw puffy eyes, pale skin, lank hair—everything seems to be sagging! You feel like something from a Salvador Dali painting; you want to snuggle up in bed and dammit—you want your Mummy! But it’s not fair, is it, because no one else takes your suffering seriously—”Good God, pull yourself together, man, we’re not talking leprosy here! Don’t be such a baby, get on with it, stop moaning!”

“Yes, your instincts tell you to be a child, but you’re not allowed to because you’ve “only” (only!) got a cold. And worse still–oh, the cruel irony!–even your attempts to retain your adulthood in the midst of your suffering betrays that sniveling little inner-child of yours: “oh don’t worry about me, I’ll be all right…”, “…no, no, please, I don’t want to sound like a martyr…”, “…well, I’m feeling a little better now, thank you…”

I’m sorry, but when you’ve got a cold you’re doomed to be a Child–Adult

Okay, now that’s a description of a target worthy of a creative brief. Hell, it’s just plain great copy period! At least it’s inspirational. At most it’s envy producing. If I were part of a creative team tasked with writing ads for this cold medicine, I’d care more about not disappointing the brief writer than I would be about disappointing my creative director!

Is it really all that difficult to produce three paragraphs of copy to describe the ideal person who uses or should use your product? If the answer is yes, the brief writer should seriously consider a new line of work.

Bullet points as substitutes for 3-D pictures of the user of a product are…no pun intended…deadly. They kill inspiration.

If you, the brief reader, see them, go back to the brief writer and get more and better information.

Tell them I sent you. Blame it on me.

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