To master the art of reviewing creative work, be like Spock.

As a new member of the faculty of the School of Marketing for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), I will be traveling around the country leading workshops on how to write the creative brief. It is an opportunity I relish.
I’ve recently been asked to develop a new workshop on best-practices around reviewing advertising creative. Clients rightly want to improve their skills at critiquing the work they see from their ad agency or in-house advertising department partners.

This topic is a natural extension of the creative brief. The brief is the first step in the creative process, and looking at, and giving feedback on, the work that comes from the brief is the (hoped for) final step. Rarely, of course, does first-round creative work become accepted creative work. I am working mightily to correct this situation!

That’s why fine-tuning one’s skills in creative feedback is so important. A well-written creative brief can eliminate, or at least reduce, the likelihood of work that misses the mark. Possessing the skills and the insights to provide valuable feedback on the presented work also keeps the process on track.

The core message of my new workshop is: Be like Spock. Mr Spock

Even if you’re not a fan of Star Trek, I’m counting on your familiarity with this science-fiction icon. Mr. Spock was the finest First Officer in Star Fleet for a reason. He has much to teach us.

You’ll have to attend my ANA workshop to hear the entire story I present on creative review best practices, but I’ll offer you a small taste today.

So why Mr. Spock?

Because he was endowed with talents most humans only aspire to. He could remove his ego from any situation. He presented Captain Kirk with facts and evidence, not solutions. He always deferred judgment until he had the facts. We must–and can–emulate these skills to become masters of creative feedback.

My ANA workshop presents eight steps to mastering an effective creative review, but today I’ll share three:

1. Never use the word “I” when you give feedback on creative work.

Your only yardstick for reviewing creative is the creative brief. Your opinion does not matter. Creative review is not about you. Which means you must eliminate certain vocabulary when you discuss the work with your creative partners. Words and phrases such as “I like” and “I don’t like” and “good” and “bad.” These words have no place in a creative review.

Instead, focus on facts. Offer a critique, not criticism. Your mentor critiques. Your mother criticizes.

“I don’t like this color” is useless criticism. “This color does not align with the tone of the ad’s message” is what Mr. Spock might say. It is a concrete starting point for improving the work. It is constructive. You’ve removed yourself from the picture. You’ve squelched your ego.

The locus of your critique is the creative brief, which should be the source of information on the communication’s “tone of voice.” (There’s a box for that. If you don’t have one on your brief, add it. Now.)

2. You know too much.

This is perhaps the hardest truth for anyone on the client side to admit. You’re just lost in the weeds of your brand. Rightly so. You are the brand expert. The brand guardian. You have to know it intricately and intimately. Which means you do not have the necessary objectivity, by definition, to see what you need to see. Big head

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” you say. “I know all that. Remove my client cap and put on my consumer hat. This is old news!”

Good! I’m glad you remember this axiom. But do you actually practice it? I’m here to be your mother and remind you.

One best-practice technique I know many marketers insist on: They leave one chair empty and designate it as “our target audience” when they gather in a conference room to review creative work. How often do they remember to acknowledge its presence?

You do not have fresh eyes when it comes to your brand. Never forget.

3. You are not the target audience.

These are fighting words among some advertisers. Brand people, product people, client representatives—they all swear they use and love the products they sell. Uh-huh. I get it. Your point?

See #2 above. Numbers 2 and 3 are essentially the same message, but both phrases need to be said. Over and over.

All three points are different ways of saying the same thing:


You must know your audience better than anyone, but never believe this knowledge makes you the audience. This self-awareness will help you avoid costly creative mistakes.

THE CREATIVE BRIEF IS YOUR CHECKLIST. Remember to start and end with the brief. It is your guide. The work you evaluate must spring from it. It must be both the logical result, and produce the resonating emotion, of the brief.

If you stick to these simple rules, your creative partners—ad agency or in-house creative department—will have little cause to object to your comments and requests for changes. Your feedback will be based on facts, not emotions.

Because it’s always better to respond like Mr. Spock rather than Dr. McCoy. Piece3



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