How does the creative brief reflect changes in our industry?

When thought leaders—and here I refer specifically to account planners, fellow practitioners and pundits who blog, address conferences and write articles—talk about what new directions advertising is taking, they tend to speak about how consumers connect to brands.
That’s hardly a revelation.

For example, one of the more recognized thought leaders in our industry is Russell Davies, who blogs regularly. I was sent a PowerPoint presentation recently that included this quote from Russell:

“The whole industry is obsessed with the idea of a simple message, endlessly repeated…What people actually want is stuff with complexity, some meat, some richness…Not stuff that’s distilled to a simple essence or refined to a single compelling truth. No one ever came out of a movie and said, ‘I really like that. It was really clear.'”

What struck me about Russell’s observation is not that consumers are smarter than some of us give them credit for and can understand intelligent communications, something David Ogilvy said decades ago.

What struck me was his notion of the sacredness of the single compelling truth. If he’s right, at least part of the reason has to be the responsibility of its role in the creative brief. Everything in the brief points to that one key thought. All the objectives, all the consumer insights, everything we learn about who our brand loyalist is and why she is.

We’ve been trained to focus on this central reality without really thinking about it.

Since no one gets a real education in how to write this document, unless you’re an account planner, we tend not to examine its make up, the individual questions it asks us as we march to the inevitable conclusions that every creative brief reaches.

This is my obsession, of course, but it leads me to ask, “Well, why don’t we re-examine the brief? It’s not carved in stone!”

Except that it is. Because those of us who use it don’t think about it. We’re too busy doing the work.

And that’s exactly why we have thought leaders, people like Russell Davies, who challenge our thinking.

But the good news is, whether there’s agreement or not on the role of the “single compelling truth,” the creative brief, that ubiquitous document everyone loves to bemoan and ignore, has the ability to address change.

The creative brief is not the last stage of the strategic process. It’s the first step in the creative process. If you want to make a change in how advertising connects people to brands, start with the creative brief.

You can debate the correctness of Russell’s observations. But you can’t debate the importance of the document creatives use to translate those insights into effective, measurable communications.

The vessel is worth only as much as the value of the information you place in it.

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