Myths about creative briefs (they’re not what you think).

Creative briefs were “invented” if that’s the word a long time ago. Some credit the arrival of account planning in the mid-1960s, but I think the brief, in one form or another, probably existed long before then.

And with any history comes mythology, or in 21st century parlance, misinformation.

At the risk of giving them oxygen simply by writing them down, the following “myths” will receive their deserved wooden stakes plunged as deeply and fatally into their shriveled, cold hearts as I am able.

Myth #1: A creative brief solves the advertising problem for creatives.

In the wrong hands, a brief can be dictatorial rather than directional. Mike Teasdale made the case for this point of view in his WARC article, “When the brief gives you grief.” (see Cul-de-Sac brief). This example comes from brief writers, whoever they may be, who are creative wannabes. They think the creative brief is the end of the process, not the beginning.

The creative brief should not solve the problem for creatives by suggesting the creative idea. That this is the creative brief’s purpose is a myth. That it happens, sadly, is not a myth, but it should be.

Myth #2: A creative brief traps the creatives and ties their hands.

Closely related to #1 above, some argue against the need for a creative brief for this reason, or rather this myth. A well-written brief liberates, it does not trap.

A well-written brief puts creatives in a box, but always leaves an out. The idea of “liberating constraint” is ancient, premised on the notion that boundaries are necessary for the imagination. Non-creative people are the ones who do not get this concept and therefore have little faith in the document and the process.

Myth #3: A creative brief is old school and no longer plays a valuable role in advertising.

Only non-creative folks give this any thought at all. Creatives crave the simple strategic reduction of a well-written brief. Not for nothing is David Ogivly quoted over and over again: “Give me the freedom of a tight creative brief.”

The people who play in this sandbox also believe that the metaverse is real and digital advertising will replace television.

Myth #4: A creative brief is neither creative nor brief.

The vast majority of briefs probably fit this description and therefore gave birth to this myth. But most creatives have seen a handful of great briefs in their creative lives. The more senior you are, the more likely this is true. What is also true is that the number of great briefs they see remains small and grows smaller with each passing year, because the bad ones add up quickly.

Even remembering the great briefs becomes difficult for their rarity. So when a really good brief appears, it’s almost hard to fathom.

And thus the myth lives on.

Myth #5: Creatives don’t want a creative brief.

The best, or worst, for last. Oh, no, no, no. Creatives live for an inspiring, insightful, cogent brief. Being handed such a specimen is like winning the lottery.

If you even think this myth is true, you have become so out of touch with the creative process you probably need a vacation. Or retirement.

The brief is an arrow pointing the way. The brief says to us: take your first step over there…no, a little more to the right. Okay, you got it. But then in the next breath, the brief says, Hey, bud, you’re on your own. I got you started. You take it from here. The best brief writers know this is what they’ve done. They are experienced nudgers.

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