Rather than make predictions for 2023, I choose to draw some conclusions about the status of the creative brief in our industry. I was a practicing copywriter and creative director in legacy ad agencies for 26 years. I started writing about and teaching creative briefs in 2004, so I’m about to enter my 19th year as a brief educator. That gives me a bit of perspective.
Predictions are easy and usually incorrect. Humans have been predicting the demise of __________ since the advent of communication. The creative brief is one item on a long list whose future, relevance, and effectiveness have been routinely dismissed. And yet the brief is here and discussed regularly. Allow me to begin with this fact.
That the brief remains a topic of discussion speaks to its vitality.
I limit my exposure to social media to the world of LinkedIn and Youtube. A video podcast I co-host with Henry Gomez, VP/Director of Strategy at Zubi Advertising is posted regularly on Youtube as well as here on my website and shared on LinkedIn. I am therefore not privy to other discussions about advertising and creative briefs on other social media outlets, but I am nevertheless impressed with the number of ad folk who bring it up, offer ideas and tips and examples of great templates and otherwise balance their laments over bad briefs or no briefs with suggestions and invitations for further discussion.
Let me start by giving credit to advocates for the brief on LinkedIn (and I assume elsewhere) who keep the discussion going. Some names in particular need recognition: Matt Davies and Pieter-Paul von Weiler, founders of BetterBriefs.com, who shared with the ad world the results of their global survey about the Grand Canyon-wide chasm separating perception from reality between marketers and creatives on the quality of creative briefs delivered to ad agencies. Their report is well worth the read. And will be a surprise to absolutely no one.
Also a hearty shout-out to Phil Blackmore, who was one of many who posted on LinkedIn about briefs. Phil shared a creative brief template written by Steve Harrison, author of Can’t Sell Won’t Sell, that is arguably definitive and provoked much discussion. Phil’s post garnered over 1,200 views, 182 comments and 98 reposts. And he is not the first to post, or re-post, Steve’s still-valuable template.
These three brief “provocateurs” deserve kudos for asking difficult questions and inspiring productive conversations about the creative brief. They are but a few who keep the conversations fresh, the thinking vibrant.
Evidence, to my mind, that the creative brief is alive and well as we head into 2023 (there’s a prediction implicit in that statement).
Creativity always needs a spark.
No matter who gets credit for coming up with the creative brief that we use today, its premise is ancient and known to anyone who plays in the sandbox of the imagination: an idea does not spring from a vacuum. It needs a shove.
Read James Webb Young’s brilliant deconstruction of idea generation A Technique for Producing Ideas. The first item on his short list is information. Without raw materials, the human brain flops about and gasps for air like a fish on shore.
But information does not need a brief to live, some say. True, but the right information, distilled to its essence, is required. The design of a brief forces the authors to reduce, reduce and reduce. Without this framework, information overflows and eventually overwhelms. The brief imposes discipline on its authors. With that discipline, the spark finds air and breathes.
The brief is not a form, it is an art form. It is the first step of the creative process. Rather than facing extinction, I would argue that the brief’s practitioners are still learning how to perfect it. The best such practitioners will be the first to tell you they struggle—even with decades of experience under their belts—to get it right.
For good reason, there is no alternative to the brief.
For all the complaining I have read about and listened to over the years about the weakness of a brief or that it has outlived its usefulness, I have never seen anything better to replace it. I have seen maybe a thousand variations of the template, countless ways to ask the same questions, but the purpose has not changed.
Creatives need the “emotional translation of the strategy.” Those five words summarize the best definition I have ever heard of a creative brief. Whether the brief is three words in length (“Make us famous” offered up by my friend Bob Hoffman) or a two-page narrative, matters little. Its look and length have evolved over the decades. But every call for “F*#k the brief” produces the same response. Crickets.
The brief is here and it’s here to stay. And that’s a good thing. The State of the Creative Brief is healthy.