Making Ads Part 2 - nailing the brief is the job half done

Here we are, in the middle of February and the year already seems to be slipping by. I thought its only been a few weeks since I wrote the last post, but then realized that the few weeks was actually last year and almost 2 months have gone by. So here I am writing the next part of the "Making Ads" saga.

I am sure all of us have heard & maybe also used the age old saying "an ad is only as good as the brief" and even if it makes the creative people sometime wince; its actually true. The essence and the magic of a creative truly is in the brief. And hence, the next obvious question is what's in a brief. 

Before I actually say what's in a brief or rather how to go about writing a brief; I think it’s important to call out what's not in a brief and what should not be in a brief. Firstly, your vision of what the ad should look like should not be in a brief because you are not the creative team and even if you can be one; it does not help anyone if you put a story in the brief. Secondly, your own crafted tagline cannot be the brief for the creative team. I am sure it is great - well, I have been there as well and I totally believed I was creative enough to actually be a tagline. But it never is so let's not put it in the brief. Lastly, the consumer in the brief cannot be your self-reflection of yourself as the consumer. As a generation even when we are buyers of the products/brand the brief is for; we do not think or consumer advertising like the populace and we shouldn't even try and pretend that we do. 

So now what should a good brief be about....but before we start let me please say this. Read this blog as a sequel to the first part. a lot of the pre-work has been done there and this will make more sense to you if you go through it before this one. 

Let's start with how a brief should be written and what it is used for. A creative brief has to be co-owned by the planner & the brand manager. So this document is what you actually give to a planner to fine tune and help you articulate parts of it which is the perspective they can add. Then the planners convert it into a creative brief for the creative team. They use parts of the brief and make it more human and real for it to act as a springboard for the creative team to think about. 

Every organization has a particular format for writing a creative brief and fortunately or unfortunately you have to follow it. So I am not going to do this is any particular format but basically just touch upon the elements that are necessary in a brief and things which make a brief good. A disclaimer here I think is necessary. These are entirely personal views borrowed from my experience but they are not a science and maybe there are people who approach or write briefs differently and get better output. I am just capturing what I have learnt & done so far.

1.      What is the business issue this copy will solve? This is not about increasing market share or accelerate growth or such generic things. Every brief has to have a particular problem it needs to solve and it needs to basically be your marketing & business strategy thinking condensed into a paragraph & a tiny box. This means you need to be extremely selective about the choices you make. There is only & only 1 business problem this particular brief & comms coming out of this brief can resolve. Unless, of course this is a campaign or a brand relaunch brief which is a different demon altogether.

2.       What is the role of communication? Now, this is not a twisted way of writing the business problem. No, it is really about behaviour change. What is it that you want this communication to do for your consumer? I usually use a tool called the transformation matrix. It is a simple 2X2 matrix that helps me think and put the role of my comms into a precise, concise & water tight narrative. This is what a transformation matrix looks like.

Now, let’s explain this matrix using an example. I am going to use a category that I have not worked on so that I cannot be blamed for having insider information. I am going to judge and populate the matrix basis the little idea I have about the category and advertisement and then take it from there. Let’s take the case of a seasonal category – body lotions for instance. The consumer belief is that winters means dry weather which saps the skin of its moisture and hence you need heavy moisturisation during winters to prevent your skin from becoming dry because the evidence of dryness is very real for the consumer. If you scratch your arm or even if you don’t’ there is clear evidence of skin drying up. Hence, this current think translates into the current do of adding a body lotion to the monthly shopping list in the winter months. As a brand, you want to increase your usage in non-winter months also and hence through your comms you want the desired think to be something along the lines of – your skin loses moisture to the harsh atmosphere like pollution, sun, soap, water etc. and hence irrespective of the weather it needs a protection layer that will keep your skin soft. The desired do that you want out of this is that she buys a body lotion as a regular item in her monthly shopping basket.

Hence, the role of the comms is very clearly visible from this exercise. I am a huge fan of the transformation matrix and so much so that sometimes I use it to even work on my concepts. I anyhow love putting things in a framework. I think all things in life can be put in a 2X2 or max a 3X3 matrix and then be resolved. But more on that some other day.

3.      Who is the TG? The previous post clearly outlines how to arrive at this. Here, I just want to point out what this section is used for. The demographics help the creative team to visualize this consumer – where he/she lives, the locality, the clothes, the language, the culture codes, their place on the modernity scale and aspiration scale. This is what determines whether your protagonist will wear a sari or jeans or say Namaste or hello. Basically this section of the brief determines the look & feel of the comms. A new dimension to this look & feel is the ease of use of technology – what is the technology you can show in your ad comes out of a sharp & well defined definition of the TG.

4.      What is the insight? I don’t think there is a topic more researched, written about or discussed than consumer insight. Consumer insight is like the quest for the deathly hallows. Many try and search for it but it takes someone special to unite the hallows. Pardon my Harry Potter reference for those of you who haven’t read the books but then it’s my favourite so I guess we shall just roll with it. I can also write about it endlessly but I don’t think this is either place or we have the time to delve very deep into it. In nut shell, an insight is the “Why” of a consumer behaviour. What makes a consumer do what he/she does? Not the action but the reason behind it. It takes a lot of consumer work, meeting a lot of people before narrowing down on their motivations behind the actions. This is also a critical piece of the puzzle that the planner helps you put in. And eventually the planner will take this section of the brief and combine it with the next one that I will tell you about and marry them both to give the creative team a springboard to jump from.

5.      What is the single minded message? Well it sounds super simple but it often isn’t. A tip I do want to give from the beginning is that this part of the brief should be debated till everyone including sr. management is on board because if this is not aligned then the comms will never be aligned within the system. Also, once you have steered the creative to think in a certain direction, it is difficult to steer them away from it and the ghost of the direction will always stay in their minds. And it may sound simple but it is not. Often we are not able to narrow down to the 1 thing we want the comms to talk about. We often want to squish in as many things as we can and make it sound like the consumer is buying us because of the package deal. But it is not true. Every piece of communication can only do 1 thing and 1 thing only. So please be specific about what you want it to do. Don’t be greedy. Make more copies/print ads/facebook posts or whatever else works for your audience to communicate the multiple messages but please don’t put them all in 1 piece of communication. No consumer can take that more than 1 message so make hard choices.

And with that we are done with what comprises a brief and how to go about it. Hopefully it has been helpful. I do also want to point out here that it may seem like this brief can work only for a TV ad but honestly this is a brief for a communication piece. You will need to change the role of the communication or the insight or something else, to make it conducive to digital but the rest of it is just the same. In fact, if as marketers we do this exercise for our digital assets as well we may have assets that add value & sales to our brands and not just create “buzz”.

Another disclaimer I do want to put at this point is that a good brief can enable a good functioning hard selling ad. The magic of advertising sits in the copywriter’s brain. What makes a good ad great is actually the craftsmanship and the creativity of the genius minds who can tell stories in 20-30 seconds. So, let them fly and bring back the stars for you. Your job is to define the skies they fly in and that is what your brief does.

With this we come to the end of the 2nd part of this story. The 3rd and the last part will talk about AD and our roles & responsibilities there. For those of you who have managed to get so far without having to go to the first post on this topic, well now you will have to because what AD stands for you will understand only if you read that.

Until next time……


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