How a bad brief finds its way into a creative shop if it needed to be precise to deliver the best job? Think about other industries; even if the customer does not have any knowledge about what (s)he is seeking for, or trying to explain it very badly, a good sales person can easily navigate within the maze of indecisiveness and make the customer feel better at the end. If the customer happens to be as stubborn as a goat -and well, you just need the money-, you just give what (s)he thinks (s)he is asking for and let them go away with a bad choice. That can be fair. But talking behind a customer and despise the brief that you have already accepted is not fair trade. Cannot be. It is just the arrogance of the vulnerable. 

To make my point clear, I remember the times that I watched this insightful video and felt the empathy, now I just feel sorry.

So again, how come a bad brief goes into a creative shop? Because the ‘smart’ business guru -the account director- takes it in with an appraisal, but just stating a concern on the timing and budget requirements. A brief is never bad if it helps them to bring more budget and look busier. Then this successful person goes to the ‘smartest’ species on earth: the creative strategist, who gets pissed off and makes fun of the ‘business challenge’ which usually looks like a wish list: we want recruitment, and loyalty and ambassadorship and some more market share…

Strategist would say the brief is generic, there is no real market truth lying under. Definitely (s)he would ask for some quality input before doing anything. That is the same smartest person that always offered generous help to the brand manager and asked to be on board immediately when a problem pops up. So the lazy arrogance of the strategist would push back a desperate call of another lazy arrogant marketeer and let the precious time pass by. And then the same smartest strategist would realise that there will be no time left for the creatives to work and the need to ‘give up’ in time. Then (s)he would pimp up the one (s)he had on day 1 and share with the creatives. This very mutant brief is always perceived as a saviour on client side but as a nitrogen bomb on the creatives’. The brief now has a posh make over which creates a new, unnecessary layer for the creatives to see the real business challenge. They always get lost, they lose the connection with the product and they try to dig into this puzzling brief to find the rarest gem. However since the brief has no solid substance they would dive into a dark sea, then go deeper following the hope of finding the gem which would lead them to have a martini effect eventually. Not a happy ending. Blame whomever you can. Time is over.

So we never ever got the perfect brief anyways. The thing is when things are urgent and when the problem is not that clear, it is useless to have discussions around every section in the brief format. So what makes a bare-minimum brief? The most used answer would be defining a relevance point, a usp/benefit/purpose/an offer/a what’s-in-it-for-me… simply a ‘why’.

But defining a ‘why’ is not easy when you do not have a reference point or a reason to believe, which are either linked or derived from the ‘insight’ for many of us. But where to look for an insight then?

Again the smartest species would say that research agencies always share the most generic insights, which is the truth in most cases. Since most research methodologies are reflective, like listening to an echo, you hear what you have said. Consumers echo what you teach them, the cliches you repeat. So if the research is not deep enough, you will catch the jellyfishes on the surface but not the salmon. And if it is too deep and too crowded, you’ll lead the creatives to dive into a darkness and experience the martini effect.

So what should the researches focus on? The most common answer will be ‘a relevant tension’. For example,  if you are in finance business, the tension should be around the financial matters; running after enough wealth for the family’s future, needing money for business investments, making the best of the savings you have, going through tough times as SMEs… So if you search about relevant tension points and aspirations, you will get closer to an insight and then a relevance point, then comes the resolution that a brand/product can offer. Simply a ‘why’. But the research agencies are usually briefed to understand the brands’ perceptions, not the audience’s psyche deeply and they can never have the luxury to dive into a tension point. The clients see researches as a tool to back up their thinking or as shortcuts to make some decisions without taking any initiative: why not a focus group would not shape their new advertising campaign? Let’s test the new creative concepts with them. Let them decide…. 

Not so interesting, these are the basics we all know, right? We all know if you do research to find that relevance point, it shouldn’t be hard to handle the brief for your agency. No smart asses would question your brief. It is easy. But things work out without it anyways. So why bother. Your conventional ad agency doesn’t require any and gets whichever brief you write anyways. 

And here comes my question: do the agencies know anything about their positioning?  What is their relevance then? How do ad agencies differentiate themselves, do they have a persona or a value that they really stick to. Do they have tools to understand their audience’s tensions and insights? Did they make proper researches about their industry? Do they have a data, do they have a solid marketing strategy? Why not? And if they do not use them, why do they ask their clients to have them? 

Conventional ad agencies usually under estimate the media agencies, digital disciplines, pr people, event agencies, sampling, shopper, etc. But they are the only ones that have vague metrics to offer, but post-rationalize everything. They don’t have enough data and holistic tools to judge your kpi’s, they do not have a measurement to show how effective is the idea they present. Full of intuitions, full of assumptions.

I am an intuitive person myself, and I perceive it as a gift. So i can easily weigh an idea and tell if it is strong or not. But there is no metrics of intuitions, I know. So when someone questions an intuition, you have no objective answer but -hopefully- persuasive negotiation skills (and some back-ups from a manipulated qualitative research). So marketing the advertising is very dependant on those persuasive sales people. They navigate in mazes of indecisiveness and use their creative genius to solve a problem and use their persuasion skills to make it real. So no need to try to make it seem cooler than it is. No agency networks or creative shops are superior brands. They are all dependant to some creative genius and the sales capabilities of their team.

Is it sustainable? Now there are many little creative shops around with the leadership of a millennial creative that had two lions in Cannes last year. The big shops, they cannot afford to recruit the best talent anymore. They had to share their budgets with many new shops and they are opening cheap creative factories around the world just to deliver the basics. And the clients are struggling to manage too many creative egos and too little  constructive inputs. They are sick of agencies fake appreciations and overwhelming nagging.

So where is it going?

For me, it is getting better. We were not designing communication, we were creating branded propaganda. We didn’t know what we were talking about, now we need to own our brands and products. That will make us learn how to communicate genuinely. It will take time. Whenever we’d leave the conventional processes aside and manage the brands in a real time beta mode as a well synchronised one big creative genius, the era of Mad Men will end. There will be no bad briefs to shame, there will be no bad clients, there will be no indecisiveness but a continuous relevance.

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