Interrogating the brief


All ad agency creatives have the same starting point – the brief. How they evolve the brief will determine its outcome.

When you come out of a briefing session there are several questions you need to ask yourself, according to Australian creative director and copywriter Roseanna Donovan of Red Words Pty Ltd.

“Firstly, do you understand the brief? Does the person who wrote the brief understand it? For instance, I’ve seen the phrase: “this brand has to be the now, always,’ in many a briefing session and I’ve still not managed to figure out what it means.

“By definition a brief should be brief, one page maximum. A brief that states the obvious is not much use and, if you make a broad generalisation about your audience, then you’ve lost the thread,’ says Donovan, who presented at last year’s PromaxBDA Africa.

The first thing you have to know about the brief is what the client is selling – this is the nucleus of any brief, the benefit or proposition.

Donovan continues: “What you’re really selling is an emotion and the proposition is underneath that – are you selling fear, joy, reassurance, love of home, power, status or family?

“Interrogate the brief to figure out who are you really talking to. What psychographics do they have in common? Does this audience remind you of anyone? Talk to “that person’ not “those people’.

“Good writing is like conversation. When you’ve figured out who you’re talking to then it will be a meaningful conversation. For example, if your client is an airline wanting to promote loyalty then you immediately think of rewards points. If the airline wants to promote the love of the airline then you promote the country,’ she states.

The “why’

The next thing the creative needs to do is interrogate why consumers should believe in (or buy) the product.

“People buy primarily because of their emotions,’ comments Donovan. “You need to talk to people as consumers and give them reasons to believe in the product. Tell the consumer what he or she doesn’t know. But do it differently; when everyone else is shouting, whisper.

“Be polite and civil to “the audience of one’ because you’re an uninvited guest in that person’s mind. Always assume the person at the other end doesn’t know anything. Keep the concept and message simple, clear and different. No matter how small the budget or how tight the deadline, the one thing you need is the idea.’

The “how’

Donovan notes that advertising that works has common factors: it gets noticed; positions the product clearly and competitively; breaks the pattern (cuts through); generates trust; reflects the character of the product; is relevant to the consumer; appeals to both heart and head; and speaks with one voice.

“The idea and the execution of the idea are not the same thing,’ she explains. “Execution transports the idea and adds depth to it. This can include flashy visuals, catchy music and sound effects. In some cases execution can become the idea but only if it’s done really well.

“Try not to let the current fad take over your execution. When you see the latest Cannes Lions winners, appreciate them but don’t reproduce them. Your message has to generate trust and that’s in your own specific voice. You have to approach the people you’re talking to with love, so lose any pre-conceived ideas or bigotry.

“Reflect the product – don’t use a piece of classical music to advertise a sink cleaner because it will make the product look ridiculous. Think and speak in the tone and environment of the product.’

She describes market research as the “necessary thorn’ under the creative’s saddle. Ideally creatives should get in on the research process early so that they can suggest questions and hopefully generate more qualitative rather than quantitative research.

The truth about ideas

“The idea is not in your head – you have to go out and find it,’ says Donovan. “Finding the big idea is an arduous and strangely uncreative process. You have to learn how to sell your idea as well as find it. To do this comb other people for ideas and have your antenna out all the time. Keep a notebook by your bed and all over the house for whenever you have the glimmer of an idea.’

She believes that re-writing the brief can be a great gate-opener in your mind. One place to look for ideas is the product name or logo in order to avoid the risk of generic advertising.

“Make sure the product is on your desk or go on a factory tour because knowledge spawns ideas. Find out how the product is made, get to know its history and go through its old advertising. Try and make friends with the client as there is great information in old filing cabinets – like old photos for instance. In tough times nostalgia sells.

“Look at social issues as what is happening now is what is really important. Good luck stories sell so try and find them, but be aware that news can change overnight.’

In conclusion Donovan stresses that interrogating a brief is a team sport.

“Involve everyone in the agency who was present at the briefing session,’ she advises.

Compiled by Joanna Sterkowicz

screen africa magazine – march 2013


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