Thursday, February 7, 2019

Is a Super Bowl Creative Brief different from a normal Creative Brief?

Now that the dust has settled on the Super Bowl of Advertising (what - there was also a football game? who knew?) the same question we ask every year, is being asked again. What does a Super Bowl ad brief look like and how is it different from the briefs we usually churn out?

One thing that has to be true is that if writing creative briefs is hard then writing great creative briefs is extremely difficult. Especially when you have 100 million pairs of eyeballs waiting for you.

The main problems in briefs are usually a lack of clarity of thought and an uninspiring proposition. These arise because sometimes the brief-writer isn't clear why they're really asking for this piece of communication, or what they really want to say, or who they really want to say it to. But, most of all they don't know why anyone should believe them.

So they write briefs that offer their creative teams, and their consumers', too many choices. 

Then they use the creative offering to whittle down to what they think they should say.

"Actually, that wasn't really what I had in mind... What I think we really should be saying, maybe, is ....."

Of course it's not always that bad. Some creative briefs are perfect.

But now imagine the pressure of the Super Bowl. Not only do we have to think about what to say and how to say it - we have to know that more than 100 million people are going to watch the outcome.

So, how does a Super Bowl Ad Brief differ from the Common Client Ad Brief?

Is there a different approach to writing the brief for communication that will be watched, and analysed, and talked about by millions?

And, with so many eyes on these ads, why is that some just don't hit the mark, some are bad, and some are amazing?

Many moons ago when I first started pondering this question, I picked up a quote from a Bloomberg's Business Week article entitled "Game on: Super Bowl ads are already playing online". It was from David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO North America,  who "advises keeping an ad simple and honest. “It should also be an easy, reductionist message,” says Lubars. “You’re getting a canvas that 120 million people will see. You have to go where nobody has gone before. The ad has to be single-minded, relevant, funny, and emotional. If it’s done right, $4 million (for a 30 - sec spot) is a bargain. I would say 90 percent of the people running ads are wasting their money.”

Monday, January 21, 2019

Brief writing - it's harder than you think

I'm republishing this blog post from 2015 because you may have been too busy to read it last time (*it's a pleasure*) and because this area of activity, whether it's written by the marketer or by the agency - is a  perennial challenge. And it's vital to get it right. Because of that, I've launched Brief Therapy to help you. (*it's a pleasure, again*). Read about it below and if you need more help - get in touch


The biggest problem with brief writing is that people think they're easy to write.

Typical Marketing Department:
"We're going to grab a sandwich. Coming?"
"Sure, give me ten minutes. Just need to get a brief to the Agency".

Typical Client Service Department:
"We're going for sushi. Coming?"
"Sure, give me ten minutes. Just need to get a brief into Traffic".

A great brief needs to be very, very clear what the resultant output should achieve. More than that it must inspire, in fact, catapult, the imagination of your creative teams. It needs to immediately conjure up ideas and angles and possibilities and excitement. 

To do that it needs to be a few simple things:

1. Be Clear.
2. Be Concise.
3. Be Clever.
4. Be Creative.
5. Be Collaborative.

I'm going to unpack these in this blog. I've even drawn you a little video in the proposition section. Take a look. 

Be Clear:
Who do you want to do what as a result of this piece of communication?

There's a bunch of choices in there and the catch-all target market definition usually chucked in a brief is a perfect example of lazy thinking, where no choices have been made at all. It's murky and bloated and will undoubtedly lead to obviously murky and inefficient communication output.

To exquisitely illustrate the point, watch this:

Once you've sorted the "who are we talking to" out, then what do you want them to a result of engaging with this piece of communication.

Answering these questions as a "if-then" approach is helpful. Remember, they may be exposed to a whole lot of things that your brand is saying in a whole lot of channels. However - what's this one going to ask the/expect them/persuade them to do?  This is where separating out marketing objectives from communication objectives is so critical. Example, the key job of a banner ad is most likely not to increase brand awareness.

Obviously if the brief is for the BIG IDEA, and you're not down to the individual elements yet, think even more carefully about what the role of the communication will be. What will success look like? Will it (can it) be measured, if so how, and if not - how will you know it worked?

Be Concise:
Doing all of the above thinking - before you write the brief - helps you become focused in your thinking. And so the communication can be focused, and work in an integrated way with all the other bits of communication in your overall plan. If you want to ask your consumers to do ten things, you must realize that not only are you being lazy, but most consumers are. Ask us to do/think/feel/remember one thing, maybe - just maybe - we'll do it. Ten things, or even three? Sorry, what were you saying again?

A creative brief should be no more than two pages. It should tell a story and should read well. Not like a collection of marketing-speak cut and pasted from the brand plan. 

Be Clever:
Find a truly interesting and motivating and deep-seated reason why people do what they do. And find a way of connecting it to what your brand offers. Where the human truth or insight meets your brand truth or insight is where the magic starts happening. This is going to emerge in your brief as the Proposition (see next point).

An example from a recent campaign that I loved the moment I saw it (Boom! Great insight driven work always does that - connects with a Boom!), is Sanlam's One Rand Man campaign. The insight is - my words not theirs - that because we don't physically pay with cash, our money doesn't seem real. 

Be Creative:
This is the real thorn in the side. Here's why you really can't bang it out before lunch.

The inspirational bit of the brief hinges on the Proposition. Call it what you like. The Platform. The Single Minded Thought. The Elevator Pitch. The thing most likely to convince our consumer to do/think/feel what we want them to do/think/feel. This builds on the brand's Value Proposition.

Source: Tim Williams

Usually, you can't get to a great proposition unless you have a really good Insight. Because what we want to do with the proposition is create a launch pad for ideas. The insight helps because it allows you a real understanding of consumer motivations and beliefs - the why not the what. (Insights are something that must be done, along with the Brand's Positioning Statement way before you sit down to write the brief).

The proposition requires creative writing. And understandably not every marketer or account manager is a creative writer. So this proposition can and should be written in collaboration with the agency. In agencies, account managers should be creative. But if they're not, then they should bring in a strategist or a copywriter to get that sentence. Because once you've got it - you're off. That's the catapult to a big idea and a seamless, integrated campaign.

Propositions need also to help make the brand distinctive. Why can this brand solve the tension in that insight better than anyone else? This is when a truly differentiated and distinctive product concept helps. But honestly, how many of those do we see?

So the proposition links a universal insight or truth with a brand truth with something that makes your brand distinctive from the competition or category. Note I said distinctive not differentiated. Distinctiveness is critical when we get to the communication part of the proposition. It sets us apart, maybe tonality, maybe because of an underlying purpose, maybe because of a bottle shape. 

There are a number of obvious examples here but a powerful one is Dove. The fact that a brand based on a moisturising soap can help you acknowledge your inner saboteur and encourage self-belief and self-confidence in young women, is nothing short of miraculous.

Here's how you start (I made a somewhat terribly drawn and narrated little movie):

I find a way to write good propositions is to think of them like headlines. In fact great propositions can be headlines and many end up with tiny tweaks to be payoff lines. How would you write the proposition for this ad?

Human truth: Very few women think they're beautiful (4%).
Brand truth: Dove has a range of everyday beauty products.

So, true to the brand: Dove is a real beauty product
Motivating insight: You are probably more beautiful than you think
Distinctive to the competition: Dove believes in real beauty.

Here are some options (and these take time to write, so you have to try them out until you get to one that sounds like it could create ideas).

Proposition ideas:
With Dove, you know your beauty is real.
Dove helps you be comfortable in your skin.
Dove believes your beauty is within.
Dove - real beauty is more than skin deep.
Dove is a real beauty brand that celebrates real beauty.
Dove wants you to feel more beautiful than you think.

Here's what their VP said:

So "Dove wants you to feel more beautiful than you think" feels quite on-brand and quite creatively liberating doesn't it?

That's probably an easy one, because we know what the output is. I took toothpaste (IMHO a massively undifferentiated and non-distinctive category, except for specialist toothpastes) and here's where I got:

Brand truth: Brand X makes your teeth white and your smile beautiful
Insight: I feel happier if someone smiles at me.
Distinctive: A toothpaste brand that believes in the benefit of smiling.

Proposition attempt: 
Brand X, making the world a happier place, one smile at a time.

I've never worked on a toothpaste brand, but Googling this - smiles are everywhere in toothpaste ads, So that's not distinctive. But it seems that "happiness" could carve a distinctive tonality in the category. Is this Coca Cola's territory? It is close. (Ironically). So we may need to keep working on the line to find the right word. But can you start seeing a campaign around Making the World a Happier Place, a hashtag on Instagram, a Pinterest board, some amazing content possibilities, ads? I can. It has "legs". 

The last piece about "Be Creative" is that you should consider your audience for the brief. The creative team. How can you dramatise the proposition? Where should you do the briefing session? In the boardroom? Or In Real Life somewhere?  Wherever, make it inspiring.

Be Collaborative
As I said at the beginning, briefs are hard to get right. The more heads to bounce ideas off, the better. 

But, this is not a committee. You're asking for clarity and inspiring comment, not "oh and can you add in that we now also close later on Fridays"?

Find people in your organisation that are good with words. Those right brain types. 

And, when you have your briefing session, and in discussion someone creative says "what if we said.....", and comes out with the zinger of propositions, please for the love of great communication, punch the air and say YES that's IT! Instead of "it's not what it says on the brief".

If they feel excited and you feel excited, I promise there's a better chance your consumers will too.


Adtherapy runs  Exceptional Brief Writing workshops for marketers and agencies.  

We also facilitate Proposition Workshops, can help you evaluate and improve your propositions and briefs with our new offering Brief Therapy. 

The Creative Fitness programme also includes Developing Transformative Insights and other useful tools and techniques to make sure your communication is as good as it should be. 

Email or call 0832659099 to discuss how we can help you.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Which Advertising Books Should be Essential Reading?

I am a big fan of advertising and marketing books. I read all of them. Well, okay not ALL of them, but certainly all the ones that people I respect are talking about, and I have shelves full of them (digital and actual bookshelves).

BBH recently decided to put together a World Cup of Advertising Books Tournament  on Twitter, so they compiled a list, which was then voted on by nearly 5000 people.

As with most of these sorts of tournaments, some of the quarter or semi-finals could have indeed been the final, but the winner was a very worthy The Choice Factory, by Richard Shotton. (Follow him too on Twitter - he is a font of information: @rshotton

Amazon calls this book "the new advertising essential". I would agree.

"Before you can influence decisions, you need to understand what drives them. In The Choice Factory, Richard Shotton sets out to help you learn. By observing a typical day of decision-making, from trivial food choices to significant work-place moves, he investigates how our behaviour is shaped by psychological shortcuts. With a clear focus on the marketing potential of knowing what makes us tick, Shotton has drawn on evidence from academia, real-life ad campaigns and his own original research. The Choice Factory is written in an entertaining and highly-accessible format, with 25 short chapters, each addressing a cognitive bias and outlining simple ways to apply it to your own marketing challenges. Supporting his discussion, Shotton adds insights from new interviews with some of the smartest thinkers in advertising, including Rory Sutherland, Lucy Jameson and Mark Earls. From priming to the pratfall effect, charm pricing to the curse of knowledge, the science of behavioural economics has never been easier to apply to marketing. The Choice Factory is the new advertising essential." via

Having said that, I think that the last 16 in the tournament are all essential building blocks; all the books in the quarter finals should be compulsory reading; and there are still many that aren't on there.

It's a worthwhile list to study and to stock up your digital or actual library. And, of course, they would love to know which books are a must-read that they have missed. Let them know via their twitter account: Let me know too

(click to see the full chart)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Creative advertising works better. Now, how can I get it?

Every now and then an article pops into one timeline or other and it's like switching a light on. And then, in very special circumstances an article pops up and it's like someone switched the light on, and a loud "hallelujah" echoed forth. 

In this case, it was this article by Ryan Wallman in Marketing Week.

So what did Ryan say?

In the afterglow or glow of cynicism following the Cannes advertising festival, he poses this simple question to marketers, : "How much should you concern yourself with the creative work that supports your marketing?"

Of course the answer is as simple as the question. A lot. You should concern yourself a lot. Marketers get the agencies they deserve, and they get the creative outputs they deserve. You and I know this. But incredibly there are some marketers that still doubt the effectiveness of creativity.

Ryan helpfully shows us some research:

1. Admap research, based on an analysis of more than 1,500 case studies, which ranked the top 10 factors that drive advertising profitability, showed that creative execution was the second largest contributor to advertising profitability after market size. Read more here

2. A 2017 Nielsen analysis of advertising effectiveness, based on nearly 500 campaigns across all media platforms proved that creative quality was easily the most important factor for generating sales, contributing more than double the next highest factor (reach). In fact, Nielsens says that "creative remains the undisputed champ in terms of sales drivers". Read the report here.

3. He references Les Binet and Peter Field’s work for the IPA, that demonstrated how creatively awarded campaigns are more efficient at driving market share growth than non-awarded campaigns. He also acknowledges some recent criticism of the "Survivorship Bias" of the survey which of course might be valid. However, the results are borne out by other research institutes such as Ehrenberg-Bass and Nielsen who have reached similar conclusions.
Highly creatively awarded campaigns are more efficient and more effective.

The main point of Ryan's article thus far is this: 
"To state what may seem obvious, marketers can benefit from good creative work – and can benefit even more from great work."

But how to get it? 

You might think that research is the answer. Turns out that sometimes gives you the exactly wrong answer. 

"Peter Field has demonstrated a negative correlation between the use of quantitative pre-testing and the success of IPA award entries. This implies that if you use quantitative methods to pre-test your creative work, you might be doing the opposite of what you intend thereby reducing its likelihood of success."

Here's where Ryan gets to the "hallelujah" part.

Loosen your grip on the creative process.
"Creative work is like a rebellious teenager – the more you try to control it, the less it will do what you want.
With that in mind, the first step is to give your agency some space. Brief them well, then let them do their thing.
Second, remember that it doesn’t really matter whether you ‘like’ the creative work or not. What matters is how your customers respond to it.
And third, don’t analyse the work to death. It will inevitably lead to compromise, and the end result will be anodyne (or worse)."

I'm going add some of my own magic dust onto his hallelujah. Here are my simple steps to achieving great creativity.

Understand, and believe in, great:

Take the day off, in fact take one day off every month, and truly understand  what makes great work great, and how it is an undisputed competitive advantage. If you really believe in its efficacy, maybe you'll try harder to make sure you and your teams deliver great, not mediocre-but-meets-the-deadline.
There are hundreds of resources: get your popcorn out and start with this one:  The IPA - effectiveness learnings

Write inspiring, tight briefs:

Briefs are a strategic document - not a process document. And tight doesn't mean prescriptive, it means absolute clarity in terms of the job to be done.
Briefs are way harder to write than anyone thinks and like most chefs can tell you: bad ingredients in, bad meal out. There are a few key tips to writing good briefs - but most important is to understand that it's not something to be banged out in ten minutes, or cut and pasted from last year's brief. Get the right training, get the right people to write them, give enough time for them to be inspiring. Remember also the three drivers of great briefs: Brevity, Clarity, Fertility

Learn how to evaluate and give constructive feedback:

Again, this is harder than it looks. Get your own opinions out the room. Use a tool if it helps to distance yourself. I invented one which I'll give you here for free. I call it R2OI2. (Trips off the tongue doesn't it?) Simple: R = Relevance and Resonance. O = Originality. I = Insight and Idea. and there's ROI = will it deliver against investment and objective?
Biggest wins - a powerful insight and a big idea. If you spend time looking through any Cannes winners' case studies (which you should, after you've done the IPA site backwards), you'll start seeing that insights and ideas are essential. When you evaluate work - if there's a gigantic idea there but you don't like the execution - keep the idea and work on the executions. Mostly, the execution is thrown out with the bathwater. 

And lastly:

Up-skill your team.

Many people land up in marketing or advertising with considerable skills, just not these ones. I'm not being facetious and I'm not saying it because our Creative Fitness and Business Marketing Academy courses could change your life. I mean they could. But, this stuff is difficult and it's risky and it's expensive, yet many people don't know how to do it, and even fewer of then don't know how to do it brilliantly.

It's worth investing the time and money into building these skills. If you don't want to call me to do it, spend some time reading the work of Beloved Brands - there more tools and tips in Graham Robertson's blog and Linked in feed than you can use in a lifetime. He is immeasurably generous with his knowledge.

In the end

We all know creativity works harder and is a competitive advantage and delivers more bang for same buck. In fact the less creative dreck that surrounds us every minute of every day (something above 3000 messages every 24 hours), that we ignore, is often more expensive, takes more time and breaks agency-client relationships.

If you remember only one thing from all of this it's this: Mediocrity is Expensive.

Someone clever said it, and the story of the quote is in itself a lesson. Read about it here.

Make the rest of your year about aiming high. Because your business deserves it.


Contact Gillian on or +27832659099 to help you figure out how to find this holy grail. It's not easy, but it's not hard once you know how.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Trend spotting in the Adbiz, 2018: It's not on top, it's inside.

Every year I am asked to write something for BizCommunity on a trend I foresee, you know, in my crystal ball.

Image courtesy of Jannoon028 at

Most years it's a variation on a theme. More data, more insight, customised communication, the power of mobile...This year - it's something completely new.
Here's my 10 cents worth.

If I close my eyes and picture the world of marketing in 2018, two words come to mind.

They are Watershed Moment: “a critical turning point; a moment in time where everything changes; a point in time when nothing after will ever be the same.”[1]
But doesn’t everyone say that every year?

Yes, there are changes, and things have changed, so what would make 2018 a watershed moment, a critical turning point? Is it not simply a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same?

No. Because the truth is that almost everything has changed in the world of marketing communication.

The only thing that hasn't (enough) is how agencies and marketers work together.

And that’s where I believe the watershed is happening.

We all know that marketers are chasing increasingly tough numbers, and they are searching for innovation, efficiencies and integration to help deliver their goals. 
Unlocking the full benefits of technology is challenging (and full of opportunities) for marketing teams. Same for data. But a major blockage to increasing efficiencies and integration is how they work with agencies and how agencies work.

Marketers have always needed agencies to create the link between the business and the people who need to put their hands in their pockets. They needed agencies to unlock insights to create ideas to change behaviour. They needed agencies to decide where to place the messaging, to buy the space, and to implement the sometimes hundreds of elements across numerous channels. 

They still need a central concept (a big idea) which can be simply communicated based on insights and barriers and whatever will drive consumer behaviour. But more and more of the pieces of the puzzle could be done, and might make more sense to be done, in-house.

To quote industry commentator and guru, James Cannon-Boyce, in his article on curing your adsanity“There is the famous old adage about the CEO who said that they knew half their money was being wasted in marketing — they just didn’t know which half. That was from over a century ago — these days, the answer is that it’s not half that’s being wasted — it’s close to all of it. More and more, I feel that I am in the same meeting — it’s a bit like Groundhog Day if the Bill Murray character was a frazzled over-whelmed marketing executive and not a weatherman.”

Marketers already have their own insights departments (although sometimes generating  more information than insight). They have their own relationships with specialized production houses, or in-house production capabilities. They already have or are building their own social media and community management teams due to its always-on, strategic and tonality requirements.

There’s a growing sense that whoever owns the data has the power. 
As the CMO of said recently, "We have way more data than the agency has. I’d make a very strong case that anything that generates data, you need to own as a business. You cannot have anyone else be the expert."[3]

This seems especially true for brands born on the internet, as they have no “advertising legacy” and have direct relationships with their customers.

Take a look at the credits for the creative team listed by Adweek, in this latest campaign by Spotify

They look different because they are all in house. [4]

Yes, but that’s there, in the USA. How will this affect brands in SA, with historical relationships with agencies? Simply, there has to be change, on both sides.

The structure within corporates isn’t yet optimal either. They, as well as their agencies, will need to restructure to unlock the siloes, open the flows of insight and information, to reduce wastage and duplication (and cost).

The challenge to agencies is that as the outside bits are being eaten away, what happens to their business model? As John Mandel from Mediacom says, "They are still set up for fighting the last war. They haven’t really set themselves up for the future war. Instead they are trying to eek out gains from a model than needs to change, while always trying to upsell clients on services."[5]

I’m not proclaiming the death of agencies yet as there are a few stumbling blocks in the in-house agency vision. Marketers have not yet figured out how to properly integrate all the sources of insight - obviously digital (big, or rich data)  but also from places like the sales/customer channel. The creative piece remains essential and ever more vital. Unless you hire in this talent, it’s going to have to remain outside. Hiring issues, like BEE and to creative culture remain a concern. 

Here’s where a new agency model like Oliver can play its part. They build agencies inside companies. One of their White Papers quotes research that the shows the number of brands bringing digital in-house increasing at a staggering rate, and that by 2020, “54% of brands think they’ll bring previously outsourced functions back in-house to match the need for more agile marketing efforts”.[6]

Will agencies still play a role in the idea development – using insights to create powerful brand stories and platforms? I think they should. There is now an even more pressing need for cut through creative. But agencies have to be reimagined and reinvented if they intend to survive. And the reimagining of the business model is the most important aspect.