Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What Do Ad Agencies Actually Sell?

In our workshop on The Business of Advertising, I usually start by explaining the basic principles of business. Any business. 

You are able to produce something, which you think has some value to someone. It is somehow different from what they can currently buy, and so it has some value. The key issues are - what is the value of the thing, how do you sell it, and can you make a profit by selling it at a price that covers the costs and leaves something over for you?

Image by bplanet

Everyone gets that. 

And then I ask: so, what do Agency's sell?

The usual answers?

  • Time.
  • Ideas.
  • Creativity.
  • Solutions.
  • Ads?

These answers just raise more questions:
  • If you sell time, how is your time different from another agency's time?
  • How do you decide on the price for an idea/creativity/solutions?
  • Is an agency a service business or a product business? 

The correct answer, in my view, is none of these. It was perfectly explained in this blog by The Ignition Consulting Group, called Are you really in the Service Business?
Many agencies lament that they have become “order-takers.”  But why?  Who turned your agency into an order-taker?  You did – not your clients.  You did it by forgetting what it is you’re really selling.  You’re not selling service.  You’re not even selling ads or ideas. You’re selling business results. 
Yes - what agencies sell is the chance for the marketer to realise their marketing objectives. This is the continuum - business strategy, marketing strategy, communication strategy, implementation, results.

Without the agency providing the stimulus materials in the best channels to persuade the target consumer to think, feel or do whatever it is that they want them to think, feel or do, the marketer doesn't get to deliver the results.

Here's more from the article:
The fact is that agencies shouldn’t be regarded as professional service firms, but rather professional knowledge firms.  Clients don’t just hire you for what you do, but rather what you know.
What this change in emphasis does is empowers an Agency's recommendations. They are the ones with the specialist knowledge. Agencies often compare themselves to other 'professional' firms like lawyers. "Those guys are taken seriously, and their recommendations are listened to. Why?" Because their clients assume the lawyer knows more than they do about the law and the application thereof.

If Agencies are simply "servicing" their clients, then where does the specialist knowledge lie? Is the assumption that the Client has the knowledge, and Agencies are simply implementing it?

Research conducted by The Ignition Group underscores this:
Over the many years that Ignition Consulting Group has been conducting surveys of advertising agencies, we have discovered that agencies give themselves the highest ratings in the areas of “Responsive service,” “Listening to clients,” and “Meeting timetables and budgets.”  The lowest-rated areas?  “Developing proactive ideas and delivering marketing leadership to clients.” 
Service is a commodity.  Smart thinking is not.  Clients can get good service anywhere, but proactive marketing leadership is in short supply.  In fact, most surveys that seek to diagnose why clients switch agencies usually produce the same answer: “Because our agency never gave us anything we didn’t ask for.”
I asked delegates in an Account Management workshop to define the role of Account Management. One of the answers was "to keep Clients happy".

Image by Ambro

I would suggest that the happiest a Client is, is when their marketing campaigns deliver better than expected business results. And Agencies can do that only by protecting their expertise so that they get to prove what they can do.

Which is not to "service" clients. It's to delight consumers.

Adtherapy is a training and consulting business which aims to make your bottom line healthier, and your business happier. We specialise in helping Marketers and Agencies get the best out of each other. Read more about what we do here

All images courtesy of freedigitalimages.net

Monday, October 7, 2013

Creative Account Management: the real deal

Account Management is a difficult job and a much maligned role. It is the interface between the marketing client (the fulcrum of all of the client's own internal politics) and the ad agency's system that produces the creative work: traffic, creative teams, strategy, production, implementation.

They are also a human punch-bag.

The client gives them a tough time because they place them in very difficult situations, and expect them to do the impossible, often. Some are downright abusive.

Inside the agency, some of the people they work with think that Account Management are "useless". 

Does your dog bite? Image by cjenjasuwan.

"They just do what the client wants".

"They don't know good work".

"They're more like the client than this client is".

"They don't push back hard enough".

I attended an Eagles breakfast many years ago when the agency CD from Mother London spoke. "We don't have account management", he said to thunderous applause.

Here's how Mother London's Stephen Ledger-Lomas explained it recently: 
"We don't have any account managers. The client can call the designer the creative strategist, they can call the chef if they want. That means there's no hiding places - they are the ones that have to explain their ideas to the client directly. there's no pass the parcel".
Personally - I love that philosophy. Cut down on the layers. Keep it responsive and flexible and accountable. Get the key people close to the client's business. 

But funnily enough, many creatives that I speak to actually don't want to take on that role. They want someone to be the 'buffer'.

So, why the disconnect? Why don't they value this person who's taking the punches for he team?

Because great Account Managers are few.

The person who can be the ideal Account Manager is multi-faceted. They are organised, numerate, diplomatic, have good people skills, are problem solvers, can project manage, are persuasive, are manipulative (in that they have to sometimes get stuff out of people that is almost humanly impossible), are motivational, are good marketers, understand media in all its facets, understand production, understand marketing and consumer behaviour, are strategic, and are creative. They aren't left brained or right brained, they are 'whole brained'.

And that's rare.

Some things have happened to the Account Management role that have worsened their lot. Not just here - globally. 
Ticking boxes isn't everything. Image by Danilo Rizutti
I once asked a colleague from Lowe in London what he thought the problem with Account Management was. He said "People have to stop promoting secretaries". Look, some of my best friends were secretaries, and sometimes that was their only way into the ad business, and they have done well. But often, secretaries get promoted into Account Management because of their organizational skills. Project management. Getting things done. Great. Tick. We need that. 

But that's not all we need.

The vast right brained chunk of what makes a great Account Manager is missing. Enter Strategists.

The strategists became the ones to fill in the gaps between what the project-manager-account-manager could and couldn't do. And great strategists are worth their weight in beluga caviar. But Account Management should not completely outsource this role. As I always say: "strategy is not a person". (As in, "let's call strategy"). It's a way of thinking, and Account Management has to lead, to direct, and contribute to this process, based on their intimate knowledge of the client and the client's business, to which strategists are only exposed every now and then.

So the Account Management role became just a glorious, glorified master of ceremony, bringing in the 'experts' to present to clients, wrapping things up at the end of the meeting and managing the project flow and deliverables.

Because of this, they became detached from the creative work - the real product that they are part of producing. They don't "speak creative". They don't consume great work; they don't read or watch what the creatives are reading or watching. If more Account Managers attended events like the Eagles Breakfast, perhaps there wouldn't be such a divide. The creative output becomes something to meet a deadline or a budget.

Inspire and lead - not manage. Image by KromKrathog
Another part of the problem is in the name. Account Management. It's boring. It says you manage an account. But you don't. You grow it. You inspire it. You inspire those who work on it. You live and breathe the success of it. The term 'Client Service' is even worse, as it implies that you simply service the client, do their bidding. Some clients want, and even demand this.  But, they will never get the best work from their creative resource as a result. 

(Read my analogy of Michael Jackson and his Doctor here to see why a client-agency relationship in which there's no respect for each other's skill-sets is doomed).

Some agencies have experimented with other titles. 'Brand Leader'. 'Communications Director'. And of course the creative eco-system, from which the account manager is banished through their own lack of organic participation, calls them names like 'Client Serpents', 'Client Surplus" or 'Client Serviettes'.

And then, equally polarising, are the terms "Creative Department", and "Creatives". Which means, by inference that other people in the agency are not creative. Which is of course what they should be to work in this business.

Part of the Account Management job is project management, part is marketing, part is strategic, part is creative and part is business, making sure that while the client's business is growing, so is the agency's.

At the end of the day a great Account Manager should live and die by great creative. As Colwyn Elder, head of strategy for Y&R said to me the other day: "it's rugby, not relay". It's as much your work if you're the Account Manager as it is the creative team's. But because the emphasis is on project management, and on handing over the relay baton, so the silos develop and become entrenched. Work, or client relationships get defined in terms like "theirs" or "your".
"My Client doesn't like your work" - accman to creative. Or "Tell creative that there are some changes to their work" - accman to traffic.
 The separateness works both ways: 
"Your client wouldn't know a good idea if it leapt from behind a bush" - creative to accman.
It's not yours, or theirs, or mine. It's ours.

In a fascinating article, Why Conformists are Key to Successful Innovation  in the Harvard Business Review, it shows the impact - good and bad - of too many "conformists" on a team of creative individuals. They are indeed necessary (and helpful) for innovation to be implemented, but they can also be idea killers.

Conformists tend to be the people who know how to get along with others. They know how the system works and they adhere to the rules. They have an eye for which ideas will be accepted by others. 
As you build your team, be careful not to overdo it on detail people, who tend to be risk-averse and uncomfortable with ambiguity. They can squelch nascent ideas. You don’t want the detail people forming a bloc. 
You might get lucky and find creative people who are also conformists. Those people do exist. In our study of 468 people, we found that 7% scored high on two of the three cognitive styles. You might even find creative people who are conformists and detail-oriented. But don’t hold your breath: Just 3% of the people we studied scored high on all three styles. 
And don’t overlook the importance of the people who are “none of the above.” I believe that people who don’t score high on any of the three styles tend to be the ones who form bridges among the creatives, the conformists, and the detail-oriented people. They foster understanding among the different types.

What to do?

An account manager that 'gets it'.
Image by KromKrathog
Seek those rare creatures who are 'whole brained'. Choose Account Managers who are strategically smart and creative and give them project management support. Do this rather than employ project managers, give them strategic support and expect them to go to war for great work. Project managers are always going to be task driven. This is a vitally important skill in an organisation in which the output is time sensitive and money sensitive. But it's not the essence of Account Management. Pure project managers are never going to grow client relationships and contribute to the creative dynamism that inspires brilliance from agencies. Not because they don't want to, they just aren't wired that way.

Find yourself the real deal. The ones that do want to. The ones that consider Creative Account Manager to be the ultimate title.

Adtherapy runs Account Management Workshop and Mentorship programmes for agencies that focus on building leadership capacity in the three most essential areas: Strategic thinking, Creative and Business. Contact Gillian if you need more info on gillian@adtherapy.co.za

All images courtesy www.freedigitalimages.net

Friday, September 13, 2013

Brief Writing For Today's Marketer

I read The Ignition Group's blog called "A new set of briefs for new times", and I thought - well yes of course.

The reason I particularly liked it was that I had - just that very day - given my Post Grad Marketing Students at UCT an assignment which dealt with one of the key areas in The Ignition Group's new briefing template: that being the consumer purchase decision journey, and the touch points a marketer can influence along that journey.

I think too often we forget about interrogating this journey from consideration to purchase. 

"Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net"
We assume it's a kind-of linear one from seeing our communication (whatever that may be) to the store shelf or 'buy' button. 

We forget about all the other bits that go into that decision - from memory, motivation and other personal influences, to inter-personal (cultural, societal, family) influences, to factors like time, place and environment. And the enormous impact of experience and learning.
Maybe we don't actually forget, but to include this as a standard heading in the briefing template forces you to think 360 degrees, to think integrated, to think across all channels. 

It has to be integrated because every single touch-point has to work, and build, along the way. And the journey map may highlight some key influencers that we hadn't thought of including in our integrated comms plan.

Here's their intro:

Part of the reason agencies are stuck in a cycle of producing traditional solutions is because we still rely on outmoded tools.  Today, creativity is manifest just as much in how and where the message appears as what it says.  Just having a traditional creative brief to guide us is an incomplete solution.
To help us think and work differently, we need several different versions of briefs:
  1. The Context Brief is a concise summary of key insights about the market, the brand, and the customer.
  2. The Contact Brief maps out the customer journey and identifies major brand contact points.
  3. The Content Brief identifies the messaging strategy.

So - hats off to them. I think this is useful.
Read their new briefing template here: A-New-Set-of-Briefs-for-New-Times

Read McKinsey's view on how the Consumer Purchase Decision Journey has changed and what to do about it here: the_consumer_decision_journey
Adtherapy runs workshops on all things to do with improving the quality of communications outputs. Excellence in brief writing is as critical to marketers as it is to agency account managers and strategic planners. For information on courses and workshops that Adtherapy runs on Brief writing and other key inputs into the creative process, call Gillian on 0832659099 or mail gillian@adtherapy.co.za

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Adtherapy: Clients' Aha! Moments

Adtherapy: Clients' Aha! Moments: Adtherapy runs a series of workshops with Marketers called "Creative Fitness." Essentially, it is a programme designed to hel...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Just move it to the left: the real effect of poor creative feedback

This article by Jordan Cohen in the Harvard Business Review, called "Stop telling your employees what to do", made a lot of sense to me.

I regularly run workshops for marketers and account management on how to evaluate creative and more importantly, how to give constructive creative feedback. 

There's a common circular refrain that I hear often:

"Creative don't listen to us so we have to tell them how to fix the work".
"We are upset because they give us what we asked for, and not anything better".

Well, I talk often about the 'creative tap'. 

It can be open (good) or shut (not good). 

Why not good? 

You pay the same hourly rate whether creativity is gushing out the spout or whether a single drop of murky water squeezes out.

As a team working with creative, whether you are the marketer or the account manager, you should really want the tap open on full blast, because that way you get the best value for your money, and of course the best work, which should make you more money.

And if you tell them how to fix it, rather than ask them to recommend how to address what's bothering you, you get tap shut. Over time of course.  The creative process is usually optimistic, and usually tries to do what's right, until it senses there is no hope. That's when the tap is truly shut and the approach becomes 'whatever, just get it out'. 

So in this article in the HBR, it explains the neuroscience behind the rather simple tap story. 

It turns out there is a scientific reason why employees are less effective when tasks are dictated. Amy Arnsten, a neuroscience professor at Yale University, studies the importance of feeling in control. In an interview at her Yale Laboratory, Arnsten explained that when people lose their sense of control, such as when tasks are dictated to them, the brain's emotional response center can actually cause a decrease in cognitive functioning. This perception of not being in control, whether real or imagined, would presumably lead to a drop in productivity.

This mirrors the work done by Daniel Pink, in his book "Drive, the surprising truth about what motivates us":
Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does—and how that affects every aspect of life. He examines the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

So, by reducing autonomy, by disempowering through "getting the job done right", what you land up with is at best a loss in productivity, and at worst, lost innovation, lost creativity and a reduced chance for your brand to be noticed. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Can you be happy, working in advertising?

Fast Company recently ran an article about the Happiest Companies in America, the result of research conducted by a recruitment company, Career Bliss.

The closest thing I can think of in SA, is the "Best Companies to work for" survey run by Deloitte. We also have something called "Best Employers".

But the notion of happiness, versus 'best employer', presents a far more holistic view.

The article lists the key factors of happiness at work as:
"... work-life balance, one’s relationship with his/her boss and co-workers, work environment, job resources, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture, company reputation, daily tasks, and job control over work performed on a daily basis".

So of course it got me thinking what the Happiness Index might be in your average ad agency. On the winners list of Best Companies to Work For and Best Employers for 2012, there is not a single ad agency. In any category. Not even a merit mention. So is it possible that people in advertising don't like where they work? Or are just generally unhappy? I spoke to Deloitte and in fact it's more likely that the agencies just don't want to pay the steep entry fee (R36,000 for company under 500 people).

But are agencies happy places to work?

In order to unpack the above-mentioned key factors in relation to the average ad agency, I thought it might be helpful to look at some pro's and con's (my own list - feel free to disagree vehemently or add yours). (And note I said 'average'. I'm sure there are many that would look quite different, and happy hallelujah to you, because then you're doing something right).


  • Ad agencies are generally gorgeous to look at. (Tick for Work environment). There is a good chance there is a room with fake grass, you will probably have a bar fridge in your office and  a couch, there may be a statue of a cow somewhere, there'll be cool art on the walls, and a bar that takes up the whole top floor with a pool table, free beer and a view of the sunset.
  • Ad agencies have great parties.
  • If you work in an ad agency you get to go to cool events and conferences and indabas.
  • It's a creative space in a corporate world - that's kind of fun.
  • You work with amazingly interesting and sometimes strange people.
  • You get under the skin of many different product categories, and work with some of the best brands in the world.
  • You get to understand consumers and what rocks their world on a very much deeper level than the average Joe.
  • You can wear what you like (except if you're in Account Management).
  • It's a young industry, so you can move up the ladder, quickly, if you're good. (Yes to growth opportunities).
  • There is very little to beat the thrill of seeing great work being produced and exposed to the world. Sometimes you win an award to, which is also good.
  • There is also almost nothing to top the feeling of your work delivering astounding business results for your client.


  • Working in an ad agency is generally a high stress job: unreasonable lead-times, inexperienced clients (and agency staff), mistakes and high stakes.
  • You will work more hours in a day than you knew there were hours in a day. Saturday's and Sundays are not always considered weekend days. (So a 'not so much' for work-life balance. There often is none. Especially if you also travel. That's added on to, not part of, the very long days).
  • There is a good chance that you will experience massive rejection and critical self-doubt several times a day.
  • Your relationship with superiors is quite possibly a bit tricky - the good ones are intolerant of mediocrity and push for the best. It's not always easy to do that in a nice way. Read the Steve Jobs book. (Strike: relationship with superiors. Not always bad, but sometimes kind of.)
  • Company culture is a strange one: on the one hand, the culture will be about excellence, but also about having fun and doing good. So it will be a kind of bi-polar culture - you will love some of it (partnering with the orphanage), and you will hate some of it (win at all costs).
  • Company reputation: if you're with a good agency - sure you feel fantastic. It's an ego boost. If you work for an under-the-radar one, you suffer the ignominy of people saying "Who?", when you mention where you work. Either way, the reputation is skin-deep: wait until the agency loses their biggest client and you're on the street.
  • Agencies are always understaffed, or at least always think they are. They always feel if they had just one more team, just one more assistant AE, just one more junior strategist (to do the leg work), just one more art buyer... then time will miraculously materialise and the work-life balance will fall into place and everyone will live happily ever after, Except they won't. Because chances are the staff ratio is already too high, and the reason time is sucked up is because the systems and skills don't help them work more efficiently. And those new bodies would not be even noticed in a week. They would be sucked under too. (Big fat no to job resources).
  • Compensation? Hold on. Let me just stop laughing because it's hard to type and cry with laughter at the same time. Some people in ad agencies earn a lot. Clients earn more. You only earn a lot if you are very, very good and probably own the company. If you had to work out what you earn, and what you do for that money, it would be a very poor trade-off. And of course Clients are squeezing fees, so the agency has less money, so that 13th cheque and increase are pretty unlikely. Some agencies do well and pay bonuses and that's great. Compare them to the average corporate salaried employee's bonus and you would weep into your designer stubble.
  • And then of course the daily tasks factor. Depends what you do, but a lot of every day is about meetings about meetings. It's about admin and dotting the i's and crossing the t's and following up what people said they would do but most likely haven't. Or if you're on the creative side, your daily task may be to work on 'revert 56' for an ad that you stopped caring about on 'revert 8'. But on a good day, your daily task might take you to a photo shoot, or on a consumer immersion for a beer company; it might ask you to be creative and innovative and you might have a great meeting and get to do some really break through work. The ratio of great days like that to drag-yourself-through-mud days, is probably 6:94 (that's great = 6%; to drudge = 94%).
  • And here's the real douzy: "job control over work performed on a daily basis". There is very little control over your own work. Unless you define control as 'being pecked to death by a flock of geese'. Everyone has an opinion, and your job is to listen to them all. Of course it should also be your job (because of your expertise) to thank them politely for their opinion, but explain why the option proposed by you is in fact better. Sometimes that works; a lot of times it doesn't.

The article gives us the 5 things they think that companies can do to be happier:

  • Happy employees don’t stay in one role for too long. Movement and the perception of improvement create satisfaction. Status quo, on the other hand, creates burnout.
  • There is a strong correlation between happiness and meaning; having a meaningful impact on the world around you is actually a better predictor of happiness than many other things you think will make you happy.
  • A workplace is far likelier to be a happy place when policies are in place to ensure that people regularly get acknowledgement and praise for a job well done.
  • Recognize that employees are people first, workers second, and create policies that focus on their well-being as individuals.
  • Emphasize work/life integration, not necessarily "balance."

The article talks about Pfizer, one of the winners, and quotes:
"Staff achieves a balance between improvement, growth, and maintenance. Work burnout isn’t about too many hours spent on the job, it's about feelings that come from improvement, or lack thereof." It continues: "McClatchy believes a happy workplace isn’t necessarily free of conflict, either. At Pfizer, he says, management addresses conflict constructively.

Okay, so now let's add to our Con's list these factors:

  • The average creative agency has inter-department disdain that would melt the skin off the less hardened. Account Managers roll their eyes and sigh when talking about the creative colleagues. Creatives sneer and sigh and pull paper clips apart when talking about their Account Management colleagues. Strategy and Production bemoan the skills of everybody in the building, but especially Account Management; Traffic would sell the whole Account Management department to the first bidder and so it goes. During one of my Account Management workshops with an agency, someone remarked on the language they used to talk about each other. He was right. Suit is not a compliment.
  • Conflict is common in an agency. It's generally not managed well. Conflict can range from a difference of opinion, to the fury that you think you are entitled to one. Not everyone is equal in this space. And not everyone can handle it. 
  • The work that the client in many instances wants is often radically different from what the agency wants to produce. In many instances, the client wins, and the agency produces work that pays the bills but has an enormous (downwards) impact on: resources, culture, reputation, work-life balance, client-agency relationships, intra-company relationships and so on.
  • Advertising is trying to sell stuff. Let's be real. Apart from the pro-bono stuff, not a lot of it has a real Kumbaya feeling to it. The meaningful-ness quotient of the average ad is about zip.
  • Most agencies are a bit slack about policies and reviews, and career growth paths and those important but not urgent things.
In spite of all this, advertising gets into your blood and under your skin. And while there may be frustrations in most agencies, you will still find a good bunch of eternal optimists who love what they do so much they put up with the niggles, consoled by their dream of having their own agency where things would be so different.

What can agencies do to be happier?

  • Hire fewer, better skilled people and pay them more.
  • Have fewer clients and more clients that partner with you on the work that you know works and will be inspired doing.
  • Draw very clear and non-negotiable boundaries for down-time. Constantly exhausted creative people are uncreative people.
  • Have fewer meetings with fewer people in them. Meetings are the Dracula of this business if time is blood.
  • Reward people regularly and in ways that matter. A great book to read for every Agency MD is Daniel Pink's book on motivation called "Drive". Here's a quote from a great summary if you haven't got time to read the whole book (but you should).

"For any job that requires thought, creativity or problem-solving, Pink .. recommends.. three elements:
Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives;
Mastery: the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters;
Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves."

  • Encourage them to master their skills.
  • Listen and encourage a culture of listening to each other, to clients. Really listening (the Steven Covey way).
  • Make sure the relationships that govern your agency's day, are good and healthy and professional and constructive and inspiring.
  • Give people some freedom to work how and where they want to. Why do we all have to go to a building to work everyday? Liberate them.
  • Let them work on things that have real meaning (to them) for a percentage of their time. Choose a charity, or invent something - let them form task teams that try and make the world a better place, and get rewarded for it. (Lots of info on this in Drive).
  • And look after the wellness and whole-ness of your people. Send them on holiday. Send them home. Let them see their children before bedtime. Mostly: let your agency be an environment where your people are seen and heard.

“The annual review is dead. Happiness is a daily journey.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Advertising that makes you cry, or sigh...

My partner, Graham Pfuhl, is putting a presentation together on "emotions in advertising". He wants a "corker" at the end, and asked me what were my most memorable emotional TV ads. 

These were the ones that came to mind. Which ones can you remember that made you cry, sigh, think?
  • Topsy Foundation; a poignant, gentle and beautiful story of hope in an HIV/AIDS ravaged society, filled with stigma.

  • This spot, with a dramatic and chilling ending, Called "Alzheimers":
  •  This one, one of my all time greats, for VW:

    And there were others: Pfizer Graffiti; Expedia Cancer Survivor; P&G's Mom ad for the Olympics, the beautiful John Lewis Christmas 2011 ad. 

    Music obviously plays a vital role, but the genius is the ability to make a whole movie in under a minute. Start, middle and end, with a tug on the heart strings and a strong and compelling brand message. Tall order.

    And double genius to use it to break though in a cluttered anvironment, for a usually non-emotional product category (unlike child abuse) - e.g. P&G, John Lewis and even KFC's  Memories.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Super Bowl Brief vs the Common Creative Brief

If writing creative briefs is hard then writing great creative briefs is extremely difficult.

The main problems are a lack of clarity of thought and an inspiring 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 the Super Bowl ad-fest inspired me to ask this question:

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?

In 2013, when I first wrote an article on 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.”

So back to my question. Is the brief different?
The Common Client Ad Brief also claims to want to be original, single minded, relevant and emotionally engaging, right? So what's the big difference? 

Maybe it's because the agencies recognise that this is THE brief and assign their best teams to work on it? But even that doesn't always deliver great work. Even if the Super Bowl Ad brief is perceived by the agencies to be much cooler and high-stakes with more chance of creative risk-taking than the average Common Client Brief, then why do some of the Super Bowl ads come out boring, done-before, irrelevant and imminently forgettable?

It seems that the enormous viewership has something to do with it. Possibly a bit of stage fright and a trying-too-hard aspect? Or a client wanting to cover all their bases to justify the enormous spend?

My two cents worth would be that there's too much playing to the masses and too much losing sight of the one person that actually counts - the person who may do something, buy something, think something, as a result of your ad. 

Two ads I thought hit the mark are the Avo's from Mexico ad, and the No More (NFL sponsored) ad against domestic abuse, which used a real life story.

Both ads are disruptive, fresh, single-minded, and totally relevant. One is funny, one is deeply chilling.  Both speak to the truth of the message. Both address, in totally different ways, an interesting insight. They have both managed to create an ongoing dialogue, online, offline, in people's hearts and minds, about what the ad actually spoke to us about.

Both ads are personal, using different techniques and totally different approaches. Yet both managed to communicate clearly to the 120million plus audience. Budweiser's "Lost Puppy", BMW's "New fangled idea" made me cry and laugh, but were more expected than the ones above. And as for Carl Jr's "All Natural", the less said the better. (#didwejustgobacktothe80's?)

Whether the ad was a hit or a miss (I loved Dove's "Salute to Dads", but the product segment at the end felt like a sledgehammer),  here's what I like to imagine sets a Super Bowl brief apart form a Common Creative Brief:
  1. The client (and agency) are aiming for GREAT. You have a much better chance of getting there if you aim for it, than if you don't.
  2. It's presumably agreed upfront that the ad has to be entertaining with exceptional production values (with budget allowed for) - great advice for the Common Brief to borrow from.
  3. The ad aims to be memorable, relevant and engaging. Tick, tick and tick.
  4. It simply has to be distinctive. And talk-able, and shareable. And that means some brave decisions need to be made in the approvals process.
  5. The message has to be totally singleminded.

Maybe we should treat each ad brief like a Super Bowl brief and see what happens to the work?

ps. I am not a fan of the 'reveal' of the ad prior to the Superbowl. To me it takes away so much of the excitement I used to feel if I've already seen them the week before. #justsaying