Here are my thoughts in a 2017 world.
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 every year, the Super Bowl ad-fest inspires me to ask this question:
How does a Super Bowl Ad Brief differ from the Common Client Ad Brief?
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: SuperBowl 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.” (* now $5million)
So back to my question. Is the brief for BIG work different from your common and garden version?
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 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 might have 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.
Is there a different approach to writing the brief for communication that will be watched, and analysed, and talked about, by millions?
The usual Client Ad Brief claims to want to be original, single minded, relevant and emotionally engaging, right? So what's the big difference? Truthfully, having never seen a Super Bowl brief, I have no idea.
Here are some ads that I thought were interesting.
A few ads I thought hit the mark are Budweiser Immigrant ad (totally coincidentally spot-on from a political consciousness point of view), the 84 Lumber ad (ditto, very topical and bound to polarize both ways, they also gained huge traction from being "censored"), the Kia ad with the inimitable tree-hugging Melissa McCarthy and the Hyundai live shoot ad living up to its promise of making things better, and showcasing tech in all its storytelling magic. I also loved It's a 10 Hair care, for being hilariously political while strongly selling their brand benefit.
All these are fresh, single-minded, and totally relevant. They all hit an emotional chord. One is funny, one is deeply chilling, one makes you want to cry and one makes you laugh. They speak to the truth of their brand message. And all of them address, in totally different ways, an interesting insight. The Kia ad for me tapped into an interesting insight: being an eco-warrior is hard, but you can still do your bit by driving a Kia Nitro: the target consumer cal still do her bit to save the planet without going full eco-warrior.
These ads have managed to create an ongoing dialogue, online, offline, in people's hearts and minds, about what their message.
And the interesting shift this year, coincidentally or not, is the political nature of the messages. There was an apparent rejection of the right wing shift in American values and the need for big brands to continue to honor diversity.
This ad for Airbnb is case in point - based on a really strong insight and business challenge. I would have guessed that the message was aimed as much as consumers as Airbnb hosts.
Interesting side story: the ad space was bought on Thursday and shot on Thursday night (using Airbnb people as actors). Reading this article though, the ad claims that Airbnb "was using the Super Bowl to highlight its commitment to provide short-term housing for 100,000 people in need over the next five years, including for refugees, victims of natural disasters and aid workers."
I'm not sure it achieved that, although CEO Brian Chesky tweeted additional information.
There were many more, and many more opinions. Watch them all here
Whether the ads were a hit or a miss, here's what I like to imagine sets a Super Bowl brief apart form a common Creative Brief:
- 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.
- 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.
- The ad aims to be memorable, relevant and engaging. Tick, tick and tick.
- 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.
- The message has to be totally singleminded.
- Time has been invested in mining a really strong insight about the consumers motivations or beliefs in the category.
- The brand has a strong point of view, which may or may not please everybody.
- A powerful proposition and very clear brand positioning are the cornerstones.