Each campaign has to start with one thing. It’s called ‘the brief’. And no, I’m not talking about your boyfriend’s underpants. It’s that thing that’s supposed to guide your thinking on an advertising campaign. Seen one lately? No, let me rephrase: Seen a good one lately?
I have received many in my career. Sometimes they are presented in a boardroom (as they should be). Sometimes they are emailed. Sometimes they are explained over the phone. Sometimes they are even written on a piece of paper. And yes, sometimes they are scribbled on a Post-it note…
Only some were actually good. Most were very bad. Often they were cut-and-paste jobs from the previous year. Or the year before – it’s easy to spot this when you’ve worked on an account for many years. Or worse, if a client has forgotten to change the date. Sigh.
I’ve even had clients cutting-and-pasting from their own websites. Classy.
Surely everyone agrees that it’s the most important document in the advertising process? Start with the wrong brief and the whole process ends up being a flop. Time and money wasted, reputations scarred and relationships ruined.
I’ll be honest, there are many things about client briefs that annoy me, but my biggest bugbear has always been the bit that asks for ‘innovation’. This is a standard line in most briefs nowadays.
If I get one more brief from a client that says “we need some innovation” or “we need to be creative” or “we need to think out of the box”, I’m going to throw up. Seriously.
Innovation? Do people even know what this means? I suspect not. Not many people do. To be honest, I have heard so many definitions of this term that I’m not even sure what it is anymore.
The fact is, innovation is a little like the Holy Grail. No one really knows what it is they’re looking for.
It’s often something that is not measurable. So, if you’re one of those clients who requires reach and frequency figures calculated to the last cent, then maybe innovation is not for you and so please don’t ask for it in your brief.
And if you’re going to ask for it, you first need to ask yourself: do I have the balls? I have seen many wonderful innovations presented, but never implemented. Not because the ideas were not good. But because of a lack of balls. Why bother then?
The other irritating thing is that clients always want to “create innovation” with just R2.50. Which is why they then usually suggest that we ‘box clever’. Really? And how does one do that? With a ribbon? Let’s be frank, it’s just another way of saying, “I’m a stingy bastard and I need you to make my budget stretch in such a way that it looks as if I’m spending a hell of a lot.”
Then there is the “we need a 360 campaign”. Umm, yes, okay. What do you suggest we do? Because if I present you with a really good 360 campaign, your head will be spinning 360 degrees once you’ve seen the cost. And we’ll end up doing only radio and newspapers in any event.
So before we start thinking out of the box or boxing clever, maybe we need to get back to basics. The marketing and advertising stuff we should be doing before we suggest that Brad Pitt hangs naked from the top floor of Sandton City (okay, maybe that’s a bad example… everyone will be there to view that spectacle… and I’ll probably be the first).
But I think you get my drift. We spend too much time on ‘boxy’ stuff and too little on the important stuff. Like the brief. Like the things that make a brief a good one. Or rather, a great one.
There are many things a great brief should include, for example: the market size, the competitive landscape, distribution challenges, seasonality and regionality, consumption patterns, among others. But if we can get the following few right, then we have made some good progress.
Firstly, what are your objectives? What do you want to achieve? Is it increased sales, a behavioural change or some sort of an action? Whatever it is, make sure that it’s measurable. How else will you gauge success? Also make sure that it’s realistic. You cannot increase sales if you’re not prepared to spend some media money. You cannot change behaviour in just a week. You also cannot encourage people to try something new if there’s no incentive to try. Also, the number of objectives you are likely to achieve is directly related to the amount of money you are prepared to spend. You cannot tick five boxes with R5.50.
Which brings me to point two. Tell me how much you have to spend. And don’t lie about it. There’s nothing worse than starting with R20 million and then ending up with R1 million. No, actually I’m lying. There is something worse. The “tell me how much I need” brief. The other day I got a brief that said “the sky is the limit and the limit is the sky”. Seriously? Are you for real? It is extremely demotivating for an agency to work on a champagne budget, just to be told in the debrief that the money is hardly enough to buy a beer. Next time, your agency will just not put in the hours.
Then, who’s your target market? Don’t ask me to tell you. It’s your damn product! Surely you developed it with some poor sod in mind? I can shed some light on these people, but I cannot tell you who’s going to buy it. I’m a media planner, not a psychic.
Lastly, please make sure that your boss (and her boss) has checked the brief too. If a brand manager writes the brief, but the marketing director or chief executive officer (CEO) will be approving the output, it’s only logical that they too should have input in and final sign off of the brief, not so? It really is rather embarrassing for everyone when the CEO and the marketing director argue about the correct target market in the meeting in which the creative agency is already presenting final layouts…
And then, before you press ‘send’ or ‘print’, how about you run the spell checker? A brief full of spelling errors and typos says ‘lazy, disrespectful, stupid’. Just saying.
At the end of the day you need to remind yourself of that age-old saying: “shit in, shit out”.
It’s true. I can only work with what you give me. And if you give me shit, I can’t bake a chocolate cake.
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