The old theatre line “if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage” rings true whether it’s David Mamet’s latest taut masterpiece, or Tracy the acccount manager’s brief for new improved Wheaty Bites. But take a look at the majority of ads around you. Any memorable lines? Resonant insights? Emotional journeys? The results suggest all is not well in creative brief world.
In my career I could count the number of great briefs I’ve received on one hand – if I was an amputee. I’ve worked with many talented accounts people and planners with great smarts and vast intellects, but the “great brief” has been as elusive as a polar bear wearing a white tuxedo in a blizzard – attractive, yet impossible to enjoy. The quality of these thinkers is unquestioned yet the imaginary great single-minded proposition remains unattainable. Which makes me wonder if we’re actually looking for the right thing.
Bill Wright, group creative director of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, recently told me the unique way in which his creatives have to present their work: before an idea hits the table they have to show the press release for it. It’s a great thought. If the idea isn’t interesting enough to garner press, it’s probably not worth the bother at all.
And that’s the point: it’s not enough to be single-minded any more. We need to look at what we’re saying and ask that although the SMP may be single minded, is it in fact even remotely interesting?
We all know the fractured, multi-level, media fragmented, twitter-booked channel diverse world we live in. And the battle for consumer attention is so muddied with variety, screens and noise that it won’t be the loudest that win our hearts – only the interesting will survive. That’s why the Speight’s boat is a great idea. It was interesting and original. Cadbury Gorilla was polarising but undeniably fascinating. Yellow Treehouse created a beautiful architectural statement that ultimately rendered the traditional advertising secondary.
I’m not saying that by interesting, I mean wild, random and whacky. All these examples were grounded in relevance; the boat trip is really about mateship and loyalty at any cost. The gorilla was a lateral metaphor of the almost primal bliss and joy of chocolate. The treehouse restaurant was made purely from services found in the Yellow Pages.
So that’s the question we need to ask of every brief, and it has two excellent advantages: it forces the writer of the brief to think, which is where the good ones earn their money. And it forces the client to interrogate whether what they’re selling is actually worth spending their money on in the first place.
Harrison Ford said of George Lucas’ scripted dialogue on the set of Star Wars: “You can write this shit George, but you sure as hell can’t say it.” So make sure you can say something so interesting and resonant that it would make even R2D2 sound like Laurence Olivier.