August 2, 2009

Brief Truths

Our sister agency briefed us last week on a new project. The account people over there tend to be a lot more formal when writing up briefs, which include yawners like secondary audience descriptions, estimated price per piece and drop numbers per segment. This last brief even had the word "tertiary" in it. How often have you used that one in a lifetime?

But no matter. These things can be mammoths of 5 to 6 pages, so I highlight the good parts and doodle around the other stuff.

What gave us all a big reason to pause, though, was the entry for the big one--the main objective. That's the part you compare all your concepts to, the words that drive you in the right direction from the get go. This part should be short and sweet. It should have one, and only one, main point. It needs to be the guiding light for all the other information you need to include in the piece.

Oh, and it needs to be, you know, true.

Because this is what we got:

"We understand your company".

As in, the reason to pick us is because we understand your business. We get you. We feel your pain.


I've yet to meet anyone outside of advertising who actually "gets" what a copywriter does. Not even my friends are 100% sure of what I get paid for, except that I write stuff and it's perhaps like the brochure that came with their toaster. So I have no expectations--and would be highly dubious--of any company that wrote to tell me they get what I do. It would be an insulting generalization, and a communication cop-out.

Even worse, when we asked sister company for proof this was true, they replied a few days later with "Um, nothing more there--sorry. You'll have to work with what we gave you." Which, really, just enforces that the whole main objective had no wheels to begin with.

So here is what we've decided to work with: We don't get your business (gasp!), but we really know ours. So bring us onboard and we'll take care of our end so you don't have to.

Short, sweet and with a benefit, to boot. How hard was that?

Apparently, very. Creative briefs are meant for the creative team. They're supposed to be concise and pertinent to the message. They're supposed to present a logical challenge, not a creative conundrum. Yet so many are written to please the client--a kind of client Valium, promising big answers to boardroom questions.

But we're writing to consumers. People who couldn't care less about marketing objectives, business challenges and the competition. People who just want a little something to make their lives easier, better, more interesting, even fun.

The main objective isn't supposed to answer a client concern--it's supposed to give consumers a reason to pick you. Mess that part up and you might as well put all your money on the forth horse in the second race.


  1. "But we're writing to consumers" That's true. Someone forgets this!

  2. ***head banging on desk***

    "We understand your company"?!? Surely, you can't be serious.

    I imagine they thought they were playing it "safe" and "broadly appealing," when the deadliest approach of all is to be so bland no one gives a crap.

    Great insights, but next time warn me to have a pillow next to my keyboard!

  3. Italo: I know! Everyone tends to forget that we're not navel gazing--we're speaking to real people who have about 5 seconds for us.

    Jake: Sorry about that! Here's some ice for the bump--and a little gin for any leftover ice. But yes, they were serious--although further investigation prompted them to agree with the new strategy. Phew!

  4. I hate it when clients practically walk in off the street and expect you to crap out some perfect answer to their dilemma without them doing THEIR part. If I'm gonna help you, then you have to help me...tell me a whole bunch about you, the product/service, the competitors, what has worked, what didn't, yada, yada....all that language of the idea stuff just pisses me off! Whatta waste of your valuable time and energy.

  5. I hear you, adchick. Sometimes every new brief has the same dang bland information in it, and we're supposed to come up with something totally new and revolutionary every time. Didn't briefs used to be creative BEFORE they got to creative?