Using a creative brief

You’re probably familiar with K.I.S.S., short for “Keep it Simple, Stupid.”

The acronym dates back to 1960, when the U.S. Navy first crafted this colorful design principle to remove unnecessary complexity from systems. Since then, K.I.S.S. has been preached by countless engineers, designers and other professionals — and it’s a favorite axiom within the marketing and advertising industry.

It’s a directive that pretty much everyone believes in, yet one that few actually follow — especially in marketing and advertising.

Let’s take a look at how good K.I.S.S. intentions tend to descend into watered-down marketing dreck and how you can avoid this all-too-common fate with your own efforts.

The Temptation to Overcomplicate

I’m sure you’ve never been guilty of this, but perhaps you have a friend who can relate to this scenario.

Your business has committed to doing an ad for a magazine/website/trade show guide/fill-in-the-blank, and it’s time to develop the creative. You’ve got a pretty good idea in your head of what you need to communicate, so you dive in and start working with your marketing team to plot out the ad.

First, you/your team writes the headline, followed by the sub header.

Then you add the body copy, making sure to speak to all of your features and benefits before finishing with the tagline.

Next, of course, you need the logo, and underneath it, the URL. Might as well add the phone and social media icons in there too, just in case.

Oh, and don’t forget the call to action! And maybe a mention of the booth number at that upcoming event?

Finally, it’s time to add some design and incorporate out a nice image — perhaps something with a person in it?

Soon enough, you’ve created something resembling a Jackson Pollock painting covered in Scrabble pieces. And unless you were aiming for abstract impressionism, that’s not good.

If you don’t have a system to keep your creative campaigns on track, it’s easy for this type of thing to happen. It’s natural to want to cover all of your bases, especially when there’s money on the line and you want the most bang for your buck. But, of course, when the piece tries to do too much, it ends up accomplishing nothing.

So how can you ensure this doesn’t happen?

The Tried and True Creative Brief

For decades, ad agencies, designers and other communications professionals have relied on the creative brief to prevent the imagined scenario above from happening. It’s widely used because it answers the important question: “What is the one thing this piece needs to say?”

Think of the creative brief as the foundational strategy for your specific creative marketing effort. The document itself doesn’t need to be long and tiresome; it can be short and sweet, as long as it addresses, at a minimum, the one thing the piece needs to say.

To that end, here are some common considerations that might go into the brief:

  • What product/service will the piece be focusing on, and what is the intended outcome/goal of the piece?
  • Who will the piece be designed for? (Draw from buyer personas)
  • How will the piece achieve this goal? (What’s the concept/idea?)
  • Why will the buyer believe us? (What insight are we leveraging?)
  • Where will this piece be used? (Will this be a print ad? Digital? Trade show banner?)

Additionally, the brief might include any notable channel/execution requirements, such as budget, legal or brand considerations.

Depending on the channel and context, you might have further considerations that go into your brief. If it’s a social media campaign, how can you match the behavior of the platform and make your audience want to share and engage with the piece, for example.

Now, creating the brief is one thing — let’s talk about how to actually put it into practice and keep your message on point.

Staying Committed to One Idea

With the brief in hand, your creative team has clear direction for what the piece should say, but that’s not to say that things can’t still veer off path.

Committing to one idea takes work, and it requires vigilance. It usually doesn’t happen in the first draft. In their classic copywriting guide Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, authors Luke Sullivan and Edward Boches give this advice:

“Cut away every part of the ad you don’t need, which is usually most of it. To determine whether you need a certain image, phrase, or word to make your idea work, take it out. If the idea crashes without it, that part is what I call a load-bearing beam. But if the idea still works without it, well, it didn’t need it and you should consider taking it out.” 

Ultimately, this type of approach ensures that you don’t have elements within the piece competing against each other for attention. If an image speaks volumes, don’t dilute it with unnecessary text. Similarly, if the text packs a punch on its own, it may not need an image or more text, even if you have room for it. 

The creative brief is an extra step and adhering to it takes work, but you’ll find it’ll be time and effort well spent. Whether it’s a digital ad, billboard or video, follow this process to give the most impactful aspects of the piece room to breathe.

Stick to the brief, avoid the temptation to add more and stay committed to one idea. In other words, K.I.S.S. 

Ready to put the creative brief to work on your next campaign?