John Lowery– The creative brief and what to expect from it

Blasting a trumpet fanfare, white-gloved, gliding around the room with a silver tray, it was a strong start for a dark and cold 5 o’clock talk at SCA. Not just an attention-grabbing performance but the core message of John Lowery’s talk–The Creative Brief. As we have been tackling the choppy seas of briefs these past few months, John’s 180gsm creative brief guide was sure to lead us to calmer waters.

John laid out the three possibilities that could be achieved with a creative brief, madness, mediocrity, and magic. Guided through each of these examples, it was clear what warning signs we had to look out for:

Red flags for briefs:

  • If a pun is involved
  • Any longer than a page of A4 paper
  • If the single-minded proposition includes () or –, the author has hedged their bets and it is not truly single-minded
  • Trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist

John advocated we adopt a healthy skepticism approach (if we hadn’t already developed one). This, in turn, would lead you to question what our briefs are really saying and the questions we need to have answered to help us create the ‘magic’.

The most important question – why are we advertising? If a realistic answer can be found, then our job is demonstrating how advertising can contribute in a positive way. Now onto a question that seems tricky for some briefs to get around – who are we talking to? How are the audience being defined, most importantly, is it a believable audience you are going for? The audience is more than a demographic. John stressed the point of getting under the skin of the audience, of not who they are but what they like, what irritates them, and what motivates them.

Next is often the most rushed-to question (I speak for myself when making this mistake with briefs, and I’m sure others have found themselves making this mistake too). What should the advertising say? This question will only be lost in echoes if your audience hasn’t been addressed. Only with the knowledge of the context can you test the logic and narrative of your idea. Ideally, this needs to be summarized in one simple sentence.

Why should they believe it? An essential checkpoint to your previous questions above. Within the contents of everything that has come before, is it being based on truth? Does it make sense?

Now you know who, what, and why, it’s time for how? Tone of voice is often key in hooking the targeted audience. This needs to be carefully considered: what tone treatment will the narrative tone have to keep your audience engaged? Crafting the how needs to be threaded throughout all elements of the execution. No stone unturned. If clichés and bland words are involved, forget about it.

What is the requirement for the brief? Lowery simply put – ‘a heart-sinking moment for creatives’. Once again, a healthy aspect of cynicism needs to be adopted in these moments when reading a client that wants a miracle on a penny budget.

The creative’s role not only requires creating but also interrogating the brief. If we can see a creative brief not answering these questions, now, thanks to John, we have been shown the standard and what we need to make the magic happen.


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