The Bad Brief – Look beyond the fear: Sumanto Chattopadhyay

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer, 82.5 Communications, writes about the anatomy of a bad brief and how such a brief will never produce great work. Compared to this, a good brief is the foundation that brings to life the thinking, feelings and behaviours of the consumer whose life the brand wishes to be a part of.

A bad brief is one that comes with fear attached.

Fear that makes you try to second-guess the mindset behind the brief.

Fear that – if you come up with something that does not fit a pre-conceived notion of what works – you will be judged.

Fear that when the creative ideas are being presented, the brief may change. In a ‘small’ way, of course. But one that renders the creative presentation – on which the team burnt the oil over many midnights – irrelevant.

Fear that if you come up with something ‘too creative’ – something even slightly different from the tried and tested – not just it, but you will be rejected.

Such a brief will never produce great work. It may produce competent work. Decent work, even. But not game-changing work.

A bad brief can become a good one, though, if fear is consciously removed at the briefing. If it is opened up to give you the freedom to experiment, to fail. Creative people’s job is to surprise. But if they fear that the surprise may be perceived as a rude shock, then their brains freeze. And you lose out on their ‘A’ game. The fear goes away only when the brief is backed by the belief that advertising is co-creation; when there is healthy respect for the communication expertise of the creator.

There is more to a bad brief: It is one that is worried about telling you the business problem to be solved – and what success looks like.

It tells you to sell more of brand X. But hesitates to tell you that it does not know how to achieve this.

It is scared to admit that it does not know what the consumer is thinking, feeling or doing; nor why these things need to change; nor what could motivate the consumer to make these changes.

It dreads being questioned.

A bad brief is a creative brief that is frightened to take a leap from the marketing brief. So, it ends up being the marketing brief rehashed – albeit in more interesting language.

A bad brief is too terrified to tap into culture in a way that would amplify the communication.

A bad brief cowers from the light of insight.

A bad brief is too nervous about getting hurt to make itself sharp – too nervous to choose one path from all the possible ones. It does not provide what David Ogilvy asked for – the freedom that comes from tightness.

A bad creative brief is too afraid to be creative. It is not, as Sir John Hegarty said of a good brief, ‘the first ad in the campaign.’

A bad brief is petrified. And it petrifies.

A fearless brief is not a 100% guarantee, of course, that great creative work will pop out at the other end. Even if you provide a perfect springboard, the creative person may trip and take off at a tangent. Instead of slicing aerodynamically through the surface of the deep pool of creativity, he or she may land flat on it, with a stinging splat. Nevertheless, a good brief does improve the odds of a perfect dive.

Architect Frank Gehry said that he designs buildings inside out. He starts by understanding their purpose – what people are going to do inside them – and then works his way outwards. This process leads to the development of an exquisite exterior form. The Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, is an example. This sublime creation changed the fortunes of an entire city. That is the beauty of developing the form of a building organically from the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of the people who will inhabit it.

So it is with advertising campaigns too.  And a good brief is the foundation that brings to life the thinking, feelings and behaviours of the consumer whose life the brand wishes to be a part of. And that is what leads to an exquisite outward expression.

Surprising as it may seem, many architects work in the opposite fashion – from the outside in. And when advertising people’s brains are frozen with fear, they too will seize a convenient exterior form and cram in the mixed messages that are being thrown at them.

So, if you want the exquisite campaign, remove the fear.

Be a good brief.


News in the domain of Advertising, Marketing, Media and Business of Entertainment

More in Advertising