Who Wears the Creative Briefs?

A majority of hard dollars in online advertising come from direct response campaigns. That’s no excuse for overly-simplistic, annoying and gimmicky creative. A quick look at Nielsen//Netratingstop ten banners calls for an explanation of the low creative caliber.

To be fair, an equivalent top ten list of TV ads (by dollars spent) wouldn’t portray that medium at its best. My guess is we’d see a plenty of Bowflex ads, along with the spots from local car dealerships. But regardless of comparisons to other media, something about our own ad-making process leads to creative mediocrity.

It’s not only that sites put bandwidth restrictions on ads, forcing them to appear cartoonish. It isn’t that direct response objectives necessarily demand gimmicks and cheesy, eye-catching frills. Instead, the very process of creating an online ad often lacks strategic creative influence.

Most agencies pushing out banners use their creative teams like production arms. They create images and words around strategies developed by account and media people.

Who Designs the Creative Brief?

The main strategic creative document for an ad campaign, the creative brief, needs a creative’s input to allow the flexibility to create an ad that truly stands out and accomplishes an objective. True creative is more powerful than plunking text on a GIF.

The online creative process differs from creative mechanics in other media because (due to flukes in the way the industry developed and its data-intensive nature) media people control the iteration of ad campaigns.

In most ad agencies, an account executive translates the client’s objectives into a creative brief, often consulting with the media department. Many falsely assume the creatives’ influence comes in when they receive and begin to interpret this creative brief. Instead, creatives often find themselves fettered to dumb-as-bricks requirements.

For creatives to produce great advertising results (and awards), they must be able to focus on the creative elements that account service and media people often fail to consider:

  • Arresting: Creative must instantly stop the viewer and engage her in the ad. In online advertising, as in print, this is largely done through images. There’s a high bar here. Creative must exceed the viewer’s interest in the site’s content.
  • Engaging: The ad must speak to the viewer in an appropriate voice, with content that makes the viewer want to change what he’s doing.
  • Informing: Most creative briefs made by media and account people concentrate on this element. There’s a lot of information to get across, but it’s planted in the user’s mind only when the first two steps succeed.
  • Clinching: Most ads demand a decision. Maybe to purchase a product, or to shape an opinion. Merely informing seldom accomplishes a change of mind or behavior. More often, convincing is required. Sometimes, cleverness is needed.

Creative needs to be involved in objective- and strategy-building processes to ensure they’re empowered to create an ad that covers all four elements.

In print and TV, the pendulum often swings the other way. Creatives and account people often author creative briefs disallowing the media people from exploiting the most efficient opportunities. Clients are ill-served by both extremes.

Advertisers need an ad team with a creative member who wants to be part of the strategy and who’s engaged from the inception of the campaign. The best way to push for this is to ask the account team, “What does the creative think of this?” while the creative brief is formulated. The answer will probably be that the creative doesn’t even know about it.

Creative involvement enables the team to concoct a more powerful strategy. Only then is breakout creative possible.

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