What the heck is a creative brief and why should I care?
Sep 10 2015

Do you have a business plan? If you’re serious about your business, you probably do. Why? Because a business plan is like a road map. It tells you where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

Just as you need a business plan for your business, you need a creative brief for the development of each element of your marketing communications, such as your latest ad campaign or your website. If you don’t use a creative brief, then you don’t have a roadmap for your creative team to follow and you’re likely wasting a lot of time and money by having to revise or completely re-concept creative because it’s not what you want or worse-because it doesn’t speak to your audience. It’s amazing how much money a company is willing to invest in the media to run ads that are not on target, do not resonate with their audience or are, frankly, just bad work.

A creative brief not only gives the art director and copywriter direction in order to create the best ad, website or brochure possible, but it also helps you judge the creative they present by adding some objectivity and clarity to what can be a very subjective discussion.

Here are some of the basic questions a creative brief answers:

Who is your target audience?

Male, female or split? Age? Household income? Education level? You can define them in many different ways. The more specific you can get, the better. Include demographics, psychographics and whatever else you can to really get to the essence of your audience.

For example if our product is organic lawn care, our target could be:
70% female/30% male, living within the Atlanta DMA, homeowners, 35-49, college educated, with household incomes of $100,000+, tend to have small children and/or expensive pets and purchase most of their food from Fresh Market. They are willing to pay more for organic products and try to incorporate them into their lives whenever possible.

Who is the competition?

This can include direct competitors, like products or services in your category, or maybe even products in another category. A competitor to your service could be “to do nothing.” For example, if you’re a financial advisor trying to get people to hire you and they don’t see the need for a financial advisor, your competition is apathy.

What does your target audience currently think about your category and your brand?

Perhaps you’re selling salt, which most people see as a commodity. However, you stand out because your salt is the first in its category to come in different colors to decorate food. Again, be as specific as possible so the writer and art director can approach their creative solution by walking in your target’s shoes.

What is the single-minded proposition? Some call this a strategy or a positioning.

What do you have that your target audience wants that no one else is perceived to have?

This is not a simple question to answer, but probably the most important one on a creative brief. Even though most business owners want to say everything they can to capture the largest audience possible, an effective creative idea is single focused. An unfocused message will fall on mostly deaf hears. A very focused message will resonate with your target audience.

The most successful brands have the most focused SMP’s:

– Volvo: The safest car you can drive.
– Nike: Achieve your full potential.
– Apple: Unleash your creativity.

What are the reasons to believe the SMP?

You have to be able to support your SMP or claim with actual facts, so provide your creative team with copy points or facts they can use to build your case.


Are you more corporate or casual? Jot down some adjectives that would describe your company as a person. Are you more like Levi’s or Dolce&Gabbana? Would your company listen to reggae or rock? Would it drive a Toyota or a Ferrari? This can be how you want to be perceived instead of how you are currently perceived. Whatever you choose, you have to be able to live it.


Are there colors you absolutely need/want to use or stay away from?
Specific content that has to be in the ad, website, etc.? Hours of operation, certain phone numbers, legal copy?

Now think about what the creative team would create without a creative brief versus with one. And imagine how unfocused your ad or website execution could be when you don’t give direction. A solid creative brief can save you time and money and increase your sales tenfold. You might even win an Addy.