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Is the era of traditional creative briefs over?

As digital advertising takes the centre stage, the concept of traditional creative brief is nearing its expiry date. Experts say both brands and agencies now work in a more engaging and flexible way as campaign strategy now evolves on the go

Creative briefs have been the cornerstone of every advertising campaign process. They essentially mean that the creative descriptions are set in stone for agencies by brands and the former has to work within that scope of work.

However, with digital advertising now taking the centre stage and the requirement to keep evolving as per the campaign’s performance arising, both brands and agencies are moving out of the traditional processes by junking the single creative brief process.

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Mahesh Chauhan

Mahesh Chauhan, Director, Salt Brands, said, “We at Salt have abandoned the concept of a brief. What we have done is that we have replaced it with a process called ‘huddle’. As the word suggests, it is where everyone comes together and discusses the problem right there. We have a strategic triangle that covers who am I talking to, how am I disrupting the category, what does the brand believe in, and what is the product. The marriage of these four things gives you an idea to work with. It is a collaborative process where the brand’s beliefs might be frozen but other elements might not be. Because it’s collective wisdom, it is more robust and sharp and quick.”

“Briefs were great in an era when information was scarce as one had to go around hunting for data and information and it was a time-consuming job. You went around CMIs, sourced old videos, sourced articles and the briefing period would be 10 days and it fundamentally relied on the individual and his ability to grasp and understand data that can be called as a brief," Chauhan said, adding that frequency and speed are today’s truth. 

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Ajeeta Bharadwaj

“Earlier, briefs were oriented towards creating one grand communication. The expectation of creativity and, therefore, the whole point of the brief centred around cracking a big idea. The focus was on the brand and the consumer, while the media touchpoints were a small box at the end of the brief. Even when people spoke of integrated communication, this was more about cracking the central ATL idea and then taking it across media. Today, that little box at the end of the brief has become very important. More and more clients are looking to not just create great creative solutions, but also to place the right creative solution in the right context and on the right platform in the consumer journey. This is also where data plays an important role because it ‘tangibilises’ the understanding of different consumer sets and behaviours. To that extent, today more than ever before, briefs have become truly integrated. The point at which earlier briefs ended, has now become a midpoint in the journey,” said Ajeeta Bharadwaj, Chief Strategy Officer, Wondrlab. 

She said it’s far more productive when you’re co-creating the brief rather than unilaterally drafting it. You sit at the same table, or in present-day circumstances, on the same Zoom call, you discuss the business and brand problems and then create a brief for which everybody has given inputs and is fully aligned on. 

But brands must be forward-looking, Bharadwaj said. “New contexts need new techniques. One of the most effective techniques that I have seen followed is a part fixed, part flexible brief. With more regular engagements, it’s important to ask whether you need to start writing a brief completely afresh each time. There will be certain information points that will be the same as in the last brief. On the other hand, there will be new points to fill in, like the objective of this specific campaign, or the specific platforms or contexts that you want to leverage and so on. This flexibility ensures each brief is sharp and comprehensive, but without putting any undue demands on anyone’s time.” 

Suman Varma

However, a brief is absolutely necessary and if brands cannot provide proper briefs, then they cannot expect a good work out of an agency feels advertising veteran and Chief Marketing Officer at Hamdard Laboratories Suman Varma. “I’ve been an advertising person all my life. I think that to understand a brand, you need to understand the objective and then embark on the journey of doing any creative work that is required.”

Varma said unless an agency has been your partner for several years, you cannot expect them to understand you completely. If an agency has partnered with you forever, they get the brief however you still need to explain the brand, consumer market and objective if you want a good piece of work. Your creative partner and you can co-create a brief. She also said that another issue with briefs is that they might navigate around many issues rather than the one thing the brand is looking to solve and the agency is lost in a web of words.

Nagessh Pannaswami

According to Nagessh Pannaswami, Director, Curry Nation, “Briefs have remained the same over time. Fundamentally, the principles of branding and communication haven't changed. Only the mediums of communication have changed. Data is important to understand the problem and challenges at hand. But cramming a brief with data is lazy briefing and doesn't lead to a creative spark.” 

Pannaswami said, “Clients don't have enough conversations or the conversations aren't happening with the right people. The turnaround time for a creative product is so less that it puts enormous pressure on the output. Today we spend far more time iterating on the creative product than on the brief. The creative output has become the stimulus to which clients respond and then start thinking if the brief is right or wrong."

Yousuf Rangoonwala

According to Yousuf Rangoonwala, Founder and Head of Strategy at Kakkoii Strategy, Communications and Technology, “Most marketing departments don’t train the brand managers for brief writing as it is not a part of the syllabus in business schools or marketing schools even at the IIM’s but that’s a part of their job.”

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