Why Most Creative Briefs Fail

Author: Jim Copacino, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer

Every day, in agencies and companies all over the world, thousands of creative briefs are written to kick off marketing communications projects. 

But the sad fact is, most briefs are ineffective — and often ignored by the creative teams for whom they are intended. Because most briefs are too long, too broad, and fail to inspire big ideas.

When a Brief Is Too Long

The key to creativity is to find simplicity in complexity—yet too many briefs are complicated and overwrought. A multi-page brief crammed with charts, bullet points, and dense business-speak dulls imagination rather than igniting it. A long brief is a lazy brief, filled with data but lacking core, human insights that unlock creative thinking.

Here’s a helpful exercise: See if you can write a “Brief Brief” — a compelling, one- or two-sentence summary that provides a North Star for the creative team. For Copacino+Fujikado’s client, the Seattle Aquarium, there was a full-blown brief describing the audience, the advertising objectives, and the media requirements. But there was also this Brief Brief — quick-strike shorthand that captured the heart of the assignment:

 “The Seattle Aquarium is filled with fascinating marine animals, each with a story that will amaze visitors.
Eyes will pop, jaws will drop.”

The resulting “fun facts” campaign is informative, entertaining, helped spark record attendance—and is still fresh after six years.

A transit ad for Seattle Aquarium with illustrated otter and headline My fur has pockets
A transit ad for Seattle Aquarium with illustrated scuba diver and the headline Dives. Waves. Selfies
When a Brief Is Too Broad

This is a brief without an opinion. A creative brief should have a clear, decisive point of view (based on data and research) that connects the product to the audience in a real-life way. Here’s an example from our agency’s brief for the introduction 14 Hands Wine in cans.

Millennials have a different relationship with wine than their Boomer elders. They are less concerned with vinicultural reverence and ritual; they view wine as simply one more option in their adult-beverage repertoire. 14 Hands in cans is a response to Millennials’ desire for casual, convenient wine occasions to fit their active lifestyle.

The result? A campaign depicting the brand in beer-like situations, inviting the target audience to “Grab A Wineski.” An approach that helped 14 Hands become the #1 canned wine in convenience stores.


When A Brief Is Too Bland

Think of a creative brief as an ad you are writing to your creative team.

It should stimulate creators to think broadly, expansively, and colorfully. This is brilliantly expressed in Damian O’Malley’s famous presentation, which imagines the brief Michaelangelo received to guide his work on the Sistine Chapel.

It’s an effective teaching tool for beginning brief writers, and a helpful refresher for all of us.

Great Creative Briefs

…are compact, focused, and inspire creativity. Hopefully, these reminders will provide inspiration for your next brief.