How to write a brief for an advertising agency (mega post)

How to write a brief for an advertising agency (mega post)

A great solution requires a great problem. That’s why the best creative briefs provide a laser focus on the problem that advertising needs to solve. The very best, express the job to be done in a way that acts as an immediate springboard for creative development.


And yet, AdAge report 81% of advertisers are providing unclear briefs. The IPA databank shows that setting clear objectives make the communication process more accountable, and more effective.



There is no single right way to write a brief for an advertising agency. But by  structuring your thinking you’ll produce clear problems for advertising to solve. And that will lead to better advertising. This post details the many ways to think about that challenge.


How to approach the brief (credit: Rob Campbell)

FIND – out what the real problem is

UNDERSTAND – why that’s the real problem

UNDERSTAND – how solving it will help short and long term ambitions


The Kipling Method

WHAT – is the problem?

WHERE – is it happening?

WHEN – is it happening?

HOW – is it happening?

WHY – is it happening?

WHO – is it happening to?


Under Think It (credit: Adam Pierno)

WHAT – is the real problem we are trying to solve?

WHAT – does success look like?

WHAT – are the constraints?


How to Get the Most Out of Your Agency (credit: Martin Weigel)

PROVIDE CONTEXT – Give us a clear account of the present situation as it pertains to the category, the competition, and your business.

PROVIDE A PROBLEM – Strategy is about overcoming obstacles. What are consumers NOT doing at the moment, that you need them to be doing? What are consumers NOT thinking and feeling at the moment that you need them to be? And what are the barriers to be overcome in achieving this?

PROVIDE INSIGHT – Providing shopper, brand, product, category,  communications, technology insights. Theese will help your agency identify the best points of possible leverage.

PROVIDE FOCUS – Strategy requires sacrifice, which means you need to tell your agency what you believe is most important.

PROVIDE CLARITY – The most powerful contribution to creativity any client can make is identifing a) what success looks like and b) what the obstacles are.

THINK BEYOND THE BRIEF – Rather than issuing a document, client and agency teams should work together to find answers to key questions.

PROVIDE BELIEF – Agencies do their best work when there’s a client who believes that we can actually solve his or her problem.

PROVIDE TRUST – Don’t pre-judge what the solution looks like. The agencies job is to come up with a solution that surprises both client and the consumer.

PROVIDE RESPECT – Provide the space to develop great ideas. For clients who consistently respect both time and money tend to get an unequal share of an agency’s attention and energy.


Category Entry Points (credit: Jenni Romaniuk, Byron Sharp)

WHY – are they buying from the category?

WHEN – are they buying from the category?

WHERE – are they buying from the category?

WITH – whom are they buying from the category?

WITH – what are they buying from the category?


Next, crack the creative brief with these brief templates, collected over the years to help fast track better thinking.


Get / To / By Creative Brief Template (credit: Julian Cole)

GET – target consumer and their barrier.

TO – desired mindset or behaviour

BY – message/action the brand can communicate


Approach to a New Creative Brief (credit: Gareth Kay)

WHAT – is the context?

WHAT – is the challenge?

WHAT – is the opportunity?

HOW – should the brand be reframed (if at all)?

WHAT – can communications do?

WHAT – is the strategic approach?

HOW – might this manifest itself?

WHO – is the target audience?


The Binary Brief Template (credit: Dave Trott)

We need to know three things for the binary brief.


Question 1: Brand Share or Market Growth.

If you are the market leader, you want to focus on increasing the number of people buying. Then you’ll benefit more than anyone else. (market growth)

But if you’re not the market leader you don’t want to do that.
You want to take sales from whoever is the market leader. (brand share)


Question 2: Triallists or Current Users.

Do you want new people to try your brand? (triallists)

Or do you want current users to buy it more often? (current users)


Question 3: Product or Brand.

Is there a definite, logical reason to purchase your product?  (product)

Or is there an emotional preference for the brand? (brand)


Once these questions have been thought through, the next part should be easy.

WHO – should buy it

WHY – should they buy it

WHAT – should they buy it instead of


Briefing for Participation

WHAT – do you want people to do?

WHY – will they do it?

HOW – are you making it easy to do?


The Bogusky Brief (credit: CP+B)

TENSION – find a relevant cultural tension that makes you a bit uncomfortable.

QUESTION – release the tension via putting it on its head and making it controversial and related to the truth about the product. The question should be worth a discussion over dinner.

PR HEADLINE – now imagine the idea as a news headline and check that you would read it and share it with friends.


Briefing for 5-Star Ads (credit: System1)

WHO – are we talking to?

WHAT – problem are we solving?

WHAT – are we/do we want to be famous for?

WHAT – do we want people to Feel as a result of seeing the Ad?

WHAT – (if any) instantly recognisable Fluent devices do you have that must feature in your ad.


The Ideas Brief (credit: BBH)

WHAT – are we trying to achieve?

WHO – are we trying to reach?

HOW – do we do this?


The Perfect Creative Brief (credit: Faris Yakob)

WHAT’S – this all about?

WHY – are we doing it?

WHO – do we want to communicate with?

WHAT – do we want them to do?


How to Write Better Propositions

PRODUCT CHARACTERISTICS – texture, performance, packaging, availability, disposable, how it’s made, cool facts

USER CHARACTERISTICS – celebrities use it, experts, most people use it, only a selected few, ways of using the product to share, to give, to treat

PRICE CHARACTERISTICS – better value, money off, cheaper, more expensive

IMAGE CHARACTERISTICS – high quality, good value, friendly, exotic, contemporary

SATISFYING PHYSIOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS – thirst, hunger, sex, social status, self-confidence, being a good mum

PRODUCT HERITAGE – established in, old fashioned, founders, inventors, staff

DISADVANTAGES OF NON-USE – how you could lose out, the risk of damage, missed opportunity

COMPARISONS – direct comparison with competitors, product, performance, users

GENERIC BENEFITS – claiming a characteristic of all brands in the category for yourself


Finally, a list of strategic frameworks to help you think around corners.


Good Strategy/Bad Strategy (credit: Richard Rumelt)

DIAGNOSIS – what’s going on?

GUIDING POLICY – what should do about it?

COHERENT ACTIONS – how do we go about it?


Behaviour Change Model (credit: BJ Fogg)

Motivation > Ability  > Triggers = Action

In the absence of any one of these, the action is less likely to happen


The Planning Cyle (credit: JWT)

WHERE – are we?

WHY – are we there?

WHERE – could we be?

HOW – could we get there?

ARE – we getting there?


Brand Positioning

For X people who seek Y benefit, brand Z delivers T.


A Simple Approach to Account Planning (credit: Mark Pollard)

PROBLEM – the human problem behind the business problem

INSIGHT – an unspoken truth that sheds new light on the problem

ADVANTAGE – what makes you unique & motivating in people’s minds

STRATEGY – a way of seeing the business based on all that


Disruption Method (credit: TBWA)

CONVENTION – a widely accepted belief

DISRUPTION – a radical new idea to help reach the vision faster

VISION – a projection of the company into the future; a big idea to aspire to


The 3 Fs (credit: System1)

FAME – if a brand comes readily to mind, it’s a good choice

FEELING – if a brand feels good, it’s a good choice

FLUENCY – if a brand is recognisable, it’s a good choice
Side note: these three heuristics explain market share across categories and regions with an average correlation of +0.9.


Better briefing leads to better creative work. And developing better creative is the best unfair advantage businesses can deploy. So steal these frameworks to kickstart your thinking and create better briefs.


Need some help with your brief? Talk to us.