Why creative briefing doesn’t work

The Angry Young Man image and stories created by Salim-Javed have been much analysed over the years by experts. Its ability to reflect the sense of betrayal & angst of the common man due to the perceived failure and corruption of the government has been attributed to its resounding success. In his interviews later, however, Javed Akhtar has said they did not really think of it this way while creating the stories.

This is a pattern that often repeats itself.

The post analysis of great creative work invariably reveals deeper insights than what the creators themselves used to present their creation initially. Resulting in a questioning of the analysis itself. The analysis is often accused of unnecessary hair splitting because ‘the creator never saw it this way’.

To my mind, it does not discredit the post analysis. It perhaps points out that the creator may not always be consciously aware of the insights his/her creation is based on.

Which is why, creation and analysis are two separate abilities, not everyone has both of them.

More importantly, great creative work is often instinctive and ‘inspired’. It resonates with the creator (and the audience) before and maybe without an overt explanation of why it does so.

This perhaps points out an inherent ‘flaw’ in the briefing process designed by marketing teams, research and advertising agencies.

The briefing process is a rather conscious handing over of insights from brand teams, research agencies and servicing/planning teams to the creatives. And the former is rather surprised that their carefully researched and crafted insights they feel very excited about, does not evoke an equally enthused response from the latter. Even if it does (sometimes under pressure knowing the client is watching), it does not come through in the subsequent work.

This is because three things are missing in the process.

One, the insight needs to be the creator’s own. It takes a big coincidence for creators to find personal resonance with handed over insights, uncovered by someone else.

Secondly, the excessively conscious analysis of the insight robs it of the magic. Building forward from the insight to a story that ‘includes’ the insight becomes a mathematical exercise creating uninspiring, disjointed work.

And thirdly, everyone has their own definition of what an insight is anyways!

Is it any surprise then that planners are often scrambling to ‘retro-fit’ insights to present the work the creatives have come up with? Trying hard to make a connection between the client brief, research findings and the work on hand.

Maybe we need to rethink the process a bit. Allowing some scope for accidental stumbling upon great stories and evaluating them for insight fit LATER. Scary, right? But stay with me here.

What is important is for the creatives to understand the ‘person’ they are writing for by themselves. Their lives, concerns, anxieties, hopes, dreams, fantasies. And figure out how they will sell to this person.

Parallely, the strategic team can deep dive to understand important insights, not for briefing, but for post evaluation of creatives. If stories that sound great instinctively also align with insights the strategic teams know, its time to green light the work. If it is a minor misalignment, it can be taken care of.

I know, ‘hiding’ insights from creatives till they present work sounds like a crazy idea. You can argue with it.

Or, you can enjoy a great movie this weekend and read all the analysis about what made it great later 🙂