The Simpler The Better

Positioning is sacrifice.” “A brand must be single-minded.” There’s no shortage of marketing texts or high-priced traveling consultant troubadours trumpeting their versions of this basic messaging commandment. If we all know the rule, why are so many agencies and clients operating outside of the law?

There’s only one way to account for the embarrassingly high number of convoluted, inconsistent brand communications bouncing around today’s vast media landscape: Too many briefs have lost their briefness. Classic, focus- oriented rallying cries of “garbage in, garbage out” and “10 pounds of excrement in a five-pound bag” have been replaced by “multifaceted” and “three-pronged” positioning platforms. Simplicity has lost ground to the evils of complexity. Consistency has sold out to variety.

An overly robust brief is a sure precursor to consumers having to work too damn hard to decipher the “on-brief” message awaiting them downstream. Forging a connection with a prospect is hard enough, even when you lay it out in the clearest, most inviting manner. If someone has to labor to crack your communication code, you might as well spend your ad money somewhere else.

Considering the volume of messages assaulting consumers (various articles and experts estimate that the average American is exposed to 3,000-8,000 daily media communications … pick a number), the odds of just getting noticed aren’t pretty. Throw in high-growth “on-demand” cable, TiVo and DVD technology, and the prospects are even scarier. These days, attaining the lauded “breakthrough” standard is nearly impossible. Start off with a sloppy creative brief, and the game’s over before it begins.

Holistic branding/messaging is cool, happening and something everyone’s yakking about these days (another article on it and I might have to yak into my trash can, holistically filling it). Any agency that hasn’t been working the 360-degree angle for years has probably been out of business for years. Scott Davis at Northwestern University says every brand has at least 30 and up to 100 touch points that various stakeholders experience daily. Pretty good argument for consistency in communications, don’t you think? Conflicting brand messages, fathered by schizophrenic briefs, make for confused customers and prospects, which make for short marketing-director tenures and AOR stints.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the further pressures placed on the creative brief by the increasingly vast array of strategically aligned agencies and marketing firms enlisted by many clients. While this allied coalition can indeed be powerful, if there isn’t a concise, succinct platform uniting their individual efforts, they’ll all likely march off to battle in different directions.

With all the noise, infinite brand touch points and multiple marketing partners working for a common client, it’s critical that creative briefs be exactly that: brief. Without a crisp, elegant statement to guide us and keep us honest, none of us stands a chance of pulling off what we get paid to do. If the next brief you see contains more than one idea or has to be explained to the team working on it, kill it. Or it’ll kill you later.

By definition, briefs are, after all, undergarments. Next time you see a sloppy one, ask the author to figuratively grab it by the elastic waistband and pull upward, toward his or her armpits. This proven method for tightening briefs will add needed emphasis, clarity and focus. Perhaps we should go one step further and officially change the name “creative brief” to “creative thong.”

Works for me. You in?