The Slide That Launched a Thousand Arguments at Cannes

R/GA and Beats tackle the 'numbing consensus' of marketing briefs

Headshot of David Griner

The slide was always meant to be provocative, but it wasn't originally intended to be quite so vulgar.

"When I first saw it, it had 'F*** Briefs,' " recalled Nick Law, the global creative chief at R/GA. "And I said, 'Just spell it out.' "

The result was a slide that may have sparked more conversation among Cannes Lions attendees than any other, which is especially impressive considering that, beyond the R/GA logo, it had only two words.

Part of a presentation by R/GA London managing director James Temple and Beats by Dre marketing evp Omar Johnson, the slide was meant to be a rallying cry for agencies and clients to collaborate closely and constantly, rather than relying on the longstanding process of creating strategic marketing briefs.

Temple and Johnson described their teams' relationship as one so interwoven on a daily basis that the idea of creating a strategic brief in advance of a campaign seems archaic and pointlessly bureaucratic—a lingering relic of a bygone era.

Nick Law

"The reaction I expected," said Law, who designed the presentation, "was a lot of planners getting angry."

That's largely what came to pass. For days after the presentation at last week's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, everyone from strategy chiefs to social media managers to brand architects debated the slide and its larger message that strategic briefs have outlived their usefulness.

"When you had smaller teams, and before client organizations became so complicated, then a brief would be a significant moment in that process," Law told Adweek. "But the process wasn't as engorged as it's become, so it didn't represent all that numbing consensus that it does now."

In the days following R/GA's presentation with Beats, we tracked down several of the industry leaders at Cannes and asked what they thought of the merit and meaning behind "Fuck Briefs." Here are their responses:

Andrew Robertson, CEO, BBDO Worldwide:

Andrew Robertson  

"Precisely because you want to be able to move in real time, you have to have had a really crisp, well-thought-through, well-articulated strategy. If everything just becomes an impulse, instead of creating a stronger wall, you're just going to end up with a pile of rubble.

"You don't restart every time you start another piece of work, because you know what you're working with. You take Snickers—'You're not you when you're hungry' is so precisely defined, we could, right now, write a Snickers ad set at this table in this location, we could write a tweet, etc., because the idea is so crisply defined.

"When you've got that, then you don't have to keep starting over. Without that, you run the risk of just adding to noise."

José Mollá, founder and chief creative officer, La Comunidad:

José Mollá

"There are two kinds of briefs: the brief that inspires you, and the brief that is used in the corporate world as a safety net so you can say, 'Hey, it's in the brief.'

"I think people forget about the meaning of the word 'brief.' It's supposed to go to the essence of something, of the problem. And that's inspiring because it simplifies it. But that's not the case all the time. It's loaded with stuff.

"Sometimes you spend a month to get to the right brief and then you have 10 days left to come up with ideas, and you're like, 'Seriously?'"

Daz McColl, global chief brand strategy officer, SapientNitro:

Daz McColl

"I just thought they missed the point. If that's an issue for them, then they don't get it, because it should never be about the brief. Even though I'm the guy who helps frame it and make sure everyone does a brief, it's never about the brief. It's actually about the briefing. It's about the conversation.

"The way [R/GA and Beats] used it was to say, 'Hey, we don't have these things because they get in our way.' Whereas I would say, 'We have these things because they're a small tool, but it's the conversation that's most important.'

"To me, a brief should inspire, and it should actually speed the process up because a group of people have actually had meaningful discussions about how we're going to focus our efforts rather than being random."

Matt Jarvis, chief strategy officer, 72andSunny:

Matt Jarvis  

"You can't use speed as an excuse to not be strategic. That's letting yourself off the hook way too easily. You just have to be strategic faster.

"You have to be comfortable with the fact you can make a damn good decision very quickly with 80 percent of the data, or you can wait forever for 100 percent of the data. What you give up in getting that complete knowledge you lose in the fact that that complete knowledge might not be relevant anymore.

"At 72andSunny, our strategic function operates in real time. We have ongoing tracking of all our brands, all the analytics, everything that's going on. So no one ever has to hit pause and say, 'We need a data analysis.' We believe strongly in briefs. We just believe in doing them a lot faster."

Photos of Nick Law, Andrew Robertson and Matt Jarvis by Alfred Maskeroni. Presentation photo courtesy of Engin Gedick

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."