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Give your creative team a box

Since I’ve started working in the big ATL agency, I’ve had many, many arguments with fellow planners and creative directors.

See, I’m one of these people who believe a brief needs to have an idea, the beginning of something for creative teams to start thinking about.

And then, there is the other school of thought which says you don’t want to give constraints to your creative team so you want to leave the brief as open as possible, which results in propositions or big ideas (which they are not) like ‘it’s about happiness’, or ‘the fresh smell that lasts longer’, ‘great cereals for the family’.

How many times have I heard that we I couldn’t have a real idea in my brief because it was too directive. And we don’t want to give directions to the creative team.

But hold on, is it not what we are meant to do as planners? When you look at the W+K’s work on Honda, it seems to me that planners had a equally important role on the creative process that the creative team themselves.

So this is with great interest that I read this Fast Company’s article, wrote by who else than the Heat brothers: ‘Get back in the box‘.

Because it gives me a few ammunitions for the next time I’ll be having this debate. Quoting the brothers:

We’re always told to think outside the box. But it’s about time someone spoke up for the box. Because, paradoxically, thinking inside a box can spark creativity, not squelch it. So maybe you don’t need to think out of the box. Maybe you just need a new one to think in.

Research tells us that brainstorming becomes more productive when it’s focused. As jazz great Charles Mingus famously said, “You can’t improvise on nothing, man; you’ve gotta improvise on something.”

The author use 2 examples. Entourage being pitched as Sex and the city for men. And a new bank wanting to position itself as more Starbucks and less post office.

That tells me everything I need to know, how to act and what decisions I should be making. Ideas start flowing. And yet, it is directive and constraining.

So, when writing a brief for a new car, with objectives of communicationg masculinity and muscularity, don’t write: ‘it’s the ultimate car for men’. That doesn’t give me anything to start with. Is not specific or interesting.

Write: it’s like (insert car name) but with a shot of proper testosterone. I can start feeling the tone of voice, what to do, how to describe it, what feeling should the viewer experience… I actually used that proposition for a former client and the result was a digital silver at Cannes.

But many briefs I come accross at my job or from my other creative and planners friends, are still not giving creative that precious box.

And yes, creative directors may not like it at first, because they feel like you are taking away their precious responsability and hurting their ego, but I’m confident this is the way forward. The day of the ‘washes whiter’ are being counted. Creative just have to understand that this is a joint process. But they have all the rights to complain if the ‘box’ they are being given is shit…

These ‘box’ do not necessarly need to be comparison but using well known authorities or examples do help. Metaphors are another powerful tool to be used: “enjoy every drive as the first one”.

Or if trying to sell Belgium: ‘it’s like France, but without the French’ (I’m particularly fond of that one).

But it could simply be a piece of stimulus. I’ve used a part of the movie, ‘Rules of attraction’, when one of the guy has a Eurotrip, visits each countries and meets lots of girls, summarised in 3 minutes, as my brief to a creative team.

To get to the stories I mention below, a good box seems to be a good way of getting there.

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