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The Advertising Brief

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This piece is in keeping with our commitment to helping professionals comply with standard professional practice in developing advertising messages. In particular, we are concerned with drawing attention to  those basic and fundamentally  functional elements most often taken for granted by those I refer to as  ‘new-age’ practitioners; they are the 22 – 35 new media enthusiasts, IT-savvy, highly mobile, adventurous and in a hurry to wrap-up on assignments.

In addition to their character traits, however, prevalent practice environment is compromised. As against the tradition of extensive pre-practice professional training, corporate & institutional orientation, and post-training examination for capacity appreciation…we are all in a rush these days, compromising Good Quality value-based professional engagement.  Yet we are all professionals.

The task, however, is to note that professionalism is about responsibility; the responsibility  of delivering on expected professional quality  in line with globally accepted  rating,  not minding the environment of play. For instance, the golden rule for quality measurement when it comes to advertising product/service quality is Effectiveness and Efficiency. More critically, these two measurement standards are directly interpreted in quantifiable (financial) value. This is so easy to identify with because, more and more, every penny spent on Advertising is an investment…that must yield return.  So, at any point in time when professional engagement for advertising investment does not amply demonstrate Effectiveness and Efficiency, actual monetary loss is evident. Simple!

Sadly, even among some of us old practitioners, we have gradually compromised on those professional standards, which sometimes come to bear as routine, and challenges us on professional discipline and patience, much enough to keep us in check. Some of us have deliberately compromised the system and even the ethical requirements. So, if you mention simple routine engagements such as writing the Contact Reports after every Client /Agency meeting, it would sound like archaic and a waste of ‘valuable time’, disregarding the importance of that procedural step as a legal safeguard for parties involved from both the client and Agency side.

So, there exists the problem of decline in compliance to professional practice standard among practitioners, absence of professional training at point of entry for new practitioners, and re-training, all of which culminate in steady decline in quality of advertising products and services. Therein lays the challenge and task for us at MC&A DIGEST and other stakeholders who engage for same or similar purpose. Until stakeholders step up in commitment to add value for improved performance, the quality of advertising practice, products and services, will continue to decline. Consequent upon such decline would be failing commerce, poor returns on investment in brand establishment, management and development, and other attendant implications.

One of the critical elements in the advertising operating process, commonly undermined today is writing the advertising brief. The importance of a good advertising brief cannot be over-stated. Primarily, it is the start point of the entire process from strategic planning, strategy review, creative planning & production, campaign execution and post-execution performance review. If advertising is the telling of brands’ story for (commercial) competitive advantage, then it can only be imagined how much of the responsibility of ensuring a good end-product at the end of the procedure depends on the quality of The Written Brief.  If we closely follow with another fact that there is no good story without pieces of information and a plot, we can then begin to appreciate the importance of background information, properly gathered and arranged, set in a plot for a good and impactful brand story.

That sets the tone for appreciating the importance of an advertising brief.

The advertising brief helps in determining the scope and extent of strategic and creative input towards creating a successful advertising or campaign material(s). It precedes and complements the Creative brief Forms that create and shape the plot, guides the creative process and helps in profiling the target audience (the familiar corporate culture worked with a three-part Brief Form format – The Background, The Creative & The Media Brief forms). In addition, the Brief Forms help in profiling a brand’s competitors, and guide the agency towards properly investigating own-brand for Strength, Weakness, Opportunities & Threats (SWOT Analysis).

In effect, a brand’s communication support or advertising campaign is only as good, impactful – Effective and Efficient – as the brief that originates the entire process. That explains why professionally managed brands pay utmost attention to developing the Advertising Brief. It is such an important start-point that developing the Brief expects contribution from all stakeholders in any given assignment – including the client.  I still find the Procter & Gamble outstanding (if they still do so now). Way back when I worked in the team that introduced Vicks Lemon Plus and Euro-Pampers brands into this market, P&G system required the Agency team to work on her brands go through a period of orientation within her corporate system. The aim was to adequately intimate the agency with the P&G creative policy (copy strategy) – to ensure Effective and Efficient brand support.

Not to mention the advertising brief from then on, a brief from P&G clearly spelt out the given brand’s profile, value-essence, promise, its target market, and the advertising & marketing objective(s).  Of course, and that is what makes it all the more interesting, the brief from the P&G team back then, was always extensively supported by research figures/reports.

It is of note that the creative process requires the advertising team’s verification of research inputs, preparatory to writing the Brief or Brief Forms.  As a case study, the experience with P&G was quite engaging and exciting because by the tradition of the practice environment then (which is the tradition with my team now), the client’s brief leads to Agency’s own research procedure for facts verification. It was all a closely-knit process designed for value optimisation.

A good advertising brief assures all of the above.

The challenge, however, is that a good brief can only come from a properly trained professional to engage for the task, and it is traditionally the task of the Clients Service Executive to so do. He meets the client, (should) understand the brand and in its entirety, including its competitive environment and challenges; he/she should be in the position to advise the internal system on the brand’s needs.  Writing a good advertising brief requires intelligence, commitment, dedication, professionalism, attention to details, knowledge of the brand, market and consumer expectations, and be ready to do the challenging job of protecting the brand against real measurable losses –  whether in terms of share-of-consumer-mind or actual shelf off-take. All of these are considered too problematic by over 75 per cent of brand managers on the client’s side in today’s environment.

 

Part of the problem is that the role of brand management is largely placed in the hands of alternatives not particularly trained for the responsibilities. There are instances of PR practitioners and news reporters (journalists) appointed in the category of Corporate Affairs Managers, within category the specifics for technical brand management and advertising process management are shrouded in so much uncertainty that results in financial and non-financial losses. Improper job description and personnel engagement, therefore, have added to the confusion.

By and large, we must put the importance of writing an advertising brief in its true perspective. There cannot be a good and effective advertising or campaign with potentials to optimise returns on advertising spend, without a good Brief. It is an important cost-saving measure to engage trained professionals to manage advertising process, if brand owners would want to achieve Effective and Efficient advertising that would deliver expected returns on brand management investments.

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