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What works in advertising could work in social media

July 7, 2008

John Wanamaker famously said that he knew half the money he spent on advertising worked, he just didn’t know which half. The reality is, advertising works. And it works because of the creative brief.

Traditional advertising starts with a creative brief. Creative briefs at various agencies differ somewhat, but all start out at as a brief for a certain media. There are campaign briefs, where the campaign will include TV, Radio, Print. Or there are just TV, or just print briefs (or direct marketing, POP, radio, etc.)

And all briefs generally contain the following:

Business Objective: is this a new product launch? Is the goal to combat a competitor? This is a why we’re doing this ad question, and it really shouldn’t be about increasing sales because all marketing should attempt that.

Communications Objective: what should the ad compel people to do in order to achieve the business objective?

Target market: who the ad should speak to. The better briefs have a story about the bulls eye target market. Instead of saying women 25-35, it gives that person a personality.

Unique Selling Proposition: Coined by Rosser Reeves, this is the one thing the marketing will try to convey that will distinguish the product from all the other ones. Some people call it the “Single Most Important Point”, but I will always like USP because I once worked at Bates Worldwide, the place that invented it, and the brief had a big call-out box around the USP section.

Proof: This is the proof of the USP. For instance if the USP is “gets hair shiny”, then the proof might explain why. The proof section is where the copywriter gets the points to write the copy.

Other things that are self-evident: budget, timelines, mandatories (ie client logo).

The brief is a critical piece of the creation of advertising. Think of the brief as the plans for a house. If a home builder simply started with a blank slate, the house will not end up looking like everyone wanted it to. If a campaign started without a brief, it would certainly look different than everyone expected. (I also like to imagine the brief as directions to a party. There are a number of ways to go, but if you don’t get a general idea of the rigfht direction, you’ll simply drive around in circles.)

The creative brief is the foundation for the campaign and the place where people can check on the progress.

So, knowing that traditional advertising uses a brief, it seems clear to wonder about social media advertising. It should have a goal, but should it have a brief? I think yes. Briefs are good. Thus, here’s my take of what should be in the social media brief:

What is the goal: This is kind of a cross between business objective and communications objective. Since social media campaigns are potential conversations, define the goal of these conversations. It might simply be “enhance the brand”, but it might be better to dig deeper.

What are we doing?
Define the scope of the project. Is it part of a promotion? Part of a campaign? What are we being asked to create?

Why are we doing it?
Is this a stand along effort, or part of an overall communications strategy that includes traditional advertising?

Who is the target market?
Define the person. Give as much background on the bulls-eye candidate.

What media do they currently consume?
This can be an amendment to the previous entry. Remember, the traditional brief is for a media. Thus, if the brief is for a TV spot, it’s assumed that’s the media they are most-likely consuming. In social media, we need to know what they are using. Supply a general list of media they consume, i.e. instant messaging, texting, TV, radio, podcasts, blogs, social networks, etc.

What is the objective?
What do we want the target to do? At the end of this project, what is the definition of success? How will we measure the target’s actions? Define the goals in terms of results.

What does the target think about the brand?
A few Google alerts will give a nice picture of the conversations that people are already having about the brand. Will this complement an existing ad campaign? Are there creative guidelines for maintaining consistency with current campaigns? Will the target be asked to do something somewhere else?

When and how will it end?
In traditional advertising, this isn’t a question that needs an answer. It often ends when the client’s budget runs out because traditional advertising runs on paid media. But if the campaign involves a Twitter feed, or a blog, then figuring out when, and more importantly how, it will end is important. We learned that the hard way with a Twitter feed for a promotion that just sort of petered out. Answer how it will end, and the when part will work itself out.

So that’s my list. That’s my brief. It looks a lot prettier on stationary, and it includes a couple of other things (budget, mandatories, etc), but this is basically it. Start here, and build your social media campaign.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2008 5:07 am

    RocSearch, the UK-based research & analytics firm has recently released a research study on ‘Leveraging Social Media for Brands’. The study showcases the social media eco-system, its drivers & imperatives while detailing cases of brand successes and failures attempting to harness the power of this medium. For a complementary copy of the study, visit

  2. July 15, 2008 9:57 pm


    I think you are right on target. I definitely think social media should have a creative brief.

  3. July 17, 2008 2:30 pm

    Hi Matt, we came up against pretty much the same problem. So we created our own ad creative brief:

    This is about our 3rd version of the brief.

    Of course, our is more ad-oriented. But I think it also tries to achieve the same things you mention above — bringing together all parties involved in the creative process and providing a frame to work around.

    Hope that’s helpful. We have it for download in a variety for formats, so go nuts.

    And if you have any feedback, lay it on me. As the elephant said: I’m all ears.


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  3. He shoots, he scores a social media goal « People like to share
  4. Your USP Will Make You (or Break You) | KillerBlog

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