10 tips for crafting a great communications challenge – the heart of a great creative brief

At the heart of any great creative brief is a powerful communications challenge that anchors the strategy and is the springboard for a creative leap and hopefully a transformative idea.

All decent agencies around the world have caught on to the fact that modern marketing is about ‘doing, not saying’ and this is reflected in their creative briefing formats.

DDB have their new ‘behaviour change’ brief, Crispins brief is centred around the key ‘Question’ that needs to be answered, BBDO have their ‘get-who-to-by’ brief and Saatchi & Saatchi have their ‘Objective-issue-insight-challenge’ format.  I’m sure there are many other great formats.

No matter which way you cut it, at the heart of the brief there should always be a statement of transformation of consumer/brand behaviour. And compared to the old days, it must move beyond brand perception shift.

Here are 10 tips for what communication challenges on a brief should do:

  1. Have bigness and ambition, feel expandable
  2. Be inspiring  yet precise
  3. Have a juicy verb at its heart which is action oriented
  4. Contain a powerful truth
  5. Be provocative (or at least very interesting)
  6. Have some cultural tension embedded so it naturally gets people talking and excited about the brief
  7. Reframe a problem and ‘knock’ down the barrier or consumer issue
  8. Have the potential for a platform thought, not just a one off execution
  9. Stretch across media and time (Think being timely and timeless)
  10.  Be short, punchy, simple & single minded

When crafting a creative brief/strategy, many planners think they’ve got a juicy creative challenge but in reality they’ve reworded an objective with some marketing fluff – the result here is creatives saying ‘your brief is crap’.   So, if you’re starting your challenge with words like – To communicate, To say, To tell, To convince… you’re heading into messaging world.

Below are some thoughts on a Challenge vs an Objective.

The Communications Challenge An Objective
The most ambitious thing you can achieve What you hope to achieve
Inspirational Factual
Consumer/culture driven Product focused
Consumer language Agency suit talk
Overcomes a consumer issue Meets a business number/goal
Resolves a cultural or human tension Is straight up and doesn’t feel fresh
Drives behaviour change Communicates a proposition


A few examples of some cool challenges that led to great work:

 Jaguar ‘Gorgeous’

To get people to aspire to a life of ‘new fashioned luxury’

Playstation 3

To push every player to their next level


To make Hennessy irresistibly out of reach

Burger King ‘Whopper Sacrifice’

To proudly put their love of the Whopper before their friendships

Honda ‘Diesel’

To dramatise the fact that this is a diesel engine from the company that hated diesel engines. Honda used this hatred positively

Google Voice Search

To inspire Australians to ask more questions using their most natural searching tool…their voice.


To liberate country Aussies from the shackles of free to air TV

Sonic Hedgehog

To make Sonic digital playground currency again


An oldie but a goodie – Great creative brief led to great Coke work

It’s always great when you read a really simple and inspiring creative brief that led to awesome work. This is an abbreviated version of an old Wieden & Kennedy  brief from ’05 that led to the famous ‘Happiness Factory’ campaign and the ‘Coke Side of Life’ tagline. I love its simplicity and pointy-ness (if that’s a word), emotive language as well as the fact it gave creatives numerous meaty departure points for idea generation. It nails a key consumer issue that’s built out of a obvious objective of restoring global sales.

ISSUE: Coke has become a forgotten friend

CHALLENGE: Remind people of what makes Coke special

BRAND IDEA: Coke is the genuine taste of happiness


Coke is delicious and refreshing.

It won’t restore the ozone layer or solve world peace.

But it will lift your spirits, especially when things aren’t going your way,

And you need a little taste of happiness.

This is when only a Coke will do.


REAL & HONEST – one of a kind, refreshes your mind and body like no other

INTIMATE & PERSONAL – Coke is the ultimate connector – partake in simple life pleasures

FRIENDLIEST drink on earth

JOYFUL & UPLIFTING – Coke is the eternal optimist, a ‘can do’ attitude reminds us that a better tomorrow always awaits

Unfortunately Coke hasn’t really created an amazing global Coke campaign since this campaign. They need to return to this brief as much of their recent work is wallpaper.

Crispin Porter + Bogusky Briefing Format

I’ve always had  massive respect and admiration for the guys over at CPB – I love 90% of their work, they continually create culture with the work they do for brands like Burger King, Domino’s, VW and even most recently on Microsoft and Nike +. I  came across the key elements of their creative brief which i think are fantastic, as they really lay the foundations for culture creating ideas that generate mass buzz and engagement.

The key difference with other agency briefing formats is  that they focus on ‘tensions in culture’ and a key ‘Question’ to be answered, rather than a focus on messaging. From listening to Suzanne Powers speak (Crispins Global strategy head) Crispin may go into a creative briefing with numerous ‘questions’ to be answered.

.Here are the key elements to their brief:


– What is the most relevant and differentiating idea that will surprise consumers or challenge their current thinking of the brand?


– What is the psychological, social or cultural tension associated with this idea? What makes our target tense about the idea?

Cultural truths are always moving, so tensions are everywhere. The most interesting tension needs to make you squirm a bit. That’s where energy lies.


– What is the question we need to answer to complete this assignment?

The question should release the tension by shifting culture, making it controversial and related to the product truth. If it wouldn’t generate conversation over dinner, it’s not big or provocative enough.


– What about the brand could help us start a dialogue between the brand and our consumers, among our target and/or within pop culture?

The reason I like this briefing format so much is that is is so different to that of 90% of the other agencies in the world which typically talk through Problem, Target, Insight, Proposition/Comms Challenge, RTB, Creative Though Starters, Brand Personality. It’s also maybe why there work polarises as their starting point is all about picking tensions in culture that the brand can contribute/start a conversation in culture around.

The other interesting point of note, is the fact that creative ideas at CPB are always presented back as news headlines or press releases. Getting talked about in culture is an unfair business advantage and what brands are constantly searching for in the social age.