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


Influencer Interview with an arbiter of cool: Meet Erica

Erica partying at Playground Weekender

Erica partying at Playground Weekender

I’m lucky enough to work with a super cool chick called Erica who totally has her finger on the pulse when it comes to youth culture, especially in the music space. We’re collaborating on some cool projects and I wanted to get her viewpoint on one part of youth culture I’m weak on, the world of music. Love your work E.

What do you think are the most popular/interesting youth ‘tribes’ at the moment? What’s emerging?

The ENTREPRENEURS – I’m amazed at how many 20 something’s and younger are starting their own businesses and non for profit projects in really niche areas. They have the eye for the angle and the drive to make it happen. They’re leaders in their peer group and it’s not uncool to be successful

The ALTERNATIVES – tattoos are back and have been in for a while. Think full sleeved tattoos and facial piercings. Interestingly they are actually very ‘normal’ and mainstream. Even the beautiful glam girls are getting in on this scene, thanks to Kat Von D and celebs like Megan Fox.

 The DRESS UP- friends that fancy dress at any given opportunity. The spontaneous fancy dress trend has been emerging for the last few years and continues to grow. You’ve seen them at festivals, at the beach, at mates parties. It’s all about having a laugh and becoming someone else for the night. (i’ll admit my group falls into this category)

What’s the most important thing for a brand to think about/understand when looking to engage with youth?

You need to have a reason to belong and a right to be talking with them.  You need to understand exactly what tribe you’re talking to and the language they speak. If you get it wrong you’re immediately on the outer. It’s all about gaining credibility over time and once you’ve got it to keep following through

Ask yourself what you offer them, what’s your awesome brand experience that they can take away with them and preferably share with their mates….. Some things haven’t changed over the years – now more than ever kids love free shit.

What’s the key formula for putting on an amazing youth event/experience in the music space?

Younger consumers actually embrace brands presence at music festivals and other events, they’re savvy enough to know that hosting big events costs money. What upsets them is when a brand either (a) doesn’t try to engage specific to their environment at all (eg just sticking up  a tent with some promo staff in it) or (b) tries to be too ‘down with the kids’ and ends up getting cast as a try hard.

 There are lots of genres of music popular with youth: 80’s, hip hop, indie, folksy, electro, reggae….what’s going to be big this upcoming summer do you think?

80’s is going to be huge, huger than it already has been with the electro phase that’s been around for a few years . We’re already seeing it with  the success of La Roux – who’ve been upgraded from the Gaelic to the Enmore with fairly limited push from their record company. It’s permeated into fashion, i noticed that at the start of this year the chambray shirt and Degrassi Junior High wardrobe was back….

Aussie Hip Hop continues to go from strength to strength. I was at Splendour this year and the Hill Top Hoods drew the biggest crowds of the festival.

 Do teens/20 somethings belong to many different music tribes at once, or are they fixated on one genre typically?

You’re still definitely more ‘something’ than ‘something else’. Like an indie with an emo slant. Or a Rock chick who likes a side of hip hop and a dash of pop.

It’s all about being a chameleon with musical taste.

With the ipod playlist came the freedom to have all sorts of music genres at your fingers tips- and to proudly share them with the world  🙂