The Creative Brief: Definition, Influences & Importance

Instructor: Mary Matthiesen-Jones

Mary has worked around the world for over 30 years in international business, advertising, and market research. She has a Master's degree in International Management and has taught University undergraduate and graduate level courses .

Visual storytelling is increasingly important in today's multi-media marketing environment. Learn how campaign creative briefs are developed to guide the design process.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Our brains process visuals thousands of times faster than the written word and the vast majority of information that we take in every day is visual. This is why visual storytelling plays such a critical part in the modern marketing process.

Visual storytelling is a narrative that is told primarily using visual media such as illustrations, photographs, or video. It should be noted that visual storytelling is nothing new. It has been around since prehistoric times, in the form of things such as cave paintings.

Prehistoric Visual Storytelling
Prehistoric Visual Storytelling

Today, however, marketers often do not pay as much attention to the visuals as they do to the words on the page, the computer screen, or that are spoken in a television commercial. A great deal of time is spent briefing the writers but often the visual component is expected to just 'happen!' But art directors and graphic designers need the same information to develop compelling visual narratives that appeal to and motivate consumers.

The Creative Brief

All effective creative starts with a creative brief, a document that serves as a blueprint for what is to be created. A creative brief is short and focused, providing specific information including the objective of what is to be developed, the target audience for the message, the key messages that are to be communicated, the media to be used, and any other insights that may help guide the creative team. Whether the goal is a TV, magazine, or Internet ad, they all begin with the same foundation.

As part of this process, the client plays an important role. Clients contribute not just the background information but also what they see as the most essential components that must be included. Throughout the creative process, the goals of advertising must always be kept front and center. What does the client want to achieve with the ad? After all, they are paying for it.

For effective visual storytelling, where text may be limited or non-existent, there are also some other key considerations. Think about our prehistoric cave painting.

  • Context - Viewers must know the basic scenario. Our prehistoric people were familiar with hunting so just by showing people with bows and arrows they had a basic idea of what the story was about.
  • People relate to people - We relate more quickly to people than to abstract images. Think about what the story in the cave painting would be like without the people.
  • Show conflict - Conflict, whether people are hunting animals or just trying to decide what brand of beer to order to impress someone, creates tension and therefore interest.
  • Focus - Good design leads the viewer to the most important images. The photographer who took the picture of the cave painting focused on the images of the people. The animals were on the edge to create context.
  • Keep it moving - Although our prehistoric drawings were two-dimensional, action was evident with the animals running while the hunters were aiming and gesturing. Action, even in a still picture, helps retain the viewer's attention and helps them absorb the total message.

The Creative Brief in Action

So what does a visual storytelling creative brief look like? Let's assume that we need to develop a beer ad for the Internet where it could be seen on computers and different mobile devices. The ad has to rely almost exclusively on visuals because the ability to hear sound or read text may vary by type of device.

Creative briefs often appear in the form of a table or chart to make them easier to follow. Here is a sample of one for our beer:

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