What’s the Brief? Sudhir Nair, 21N78E Creative Labs

Guest Column: Sudhir Nair, Founder of 21N78E Creative Labs, tells us more about how ideas behind advertising briefs have changed over time

There is a reason why certain things should exist in perpetuity. Specifically, when we talk advertising and how it has evolved or has been cannibalized, whichever way you look at it, it becomes all the more relevant. And this coming from someone like me, who is a digital native and a dinosaur at it – a medium in which everything is meant to be real-time and on-the-go.

That’s where age-old fundamentals make a big difference. A couple of decades ago, when digital was all about blinking banners, all one needed to do was “Adapt”. How much ever depressing it used to sound for most digital folks, there was at least a satisfaction that the messaging was right, because it came from a place of insights and thinking, put in by the “Mainline” teams. I have been part of many brainstorms to discuss ideas for a campaign or pitches in those days. If you ignore the fact that digital was just a check-box, the thinking and the level of discussions used to be fantastic. The best part of these meetings would begin as soon as the big question was asked “What’s the brief…Brief kya hai…??”.

Mostly, the briefs used to be:

  • Clear and articulate with the problem statement identified
  • Followed by a reasonable understanding of the brand

There used to be heated debates around the brief and consumer understanding. Once the brief was agreed upon; everyone would go back to thinking about what would work best. For on-going clients, the output used to be bang-on most of the times. As far as pitches were concerned, it would be something that all of us would believe in; win or lose.

If the brief was unclear for any reason, all hell would break loose; and someone would eventually walk-out before making it clear that the brief has to be revisited. The teams would go back to the drawing board, probe and dig deeper, do market visits, address some of the questions raised and come back with a finer definition of the brief and then the work would start. The brief and the insights used to act as guard rails for all ideas.

Then things changed and with it, to some extent, the definition of advertising. It had become all about:

  • Medium over messaging
  • Output over the outcome
  • Noise over substance
  • Viral over targeted
  • Innovation over intuitiveness
  • Magic over logic
  • Format over finesse
  • Complexity over simplicity and many more

Unfortunately, the medium that ended being at the forefront of this change was digital. I say unfortunately because it was all trial by fire. The medium, though growing rapidly, was considered cheap hence a virgin territory to experiment. Digital consumer versus offline consumer was the yardstick; completely ignoring the fact that it’s the same consumer. Nevertheless, any experiment that clicked would be in vogue for the next few months…until something new was discovered. Money defined the scale and it was measured basis metrics that showed short term gains.

Needless to say, as time progressed a lot of questions started cropping up – from efficiency to efficacy, ROI to ROAS, tangible to intangibles. However, what skipped the debate was the input that leads to the output, i.e. the brief.

The rigour that needed to go into a brief had vanished. The insights that helped craft messaging had taken a backseat. In fact, the whole idea of the brief itself had been reduced to mere tokenism. Something that the agencies and brands have been guilty of. However, in between all of this, some great work has also seen the light. Considering how big the advertising landscape is now, and the given the number of brands, why are the memorable ones so far and few across all mediums? Maybe the answer lies in the brief that leads to creating those memorable pieces of work.

Most importantly, irrespective of the fact that real-time has now become on-time, everything has started getting mapped against the long-term goals. These goals are always an outcome of the same old question that leads to great work being produced. A question that all of us need to ask ourselves and the brands… “What’s the Brief…brief kya hai?”.

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