Why Do We Call Them 'Creative' Briefs?

The traditional advertising creative brief has a history dating back to 1863.

That year, President Lincoln was asked to speak at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. An unprecedented human tragedy and the product of a war that Lincoln was trying to justify would be the backdrop for this speech.  

To prepare Mr. Lincoln, a staffer developed an outline of what needed to be said. This first-of-its-kind outline was named “the creative brief” because it provided “a focused structure the President could use for inspiration.” Here’s how it read: 



What is the problem this speech must solve?

Convince northerners this war is important.



Target audience:

15-20,000 adults 18+ who will either be gathered in Gettysburg or will read about it in newspapers across the country. Many are tired of the war and doubting its purpose.

What do we want them to think?

These soldiers died to help this country.


Our cause (See Declaration of Independence).

How do we want them to feel?

Motivated to keep up the fight.

What do we want them to do?

Show support for the war.

Upon reading this, Mr. Lincoln crumpled it up, tossed it out and fired the staffer who wrote it. Lincoln knew what he had to say based on his own heartfelt understanding of the atrocities of war. Equipped with empathy and a gift for language, Lincoln then wrote one of the most significant American speeches ever delivered.  

Okay -- so this story reconstructs history. Okay -- more than a little. But it demonstrates an important point. Expecting creative briefs to inspire creativity is like expecting an artist to create a masterpiece using a paint-by-numbers kit.

Arguably, creative briefs are necessary. They outline the creative assignment. But they do very little to spark creativity. It’s hard to get emotionally engaged with a checklist of facts. Creative teams need something more at their disposal to do their best work.  

The "I AM" statement 

As an adjunct to the creative brief, there is a useful tool that can deal with this problem. It’s called the I AM statement. In short, it’s a first-person account of the prospect, written from the prospects’ standpoint and voice. I AM statements go beyond factual expositions of what needs to be accomplished and with whom. They work like stories, influencing empathic identification with their characters.   

Imagine this first-person narrative accompanied a creative brief. 

"I AM someone who is pained by the passing of young lives as the result of this atrocious war, a war that continues to create more suffering than any nation deserves. Must this continue? How necessary is this fighting, Mr. Lincoln? How many more lives must be lost?"

This statement adds emotional texture to the factual description of the prospect as defined in the creative brief.

Empathy is a necessary ingredient to any persuasive effort, including the selling of brands. I AM statements can bring the writer closer to the audience's experience far more effectively than an exposition of observations made from the outside looking in. 

See for yourself. First, think of your prospect in the aggregate. Then offer a definition of that prospect with a sentence starting with “I Am.” Provide a general description of relevant thoughts and feelings that you have. Describe an unmet or unsatisfied need. Discuss your frustrations or satisfactions with current offerings. Just as you explained who you are, explain who you are not. Talk about anything and everything that will reveal what it's like to be the generalized prospect you are addressing. Talk in the voice of that imagined audience. 

It takes some practice. But at the very least, while writing I AM statements, you will be forced to dig deeper than you might otherwise for insights and a truer understanding of the prospect.

This is not to suggest eradicating the creative brief. Rather, it demonstrates how relying on a shortened form of facts gets in the way of providing the emotional lift any persuasive message needs in order to resonate with its audience. Supplementing the creative brief, I AM statements do more to inspire creativity.





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