Simplifying the Creative Process

August 15th, 2016
Creative Guidlines

As an agency, one of our favorite types of projects to undertake is an ad campaign. Whether for brand awareness, corporate re-branding or a new product launch, an ad campaign means the opportunity for creativity, ingenuity and out-of-the-box thinking.

Before we can focus on creativity, however, we need to have a solid understanding of the goals, audience and message the campaign is meant to convey. That’s why we pursue an exercise called “Creative Guidelines.” This exercise helps to provide clear/complete direction, set expectations for the project and verify that everyone involved (from client, to project manager, to creative team and back again) is on the same page. The Creative Guidelines document also provides the creative team with marketing context, an understanding of the audience and their pain points, a summary of the selling proposition that the ad is to communicate, and supporting evidence that will persuade the audience to believe the selling proposition.

To get a better understanding of what’s involved in the development of Creative Guidelines, here is a quick overview of some key sections we discuss with our clients:

Market Situation

  • This summarizes why the campaign is needed (i.e., brand re-vitalization or positioning, product launch, expanding awareness, cross promotion, seasonal or event-specific campaign, etc.)
  • A brief background summary of where the client is coming from (i.e., new entrant to a market, long history with the audience, revolutionary new technology, etc.)
  • Whenever possible, this section will also include some notion of competitive landscape. In some instances this might be an extensive section (many direct competitors or particularly troublesome competitors). In others it might be alternative solutions.


  • What is the client’s desired result of the ad campaign? (i.e., increased brand awareness, more precise understanding of brand, shifting attitudes toward a product/brand, expanding category, taking market share, lead generation, etc.)

Target Audience

  • What do we know about the audience? (i.e. demographics, psychographics, job title, product usage, anything that will help define the group of prospects who constitute the target audience)
  • Sometimes we’ll even create a profile of one specific individual – a composite of attributes that characterize a “typical” prospect. Our goal is for the ads to be crafted to interest and appeal to a specific individual. This helps “personalize” the audience.
  • What insight do we have into what this individual thinks, his/her concerns, aspirations, “points of pain” that the message should address?
  • Why should this audience be interested in what we want to say?  What would persuade them to change their minds?
  • What the audience thinks now vs. what we want them to think after seeing the ads (ideally what would be their enlightened opinion or perception?)

Key Selling Proposition (the heart of the message)

  • What is the one most important, compelling idea the ad must instill in the minds of the audience? Effective ads can only convey a single, memorable message. Prioritizing the campaign goals helps us winnow the message down to its core.
  • What is the most persuasive, believable argument that can be made? There may be an overall brand promise underlying a campaign (multiple executions of one proposition). Or there may be campaigns where each ad has an individual selling proposition that emphasizes a specific facet of the overall brand promise.

Communication Keys

  • What facts “prove” this campaign idea? What facts, examples or performance data is needed?
  • How should these proof points be prioritized?
  • Which of these are most distinctive, most important to the prospects, credible, sustainable?
  • What other specific content is necessary (i.e., specific product photos or other imagery, specific details of promotional offers, specific facts about the company, etc.)

Mandatory Information

  • Are any of the following pieces of information mandatory in the ad?
  • Copyright and trademark notices
  • Logo usage and signature info
  • Specific URLs, email or other contact info
  • Event/ trade show information (visit us at booth…etc.)
  • Legal or Promotional disclaimers

Some of these questions are easier than others to answer, but they are all critical to the success of planning for an ad campaign. When we can have a clear view of the market, goals, and communication keys for the ad, we’re sure to build a great campaign together. Looking forward to creating with you!

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