Hope is not a strategy…

A colleague commented that in tough economic times, people tend to hope things will get better, instead of working to make them better.

It made me think about how much of our business is driven by hope – we brief the work into the agency and hope they come back with a great concept. We hope the advertising we approve or create will work when we run it. We hope our friends and colleagues will like our ads – even Like them on FB or YouTube.


The reasons most of us live on hope has as much to do with human nature as anything else. Most people prefer the path of least resistance – the easiest track.

We don’t like doing the hard yards of analysing what works and what doesn’t, studying the figures, modelling data, or simply tracking if our advertising even generates sales. After all, it’s not much fun and if we look too closely we might discover some revealing truths.

And we rarely budget – either time or money – for testing, so we can learn what will have the best chance of success. It seems most of us find it easier just to run the campaign and hope it works, rather than invest in testing to at least have some confidence in the outcome.

It’s easier to work within the realms of subjectivity – opinions rather than facts. As working with facts is much more confronting, particularly if they reveal things we don’t want to know – such as the advertising campaign not paying for itself, or that a bunch of Likes has no effect on anything.

But there is one area where hope occasionally rears its head at great expense to both marketers and agencies. While most of us work to a written briefing template, every now and then, for whatever reason, a brief will be delivered verbally in the vain hope the creative services supplier understands it and delivers outstanding work in return.

Briefing your creative team verbally without a written brief is the equivalent of sending your kids to do the weekly shopping without a list. Can you imagine what they’d bring home if you just said to them, “Go do the shopping. Here’s some money. Spend it all – don’t forget what I said to buy.” What do you think they’d buy – what you wanted, or what they wanted?

And how would you judge their actions, given the way they had been briefed?

kids shopping

For the record, the most important part of the creative development process is “the brief.” The area where most things go wrong in the creative process is “the brief.”

And the verbal brief is one of the most dangerous things in marketing – because it relies too much on interpretation. That’s why putting your brief in writing with supporting imagery that reflects what you mean when you say things like “up-market” or “young urban single” will minimise the risks associated with interpretation.

Here’s another comment often given when judging a piece of creative work: “That’s not what I expected.” Speakers of this phrase should be removed from the industry. If you had expectations and they were not included in the brief, you have wasted everyone’s time and money.

The only time “that’s not what I expected” should be heard is in enthusiastic praise for the wonderful execution you are viewing.

A couple of other words used regularly in verbal briefs are “quirky” and “wow factor”. You don’t see them in written briefs, because when you write them down you realise how they sound.

The definition for “quirky” is “eccentric” and means “strikingly unconventional or given to idiosyncrasies”. The synonym that occurs mostly with “quirky” is “kinky”. I’m not sure what brands want to be seen as kinky, or strikingly unconventional – particularly in the financial services category for example – but you can see the risks we create when we baldly use these words in briefings.

WOW factor really helps...
WOW factor really helps…

It’s hard to even find a definition of “wow factor”. But I assume that we all interpret it in the same way – don’t we?

If you do want a quirky creative execution packed full of wow factor, then supply samples of advertising that you consider to be quirky or that contains wow factor. After all, one person’s wow factor is another’s sleep remedy.

I prefer work that is relevant, but executed in a creative way – these days that can mean a grammatically correct letter, written to say “thank-you for your business”. Manners have become so rare they stand out from the clutter.

I suspect most people have high hopes for their creative work – it can be career defining. So give your work the respect it deserves.

The greatest writers spend more time on preparation, thinking, research and jotting down notes, than they spend writing. Marketers should also spend as much time as possible on preparing a written brief, if they want the best results, with lots of wow factor – quirkily speaking of course.

(I decided not to include quirky or kinky images today – you don’t want to go there on Google)


  1. Our industry has forgotten the art of enchantment. Greed and speed are now King. When modern-day agencies get back to the business of helping their clients engage and delight users, less “hope” will be required.

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