Friday, August 04, 2006


A bloddy good insight on how to brief the creative.

Creative briefing and The Sistine Chapel – Damian O’Malley

Once you have a proposition you should try to express it in a way which will propel your creative team towards a solution. A story will help illustrate what we mean.
You are no doubt familiar with the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They are one of the greatest works of art of all time painted by the Renaissance genius Michelangelo. We can imagine the briefs he might have been given for this work by his client, Pope Julius II, or the Pope’s account man, Cardinal Alidosi.

(a) ‘Please paint the ceiling’

There is no doubt that this is what Michelangelo was being asked to do but this brief gives him no hints as too what the solution to the request might be. It leaves all the decisions and thinking to the artist before be can put paint to plaster.

b) ‘Please paint the ceiling using red green and yellow paint’

This brief is worse. Not only does it not tell him what to paint it gives him a number of restrictions without justification; restrictions which will inevitably prove irksome and which will distract him from his main task.

(c) ‘We have got terrible problems with damp and cracks in the ceiling and we would be ever so grateful if you could just cover it up for us’

This is much worse. It still does not tell him what to do and it gives him irrelevant and depressing information which implies that no one is interested in what he paints because it will not be long before the ceiling falls in anyway. How much effort is he likely to put into it?

(d) ‘Please paint biblical scenes on the ceiling incorporating some or all of the following: God, Adam, Angels, Cupids devils and saints’

Better: now they are beginning to give Michelangelo a steer. They have not given him the full picture yet (if you will pardon the pun) but at least he know the important elements. This is the sort of brief that most of us would have given. It contains everything the creative needs to know but it does not go that step beyond towards and idea towards a solution.
Here is the brief which Michelangelo was actually given more or less…
‘Please paint our ceiling for the greater glory of God and as an inspiration and lesson to his people. Frescoes which depict the creation of the world, the Fall, mankinds’s degradation by sin, the divine wrath of the deluge and the preservation of Noah and his family.’

Now he knows what to do – and is inspired by the importance of the project – he can devote his attention to executing the detail of the brief in the best way he knows.
Words are little bombs: the right ones can explode inside us demanding an original and exciting solution instead of a mediocre pedestrian one.
Always work very, very hard to find the right proposition and then even harder to find the words which express it in the least ambiguous and most exciting way.

Extract from Creative Briefing chapter in How to Plan Advertising - the Blue Book published by the APG in 1987 and currently out of print.


  1. I thought you were in advertising? I didn’t no you were a painter :-)

  2. i am an artist first jeroen. and then an ad man. :)besides if u r not an artist there is no place for u in advertising!


  3. I can only say that your right , you need to have imagination in your line of work :)