The insight: the most important part of the brief

“At the heart of an effective creative philosophy is the belief that nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action, even though his language so often can camouflage what really motivates him.” Bill Bernbach

Writing a great brief is harder than you think. It’s not simply about filling in some blanks. You have to provide your creative team with facts, inspiration, and an insight that will lead to great work.

We could talk at length about each section of the brief and in class we will. How should you describe the product and its place in the market? How do you paint a picture of your prospective customer? What do you want to happen? What problem can you solve for the user? Writing each of these sections well is essential. You need to be clear, concise, focused and offer a meaningful perspective. It’s not about reporting, it’s about unearthing.

But the section of the brief that most young planners and creatives struggle with is the insight.

What is an insight?

Why does it matter?

Here’s a simple way to look at it.

Observations and statistics tell us what people say and do.

Insights tell us why.

Creative thinking comes into play at both points. Even what we choose to observe matters. Are we noticing that people put off shopping for Mother’s Day cards until the last minute? Or are we noticing that people tend to take their Moms for granted? Are we paying attention to when and how people buy a staple? Or what happens to them when they find themselves without it?

Some examples:

Observation: People tend to buy milk when they need it or run out.


Insight: It doesn’t dawn on them before hand how bad it is to be out of milk when you need it most.

Idea: Got Milk? (So you will buy it in advance of needing it, increasing purchase and consumption.)

Observation: We tend to take Mom for granted.


Insight: We’re not good at visualizing or imagining just how hard it is that she works for us and her children.

Idea: Fake job listing for “the toughest job in the world.

Observation: Women say they don’t like most beauty product ads.


Insight: Because they portray women who do not look like 95 percent of women.

Idea: Dove Real Beauty

Observation: People don’t save enough for retirement.


Insight: They don’t realize how long they might live beyond retirement.

Idea: The Prudential Challenge Lab

An insight reveals an understanding about a person’s beliefs, motives, wishes, regrets, concerns (human nature), and in some cases the reasons for behaving or not behaving a certain way.

Observation: Anti-smoking ads that lecture teens don’t work.


Insight: Teens don’t respond to authority, they reject authority.

Idea: Truth (A brand that invites teens to protest against authority.)

Observation: Not everyone aspires to be a competitive athlete.


Insight: It’s not attainable or believable.

Idea: Find your greatness.

An insight can be positive or negative. Why do Moms prefer minivans might help someone sell a small SUV. Understanding why Dads don’t like minivans might help create a campaign that gets him over that resistance.

Observation: Minivans don’t excite young, recently urban parents.


Insight: If you drive a minivan you’re a dork.

Idea: The Swagger Wagon

An insight can be quite unexpected. Why don’t more teachers use Skype as part of their teaching. It’s not because they don’t have an account or are unsure of who to use the platform. It’s because they didn’t have relevant (to their lessons and syllabus) people to Skype with on short notice.

Observation: Not enough teachers use Skype.


Insight: They don’t have the right people to Skype with.

Idea: Skype in the Classroom

When you write your brief, it’s not enough to know your product and be able to identify and describe your audience. You want to dig until you get to the insight — sometimes obvious, sometimes not so much — that will help you and your creative team connect and motivate.

You may have to do some research, but better yet, just pay close attention to your audience. Study them. Talk to them. Ask yourself and them as well, “why?”

“An insight is like a refrigerator. When you open the door, a light comes on,” Karen Saba, Mindshare.

Originally published at