How a creative target adds soul to a brief

Big data is invaluable but there does come a point where it hinders creativity

Big data is revolutionising how we approach customer profiling, segmenting and journey mapping but painting by numbers alone is dull. Simon Lamey, Senior Freelance Planner, argues that having a 'creative target' in a creative brief helps bring it to life.

The other day, I read about a group of wonderful nutcases called 'eclipse chasers’. They spend their time chasing lunar eclipses, from Cornwall to Zambia to Libya.

Using only a few GPS coordinates, they end up anywhere from a big city to the middle of the Sahara. And as I read about them, I couldn’t help but find their obsession admirable.

But obsession isn’t always a good thing. Take how we understand customers. Big data is revolutionising how we approach customer profiling, segmenting and journey mapping.

And Big data is invaluable — up to a point. But, there does come a point where it hinders creativity.

Painting an audience by numbers is dull. Creative briefs with barren audience descriptions are almost impossible to like – briefs with percentages, demographics and personas.

"Our audience is James. He's an ABC1 male, living in Wandsworth. He likes going to bars, socialising with his friends and using Instagram twice a day". (Or something equally snoozy).

Briefs shouldn’t miss out on the person. Internet Marketing guru Sean D'Souza says that "You can’t take a persona out to lunch". Therefore when a brief forgets to actively use a real person, it takes out the soul. We remove the creative juices even before they’ve had time to juice.

In this post, I’d argue that we need to create two types of audience: our 'media target' and 'creative target'.

Our ‘media target’ is a set of people who we describe with numbers. It indicates reach. It's the realm of TGI, demographics, top-level attitudes, customer journeys and conversion rates.

Yet, our ‘creative target’ is about ONE person. One customer (or potential customer) who best represents your product, service or segment. 

A living human being who isn’t a Frankenstein persona, but a real person with a pulse.

That is, a person who you meet and talk to in depth before you write a creative brief. A person who is almost guaranteed to buy from the brand or category soon. A person who'll give you their emotive words and phrases that move you and me. Words rich in insight. Words to use in copy.

As David Ogilvy said: “It seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.”

Where the 'media target' focuses on the whole market, the ‘creative target’ does the opposite. It focuses on one person who gives insight and soul to the brief.

'Isn’t it a big risk to use one person?' I hear you ask. Yes, it is IF no research happens first. If there's no quantitative and qualitative research done first, then yes there's a risk. Yet once we've done the research (as we should), it’s fine to find our 'creative target'. Someone who represents the segment, product or service.

And what’s the harm in trying it out? You don’t need to tell anyone. You don’t need to tell your client or your boss. See how it works and if you don’t like it, drop it.

When I worked in qualitative research, I preferred one-to-one interviews to focus groups. It was in these interviews that I’d find a gem of a line that would shape the final report. 

I'd often record vox pops of the best comments from customers. Sometimes I’d even spend half a day or more with a customer, watching and listening for these gems. 

It taught me to never underestimate how a two-minute video of a customer can do more than 50 research slides.

Wouldn’t it be great if customer videos were part of every creative brief? Or what about a film of somebody's home too? The magazines on their living room table, or the food in their fridge. The honest dialogue of a husband and wife. Wouldn't that bring the 'creative target' to life?

Like the eclipse chasers, it’s right to obsess. Today I do obsess about finding a real person and avoid painting an audience by numbers alone.

And what’s the worst that can happen if we experimented more using a 'creative target'? Briefs with more soul and richer creative? Perhaps, it's not such a risk after all.

Simon Lamey is a Senior Freelance Planner



The run-up to EffWeek 2017 is now truly underway. On 10 October 2017 an army of marketing effectiveness sages, provocateurs, commentators and practitioners will descend on CodeNode in East London.

Speakers include Martin Deboo, Equity Analyst at Jefferies,  Adam Ben-Yousef, Global Head of Marketing Effectiveness at Diageo, Sheila Mitchell of Public Health England, and Sara Bennison of Nationwide.

They'll be joined by over 40 other speakers to move the effectiveness debate forward. Each year EffWeek is based on twelve months of R&D. So as well as top-notch speakers you are guaranteed to be exposed to new information and insights. This year our R&D programme means that we’ll be debating further in-depth insights from Les Binet and Peter Field's ‘Media in Focus’ paper, presenting the results of a collaborative research project between the IPA and CIMA and revealing a green paper written in conjunction with ISBA.

Book now on our dedicated events site. You can also book for some of the many satellite events that will be taking place across the week.

Last updated 21 January 2022