The history of digital marketing is filled with legendary stories about brands that were able to quickly and nimbly create content that caught fire with a community at just the right time. Dollar Shave Club gave us a cheeky alternative to the big flashy brands, Westjet’s Christmas miracle showed us that an airline could have a heart, and Oreo got an incredible amount of attention to a pretty mediocre joke because they were able to turn it around in the moment and strike while the conversation was hot.

The near-universal embrace of digital as an important medium has seen a lot of brands produce really high-quality content, but it’s also brought with it a lot of the red tape that comes with executive oversight. This week we saw an example of a brand that’s found a way to do both: Aviation Gin produced a spot that is professionally shot & edited, in formats and at a length that is optimal for social, and it was all turned around in the time that it takes most brands to schedule a kickoff meeting.

In case you missed it, just a few weeks prior, Peloton produced an ad featuring a wife who received her bike for Christmas, then spent the whole year documenting her workouts, ultimately surprising her husband the following Christmas with a thank you video.

The result: The Internet piled on, making jokes about the gift, their relationship, and the privilege that goes with putting a $3000 exercise bike in your home. In effect, the character and actor became Internet-famous for all of the wrong reasons.

The team at Aviation Gin then sprung into action, recruiting the same actor, and then scripting, shooting, and publishing this response-ad all before the flurry of online conversation had died down.

In retrospect, the video seems obvious. People loved it, and with little-to-no media budget it has picked up a ton of attention, getting mentioned on a ton of business news sites, blogs, and social media accounts. But, let’s consider how most brands responded: They either didn’t at all, or the ones with personality chimed in with a (sometimes) witty tweet.

I came across one tweet that summed up the way most brands react when they’re presented with big, bold ideas:

The only way to bridge that gap, and to be able to achieve the type of alignment necessary to produce work that’s both high quality and highly relevant is to have a dynamite briefing process that’s rooted in your strategy. In order to pull off what they achieved, the Aviation team would have needed to turn the creative idea to respond to Peleton’s ad into a concise plan that everyone understood very quickly. Even more importantly, they would have needed to make 100% certain that everyone involved understood what the joke was, how it related to the brand, and where the content was going to show up, or else they’d risk losing valuable time revising and re-shooting.

What does paperwork have to do with great creative work?

The brief is the root of all great work. It forces everyone to work from a single set of contexts, goals, and outcomes. That alignment is the only way for teams to work quickly, to get approvals on the first review, and to allow everyone involved to do what they do best. Briefs should be written as the guide, the framework that everyone involved can refer back to as they’re working through the project. Most importantly, when it’s time to take a step back and survey what’s been created, the brief should remind everyone why it exists in the first place, making any approval/revision conversations focused on the work’s ability to achieve its objectives, rather than individual preferences.

3 key elements of a great brief

There are as many ways to write a brief as there are brands in the world, and that’s important because every team needs different inputs in order to create great work. At the same time, there are three key elements that every brief must include in order to be effective:

  1. What are we going to achieve together? In other words, why is this work important to the business? All of the best creative ideas are simply brilliant ways to accomplish the objective, so the most important thing that a brief can do is make it crystal clear to the readers what it intends to achieve.
  2. Who is this for? Is the audience a group of loyal fans, or are they unaware that you exist? Are they passionate about the topic that you’re discussing, or are you educating them that it exists?
  3. What proof do we have? The word authenticity has become cliché as everyone tries to figure this one out. The fact is that if we’re going to make a claim, we must be able to point to something that proves it’s true. It could be our history, an investment we’ve made, relationships we’ve developed, or simply the performance of our product. Authenticity comes from brands that create content about things that they have proof of, so that when they speak, people can believe them.