How to evaluate creative (and avoid the drama).

When I first started my career in advertising in England, a one-page brief was physically glued to the back of each concept board we were to present.  If we failed to get approval from the client in our presentation, we had to come back and make the same presentation again to the entire creative team for them to critique what we said.

It was terrifying.

But looking back on it, it forced me to learn how to decipher a strategy and memorize the key points of a brief before walking into a client meeting.  As terrifying as it was – it was in itself a brilliant strategy for shaping great work.

While most marketers have to evaluate creative ideas and work as part of their job, very few have ever been given guidance on how to evaluate it effectively.

But the reality is, without considered and constructive feedback it’s impossible for agencies to deliver on expectations or get it right – it becomes a guessing game of hit or miss. The result is a waste of everyone’s time, client and agency money and frustration on both sides.

Clearly articulated feedback on the other hand, provides a forum for constructive dialogue, healthy debate and ultimately – better work.

To help marketers and agency account teams provide well-articulated, focused feedback here’s a framework to help:

Start with the brief

The starting point in any creative evaluation has to be your brief. If you’re working with a great brief your evaluation should be that much easier because you have a clear ask in front of you. But if corners have been cut or the brief isn’t clear, the task will be that much harder because the creative team has been working from it as their blueprint.

Does it grab attention?

In today’s multimedia maze, it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at the concept for a television, billboard, or digital banner ad – whatever you’re evaluating needs to be able grab attention – immediately. So one of your first tasks is to determine if it’s bold enough to grab audience attention.

Who’s the target? (And it’s likely not you).

To help put the previous question into context, it’s important to look at the creative through the lens of the target you’re trying to reach.  What might attract the attention the over 55’s almost certainly won’t attract the attention of teenagers.  So as you evaluate what you’re looking at, keep in mind the ad may not have been designed for you and filter accordingly.

Is it on brand?

Whether you’re a marketer or an agency, you likely know the brand you’re dealing with better than most.  And while the creative concept may work well, your next filter has to be whether you believe the creative you’re evaluating is on brand – both in terms of look and feel, as well as tone and manner.

What’s your emotional reaction?

Advertising that’s most successful typically provokes an emotional reaction – whether it’s inspirational (like owning a particular car), satisfying an immediate craving (like eating a pizza), or giving you pause to think about how much you love your dog and the food its eating. Advertising that sparks emotion will likely be far more powerful than advertising that’s factually correct but lacks soul.  

Beware shiny objects

Have you ever seen a great creative idea or stunt, but quickly realized it’s either time or news sensitive and can’t be leveraged anywhere else?  As you evaluate the creative idea or campaign, ask yourself whether this is something that can be extended into other media or across other campaigns that might be going to market soon.  Latching on to a great idea just because it catches your eye may not be in the interests of the brand long term.

Look at the big picture

Chances are that whatever creative concept you’re evaluating is going to require some input and changes before it gets approved, so this is where a little latitude is helpful.  Whether it’s work that’s required adjusting the copy, changing imagery or – yes – increasing the size of logo, keep the big picture in mind and help the creative teams refine their ideas so it meets the right needs.

What’s it going to make you do?

And finally… ask whether you think the creative concept is strong enough to make your target audience do whatever it’s designed to do (buy pizza, try a new car or call for information). All the components should work together and lead your audience to take a meaningful form of action.  And if it does that, chances are you’re on to a winner.

The goal of any feedback is to help create more impactful work. Providing considered and honest feedback can be a difficult exercise if you don’t know what to look for and / or the brief you’re working with has major holes that leave too much room for interpretation.  

If your teams are struggling with creative evaluation, we offer workshops designed for both client and agency resources to practice the art of delivering honest and meaningful feedback.

And guaranteed not to terrify.

Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

Photo: josephbergen
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