In 1944, the Allies were invading Europe, they had to identify the biggest problem.
The Germans had the best tanks in the world, we couldn’t fight their tanks one-on-one.
So the job was defined as finding a way to remove the problem of their tanks.
The Allies didn’t attack the tanks, they used their air force to attack the supply of petrol.
Pretty soon the powerful German tanks had no petrol, so they couldn’t move.
Their crews abandoned them and they were just so much useless scrap metal.
The correct problem was identified and addressed creatively.
In any top-class football game, you can see the same thinking: identify which player on the opposing team represents the biggest threat, then find a way to remove that problem – Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, De Bruyne, Kane.
Once that problem is removed, the job becomes much simpler.
Problem – Solution, that’s usually the best way to address anything.
You don’t put a solution into action until you know what problem it’s solving.
That’s pretty basic, so why don’t we do it in our job?
We address everything as if the solution was obvious.
Read any brief, it doesn’t say: “Here’s the problem we need to address.” It says: “Here’s what the ads need to say.”
It doesn’t identify a problem, so no-one is doing any new thinking about the problem, the default brief is just about selling.
But the best ad campaigns I’ve seen haven’t been about selling.
They’ve been about removing barriers to purchase.
That sounds like typical adman semantics, right?
Quite the opposite – selling is delivering a sales spiel before we’ve identified whether anyone needs or wants the product.
Nowadays that approach is about “brand purpose”, we just deliver it, that’s selling.
But how about doing the opposite?
How about finding out why people aren’t currently buying what we sell, what’s stopping them, then addressing that.
That isn’t selling, that’s removing the barriers to purchase.
The best advertising I’ve seen worked this way.
No-one was buying Volkswagen Beetles because they were small and ugly, so they identified the problem, creatively addressed it and now they’re the biggest car company in the world.
Avis was perceived as just one of a dozen small rental companies, they identified the problem, creatively addressed it and became the second biggest in the market.
Levy’s rye bread had a problem selling to Jews in New York, they identified the problem, creatively addressed it and rye became America’s second biggest bread.
MTV was just a start-up, the cable networks wouldn’t even carry it, they identified the problem, creatively addressed it and now they are in 24 countries.
When it works best, one person (or department) correctly identifies the problem and another person (or department) creatively addresses it.
That’s how a team works, they don’t do each other’s jobs.
Thinking how to remove the barriers to purchase forces us to think in new ways.
It forces us to think beyond the same old tired formulas.
So the brief that’s handed to the creative department is a brief no-one else has contemplated.
That’s how VW removed Detroit, how Levy’s removed brown bread, how Nike removed sports shoes, how Apple removed IBM, how Avis removed the competition, how Guinness, Virgin, Sainsbury’s, Audi etc removed their barriers to purchase.
That’s what a brief should be: that’s upstream thinking.
Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three