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Upgrade Your Creative Briefs with I AM Statements

Creative Brief Prospect Name TagThe traditional advertising creative brief has a history dating back to when it was first used in 1863.

That same year, President Lincoln was asked to speak at the dedication of the new Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This unprecedented human tragedy and the product of a war Mr. Lincoln had to justify would serve as the backdrop for his speech.

To prepare Mr. Lincoln for this challenge, a staffer developed an outline of what needed to be said. This first-of-its-kind outline was named “the creative brief” because it provided “a focused structure that the President could use for inspiration.” It read:


What is the problem this speech must solve?

  • Convince Northerners that this war is important.

Here’s how:

Target audience:

  • 15-20,000 adults 18+ who will either be gathered in Gettysburg or will read about it in newspapers across the country.  Many are tired of the war and starting to doubt its purpose.

What do we want them to think?

  • These soldiers died to help this country.


How do we want them to feel?

  • Motivated to keep up the fight.

What do we want them to do?

  • Show their support for the war.

Writing A Creative BriefUpon reading this, Mr. Lincoln quickly crumpled it up, tossed it out and fired the staffer who wrote it.

Lincoln knew what he had to say based on his own heartfelt understanding of the atrocities of war. Equipped with empathy and a gift for galvanizing audiences to action, Lincoln went on to write one of the most significant American speeches ever delivered.

Okay, forgive me for reconstructing history a little. Okay, more than just a little. But I did it to demonstrate an important point. Creative briefs, by themselves, do little to inspire creativity. They are the left brain’s weak attempt to light up the right brain. They rouse our imaginations as much as paint-by-number kits.
Arguably, creative briefs are necessary. They outline the creative assignment. But it is hard to get emotionally engaged with what amounts to a check list of facts. Creative teams should have something more at their disposal to do their best work.

The “I AM” Statement

As an adjunct to the creative brief, there is a tool that has proven to be useful in dealing with this problem. I refer to it as the I AM statement. In short, it is a first-person account of the prospect, written from the prospects’ standpoint and voice. Contrary to the traditional creative brief, I AM statements go well beyond factual expositions of what needs to be accomplished and with whom. They are not descriptive “personas.” Rather, they work very much like stories that influence an empathic identification with their characters.

Imagine a first-person narrative like this accompanying Lincoln’s creative brief:

“I AM someone whose is pained by the passing of young lives as the result of this atrocious war, a war that continues to create more suffering than any nation deserves. Must this continue? How necessary is this fighting, Mr. Lincoln? How many lives must be lost?”

This statement adds emotional texture to the factual description of the target audience as defined in the creative brief above.

Empathy is a necessary ingredient to any persuasive effort, including the selling of brands. I AM statements can bring the writer closer to the audience’s experience far more effectively than an exposition of observations made from the outside looking in.

See for yourself.

First, think of your prospect in the aggregate. Then, in the first person, offer a definition of that prospect with a sentence that starts with the words “I Am.” Provide a general description of relevant thoughts and feelings that you have. Describe an unmet or unsatisfied need. Discuss your frustrations or satisfactions with current offerings. Just as you explained who you are, explain who you are not. Talk about anything and everything that will help uncover what it’s like to be the generalized prospect you are trying to address. And talk in the voice of that imagined audience.

It does take some practice.

Becoming self-published

But at the very least, while writing I AM statements, you will be forced to dig deeper than you might otherwise for insights and a truer understanding of the prospect.

This is not to suggest eradicating the creative brief. Rather, it is to demonstrate how solely relying on a shortened form of facts can get in the way of providing the emotional lift that any persuasive message must have in order to resonate with its audience.

As a supplement to the creative brief, I AM statements can do more to inspire creativity.

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About Jim Signorelli

Jim Signorelli is the CEO of esw StoryLab Marketing and the author of "StoryBranding" and, most recently, "StoryBranding 2.0," two books that use the logic and structure of stories and archetypes to help brands arrive at authentic, meaningful, and profitable brand identities.

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