Why read this? : We look at the challenges of giving creative feedback to your agency. Learn how to balance business objectives and creative standards, while keeping the agency motivated. Read this to learn how to give great creative feedback.
Though this could be any type of creative, the most common is to review advertising ideas, and that’s our focus in this article.
The creative process
In some ways, the creative process is simple. You tell creatives what you want. They create something and show you it. You review it and tell them what you think. They fix it so it meets your creative feedback.
But as per our how to evaluate advertising article, there’s more to it.
There’s a lot of work in each step leading up to the creative review session. Those steps set the context and shape how you give your creative feedback.
The lead up to the creative feedback session
You lead all the steps before this session. Set the objective. Find the budget. Write the brief.
Now it’s the agency’s turn.
They’ve reviewed the brief and now they’re sharing their ideas. It’s the first time you’re really working on the project together. The first time your ideas and their ideas meet.
What started out as your “baby” is now something you share with the agency.
Joint partners of the creative baby
It’s important to get that shared ownership clear in your head.
It probably still feels like your baby because you started the process. But as soon as the agency get the brief, it becomes their baby too. They’re there to add their expertise and value so your “baby” thrives.
In the creative feedback session, you get the chance to see how they’ve grown your initial idea. You want it to be bigger. Better. Smarter.
Sometimes they’ll give you a hint of what to expect. And sometimes, you’ve no idea of what’s coming. Either way, it’s all their hard work since you last met. Their expertise. Their ideas. They’ve created designs, writing and storylines. Your creative baby has grown since you last saw it.
You go into that meeting ready to keep the creative process moving. You’re the first audience to see their work. You see it before any customers do. It’s your job to lead the creative feedback.
Your expertise vs the creative team expertise
Your expertise is knowing the customer, the brand and your business.
The creative team’s expertise lies in using creative skills to answer your marketing challenges.
Your job is to make sure the creative response helps you meet those challenges.
So, you ask questions to understand their approach, and check it meets your customer, brand and business needs.
You ask about the decisions they’ve made. Their thinking and process. Which creative principles they used. Why they think it’ll work.
It’s better to be specific with questions and feedback. Vague statements like “I just don’t like it”, or “Can you make it better?” don’t help. Better to say things like “I’m not sure customers will notice the headline”, or “that visual doesn’t really fit our brand identity”.
That way, you have a constructive conversation with the creative team. Remember, you’re in this together with them. Show them evidence or factual information to back up what you say. Or point to other creative examples you think are closer to what you need.
Nothing kills a creative team’s motivation quicker than clients who dismiss or criticise their work. Give your creative feedback honestly and constructively. Structure it so it’s helpful and focussed.
Does it meet the brief?
The best place to start is the brief.
The brief’s where you specified what you needed the creative work to do. You should check the creative ideas deliver against it.
There’s 3 areas to focus on in the feedback :-
- target audience.
- brand identity.
- business objectives.
Start with what you think the target audience’s reaction will be. Put yourself in their shoes. Refer back to your market research and your customer profiles. (which you should have shared with the brief).
What will they think and feel? Will they like it? Will it make them do what you want them to do? You represent the customer in that meeting. Give your feedback as though they were there with you.
When you give feedback speaking as the customer, the conversation with the creative team is more constructive. And that leads to better creative work.
Next, think about your brand. The creative idea must have a clear link to your brand identity.
Your agency should know what’s in your brand book and style guide. The creatives should follow these guidelines in the creative.
Except you’ll find that many times, they don’t.
This is part of the creative process. Creative people often see guidelines as boundaries to push against, not rules to blindly follow. So, ask yourself how strict you want to apply the brand “rules”.
Work which pushes the boundaries can be more provocative and help you stand out. But work which follows the rules is more recognisable as it reinforces the consistency of the brand identity.
As in most creative conversations, it usually comes down to the context of what you’re trying to do. Let’s look at a few examples.
Something different so you’re not taken for granted
Style guides usually prescribe consistent use of tangible assets.
They tell creatives to use these assets repeatedly. The repetition strengthens the mental associations with those assets. That means it’s easier for customers to recognise your brand.
But, there are 2 cases where you might occasionally break this repetition pattern.
First, if a design becomes too familiar to customers, they start to take it for granted. It starts to feel stale and doesn’t stand out. It becomes predictable, and predictable isn’t interesting for customers.
An occasional new or tweaked version of your creative can keep your brand feeling fresh. You create a small surprise for customers to stop them taking you for granted.
Second, you can stand out by linking the creative to a relevant topical event or story. The link has to make sense to the customer.
For example, adding red, white and green colours to a Christmas version of your advert. Or adding spooky icons and images to a Halloween promotion.
These seasonal variations are different enough to get noticed from your normal ads.
But they’re only temporary, so they don’t ruin your brand’s consistency.
A provocative message
A common creative response to make advertising stand out is to go for a deliberately provocative approach. That can often be distinctive and surprising, and there’s many examples where it’s worked well.
You could use swear words or variations of swear words, for example. Like French Connection did in the 1990s with the FCUK campaigns.
Or provocative imagery like the famous Eva Herzigova Hello Boys adverts for WonderBra.
The effectiveness of these types of creative work come down to context. They have to be a good fit with your customers, and your brand tone of voice. Some brands can do provocative, but for others it’s a no go.
It’d be harder for a bank or a children’s brand to do though. Commbank or Disney, for example, are unlikely to ever feature swearing in their advertising.
You should look at how much provocation you think fits your brand and customer context. In terms of creative feedback, make it clear when it’s “too much”. But if the underlying idea is good, and it’s just a question of degree, ask the creative team to come back with a dialled down version.
Creatively forgetting the business goal
Another common situation is when the creative team get carried away with the creativity of the work, and forget the business goal.
They present a creative idea which pushes the brand into the background. That’s a no-no.
In these cases, you have to remind the team of the business goal. Ask them how the creative will deliver your business objective.
Selling the brand is job number one for creative work. Everything else comes second.
Getting more customers to buy is usually your business objective. Grow sales by $xm or x customers by the target date.
Alongside that sits the relevant change in customer behaviour or perception. Specific changes in awareness, consideration, trial and loyalty.
So you ask the creative team how the work’s going to drive those changes.
Why will customers be more aware? What’s driving consideration? Is the call to action clear so you win more trialists, or increase loyalty?
Be honest with the creative team how confident you feel about their answers. You’re paying for all this work. You have to be convinced it’s going to succeed. Push it back to the creative team until you feel confident enough to move to production and media.
Does the creative work?
No one expects you to be a creative expert. But you should get to know the basic principles of creativity. These help you evaluate the creative and longer-term, helps you evalute the agency’s effectiveness.
There’s 3 areas to focus on :-
- the visuals.
- the writing.
- the story.
Do the visuals work?
Start with the visuals. In creative work, it’s the visuals which create the first impression. It’s what our brains process and react to first. They usually determine if customers will pay attention to the advert.
Contrast draws attention to the most important parts of the visual. Like putting something in bold, or in a different colour. Your eye’s drawn to what’s different. Contrast shows the audience where to look first.
Look for where the contrast is when you give creative feedback. What’s your eye drawn to? Is it the most important part of the visual?
If the audience only glance at the visual, they’ll only see the part with the most contrast. That part of the visual should be the most important visual element of the design.
Repetition adds consistency to your visual design. It reinforces your brand identity and makes it easier to mentally process the visual. Repetition helps customers link the visual to something they’ve seen before.
So think of the MacDonald’s Golden Arches logo, or the shape of the Coca-Cola bottle. Those brands use repetition with those brand assets. Customers instantly recognise the golden M and the bottle shape. It’s a familiar hook which helps the customer recognise what they’re seeing.
Check that repetition’s been used wisely in the visuals of your creative work. Look at the brand assets in the work – your logo, your colour palette and your typography, for example. Are they repeated in a way which reinforces your brand identity? Will customers look at the visuals and know they’ve come from you?
Alignment uses the natural way the eye scans information to make text or visuals more harmonious. It creates cleaner, more appealing visual designs which are easier to process. Badly aligned visuals jar on the eyes, and are harder to process.
Graphic design tools make alignment easy. A professional designer will always check the alignment. When you look at the visuals, look for how different elements line up against each other.
If it looks like it’s been randomly placed on the page, it’s not well aligned. On the other hand, If everything seems to “fit” together well, it’s usually because the visuals are well aligned.
Proximity is about organising information and items that belong together to visually sit close to each other.
For example, all your brand assets (logo, colours, name etc) should sit together because they “go” together. The audience will be confused if you spread them all over the page.
Customers understand these groups of visuals which go together as a “chunk” of information (see our design psychology article for more on chunking). That chunking makes it easier to process, as they only have to look at one place in the advert, rather than search the whole thing.
Photography and video
For example, if there’s a visual “hero” character in your creative, use contrast to help that character stand out. Use different colours or lighting to make them distinct from the background.
Use repetition in how you show the product being used. For example, in food adverts, the visuals usually show customers happily consuming the products.
Be consistent with these sorts of visuals. It reinforces the idea of customers enjoying the product.
Photography and video often combine elements like images, text and graphics. Check the alignment and proximity of these items. Make sure they work well together. Do they naturally fit together? Does what belongs together sit together in the visual?
Great visual design should pass this CRAP test with good contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. Feel free to share with your creative team that these are the basic visual principles you’ll look for.
Once you work out if you like what you see, next you work out if you like what the creative says. You review the writing.
Again, no one expects you to be an expert. But knowing basic writing principles helps you give better creative feedback.
For example, start by checking the spelling and grammar. The agency should do this, of course. But typos and grammar issues can get missed. A pair of fresh eyes works as an extra check.
Then, read the words aloud (or ask the creative team to do it). Listen to the rhythm of the words and the sentences. You don’t pick that up just scanning the words on the page. Words that are easy on the ear are usually also easier on the eye.
Do the words flow easily? No awkward pauses. No long rambling sentences which are hard to follow.
Shorter is usually better. It’s easier to understand short words. Easier to understand shorter sentences. The odd long sentence is fine, but make it the exception rather than the rule. There’s limited time to get your message across. Being concise helps you do that.
Focus on key areas like the call to action. Is it clear? Remember you want the customer to do something. The writing has to be clear what that is.
The final area of creative feedback is the storytelling. It’s how the visuals and writing come together. It’s what the audience remembers.
Stories which use established structure and types are easier to engage with.
We remember these stories better than all the details of the visuals and the words.
We remember the drama of Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star, for example. But not what colour his shoes are when we first meet him.
Look for the story in the creative work. Make sure you give feedback on whether you think it’s telling the best story for your customers and your brand.
Conclusion - how to give great creative feedback
Giving creative feedback is an important part of the process. It’s where you add your customer, brand and business expertise to the creative idea. You partner with the agency to add these areas to their creative expertise.
Then, apply the basic principles of creativity so you can have a quality conversation and give constructive creative feedback.
It’s up to you to pull together all these different perspectives. Get your creative feedback right and it’s a win-win all round. The creative team’s happy. They do great work, and that means happy customers. And happy customers mean more sales. Which obviously keeps you happy.
Woman giving the finger : Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash