Good creative is emotional. Emotions are personal. Ergo, people take creative personally. And that makes it very easy to lose objectivity when reviewing it.
A color, image, or word choice that inspires one person may annoy another, sometimes for reasons neither can clearly articulate. That’s ok, except when such subjective input drives creative revisions—a slippery slope that often results in watered-down frankenversions of what could have been.
Listen, it happens. We’re only human. Even as a seasoned creative who knows better, I have to continually remind myself to put aside my personal preferences before deciding where any particular creation—even my own—falls on a scale from masterful to meh.
Here, I’ll provide tips to help anyone tasked with evaluating creative to remain objective and provide thoughtful, grounded, actionable feedback.
HERE COME THE TIPS
First, it’s important to understand that the question to answer is not whether you like the creative. There are two reasons for this:
You probably are not the target audience.
Even if you are the target, “like” is a minefield of personal bias that leads to endless rounds of rudderless revisions.
In fact, getting your audience to like the creative isn’t necessarily the goal either. Have you ever seen an ad that you don’t particularly like but can’t get out of your head? I mean, how many useless phone numbers will you never forget thanks to a super annoying jingle? (I’m talking to you, Empire.)
Instead, ask yourself if the creative achieves what you asked of it, which should be clearly spelled out in the creative brief (if it’s not, your creative team is set up to fail). That leads me to my next tip: Use the creative brief as your Yoda.
Assuming it’s thoughtfully written (and that’s a whole other topic), the creative brief should be your single point of truth and the best litmus test for whether the creative hits the mark. It should help you objectively answer these questions:
Does the creative speak to the intended audience in a way that’s meaningful to them?
Does it acknowledge an important problem and offer a clear solution?
Is it differentiated from the competition?
Additionally, and in unfortunate cases where there is no creative brief (the horror), you should ask these questions:
Is the creative on brand visually and in voice/tone? An amazing execution that doesn’t look or sound like your brand can do more harm than good.
Is the main takeaway clear? Remember, you have context readers won’t have. Make sure they don’t have to work to get the message.
Is the message believable? Consumer skepticism is at an all-time high. Hyperbole does not pay off.
Will people remember it? This may seem subjective, but the other evaluation points should make this answer clear.
Will people know what to do next? Marketing is a journey. If you get people’s attention then leave them hanging, that journey is over. Move them to the next step.
If you can emphatically answer yes to all of these questions, buy your creative team a round because they nailed it. If you can’t, and that happens, don’t write it off as a fail just yet. Tweaks are a normal part of the process and can transform a near-miss into a clear winner. Instead, gather your objective thoughts to share with the creative team. Next tip, incoming.
Vigilantly maintain your objectivity when you communicate your feedback to the creative team. If you use the tips above as your guide, you’ll be on the road to a productive conversation.
Experienced creatives are highly accustomed to critical input and fully expect it during the creative evaluation process. Never be afraid to raise legitimate questions that spark healthy discussions. We don’t take it personally. It’s our job. And, like anyone else, sometimes we’re inhumanly good at it and other times we swing and miss. But we’ll always get there. The point is, constructive feedback is key to our collective success.
AND NOW, THE DOS AND DON’TS
Here’s a short list of dos and don’ts for giving constructive creative feedback.
DO be specific about issues you see and refer back to the brief to validate your thoughts.
“This isn’t it, but I’ll know it when I see it” is not actionable feedback. This is: “Our goal is to establish ourselves as technologically advanced, but the visual here suggests otherwise.”
At the end of the pitch (or shortly thereafter), the creative team should be clear about the issues they need to address. They may not yet know how they will address them. But they need to be certain what they are.
DO ask questions about the creative approach.
Good creatives methodically choose every element of what you see. If you don’t connect with the creative execution right away, ask what assumptions influenced the choices. You may find that the thinking is right, and a slight adjustment based on your insight will make the deal-closing difference.
DO keep an open mind.
Prior to handing a campaign over to the creative team, some marketers brainstorm creative ideas amongst themselves. That’s great, except when you walk into the creative pitch expecting to see your ideas executed, just as you envisioned them. Your ideas may be great. But the creatives may have come up with something even better. Be open to that.
DON’T try to solve problems on the spot.
Like I said, tweaks are part of the process. If creative needs to be adjusted for whatever reason, the creative team is well-equipped to do that.
Don’t bother yourself with trying to figure it out for them on the spot, and don’t be prescriptive about what needs to happen next. Just give your input and let them do what they do best.
DON’T muddy the waters with irrelevant input.
“I showed this to my 8-year-old and she didn’t get it.” I’ve gotten that feedback. It wasn’t helpful.
What your family thinks, what that one person in a remote part of Germany thinks … no. If you want to do informal testing, great. But be thoughtful about who you talk to and how you interpret and communicate that input.
Here’s the bottom line: Remaining objective when evaluating creative is a process that requires self-awareness, discipline, and practice. You can do it. I believe in you.