I can’t stop thinking about that Pepsi Commercial. You know which one I’m talking about, don’t you? Yup…THAT one. The visuals are seared into my memory: Kendall Jenner ends a tense standoff between protestors and police, with the calm crack of a cold carbonated beverage. How that tone-deaf idea made it into a creative brief is still baffling to me.

Our boutique marketing & creative agency is trusted by leading education, non-profit, government, and wellness brands to capture the spirit of their work in order craft imaginative solutions that make a splash. This undertaking requires a great deal of attunement with the client. We listen before we execute. The end result of this process is a detailed brief.

But now matter how sophisticated the brief gets with regards to deliverables, timelines, inspiration, and other technical aspects of the production process, the efficacy of our work hinges on one seemingly innocuous term usually found towards the bottom the brief (and at the top of this blog post). You got it, my friend: the single most important message.

This core usually takes the form of one or two sentences, nothing more. It’s our North Star for when projects get rocked by waves of confusion. It’s the one thing that both the agency and the client can point to when there’s a disagreement about a particular piece of content or collateral. When in doubt, we always refer back to the single most important message.

Some of the best brands have the SMIM down to an single word: Nike (Achievement), Disney (Magic), Apple (Creativity), Starbucks (Nostalgia), etc. Their core is synonymous with their brand, reconciling the three dimensions of a brand’s perception gap: how you see yourself, how others see you, and how you want to be seen.

The rest of us are still trying to tie those three dimensions together to form a a consistent brand experience. One area where Pepsi’s marketing team misstepped is in failing to understand the fluctuating definition of their single most important message: youth. They failed to appreciate how tasteless their concept could come across in our charged political climate.

Now did the aesthetics capture the spirit of youth? Yes. The ad itself was an impressive technical achievement. But the core of the concept was completely off the mark. And so while I applaud the creative team for their execution, I also question if and why nobody spoke up and said: “Umm, what exactly are we trying to sell here?”

I can’t stop thinking of how poignant that ad could’ve been. How powerful the message of unity could’ve been. How Pepsi could’ve truly captured the zeitgeist in a more careful way. Instead, they betrayed their single most important message. And here we are with a treasure trove of memes and a textbook example of why carefully listening to the client matters.

So when it comes to your creative projects, don’t let bad work happen by not aligning on what the single most important message is. It’s a lot more difficult to agree on this than I’m making it seem. Anticipate disagreements. Anticipate unearthing issues around larger organizational misalignment. But trust the process — these are all important conversations to have, whether you’re building a website or building a company.

Looking for some help locking down the most important message for your brand or campaign? Drop us a line.