What makes a great communications proposition?


However unfashionable it may be, I am inclined still to think of the ‘proposition’ as being the heart and soul of any communications brief: the single thought that, if absorbed by our ‘target consumer’, will engender the response we seek.

The proposition has to inspire your creative team to produce a relevant, engaging and distinctive communications idea. Your chances of getting a great idea are hugely increased if your brief has an inspiring proposition; without one, you will be relying on good luck.

Writing a great proposition is not easy. It requires the imagination and clarity of thought to be able to sift through innumerable facts and observations about the brand, the user and market and process them in a lateral or insightful way to make leaps and connections that create an inspiring thought.

A great proposition is communications gold. How do we find one?

An inspiring proposition is often found at the intersection of a ‘Human Truth’ or ‘Insight’ and a ‘Brand Truth’ or ‘Product Truth’, ie: what your brand can deliver within the context of human attitudes and behaviour. Each of the following propositions, all drawn from creative briefs I have seen, aim to do this.

  • ‘Everyday indulgence’
  • ‘Modern classic’
  • ‘So healthy… yet so tasty!’

You could argue that each operates at this intersection: identifying a ‘human truth’ (that consumers do not expect to find two specified attributes co-existing within the same product) and challenging it through a ‘brand truth’ (these two ‘contradictions’ have been successfully reconciled within one product).

Are these propositions communications gold? Or are they something altogether less shiny and rather more smelly?

There is an easy test here: what would the target consumer think if they consciously absorbed the communication?

“‘Bloggo Crème: everyday indulgence’. Well, how about that? I’ve always thought that the things that taste most gorgeous are really expensive, so I only buy them on special occasions. But Bloggo Crème has shown me that this doesn’t have to be the case, by being both incredibly delicious and affordable enough to eat daily. Wow, I want to buy some without delay!”

It’s not going to happen, is it?

The problem is, we’ve heard these ‘reconciled contradictions’ a thousand times before – so many times, that they are no longer contradictions, they are the norm. We know that the affordable things that we eat often can be really tasty too; and that healthy things don’t have to taste like rabbit food; and that many brands want us to think they have a design quality that transcends fashion, in contradiction to the received wisdom that the modern world is characterised by the transient and the disposable. So there is no more reason we should believe it for this brand than for any other, and no reason why we should link this proposition to this brand than to any other.

You have to try harder. You might be quite chuffed at finding a proposition that lies at the intersection of a ‘human truth’ and a ‘brand truth’. But, don’t accept the first answer. Push on to see if you can find something better: sharper, more distinctive, more inspiring. Think laterally.

Here are a couple of examples from Mars to illustrate the point. The core proposition for Mars Bar is ‘energy’. This is somewhat bald and generic, however, so one could search at the intersection of a ‘human truth’ and a ‘brand truth’ to find something a little more original and ownable, for example:

Mars proposition diagram

Mmmm. That still feels a bit average, don’t you think? It may be true, but it’s also rather predictable, even a bit worthy, perhaps. Can you see an original, distinctive and entertaining creative idea being inspired by this?

So, why not look at the same thing from a different perspective? What if we thought about how Mars ‘giving you energy to take on the day’ might appear to onlookers, rather than how it affects the person eating it – from the spectator’s perspective rather than the protagonist’s?

Or, what if we thought about the consequences of Mars ‘giving you energy to take on the day’?

Then you might get to a proposition like:

  • If people see you eating a Mars, they will expect much more from you’.

Yes, it’s hyperbole, but hyperbole has long been one of the key levers in the toolbox of engaging, relevant and distinctive advertising.

So, which would you prefer as a brief:

  • ‘Mars gives you the energy to take on the day’


  • If people see you eating a Mars, they will expect much more from you’

Which is more likely to inspire fresh, engaging advertising? When you look at the brilliant ‘Runaway Train’, the advertising Clemenger BBDO Melbourne was inspired to create by the latter proposition, the answer is clear.

The same could be said for Snickers in the UK. The core proposition is ‘Satisfies hunger’. OK, but lots of things ‘satisfy hunger’. How do we make this distinctive and ownable?

What if we think about the consequences of not satisfying hunger. Then you might get to ‘Being hungry can turn the nicest people into grumps’, from which springs the brilliant ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ campaign.

So, where does this leave us?

The first brilliant proposition you write probably isn’t! Does the prospect of having to write a campaign from your proposition excite you? Do you feel you’ve seen communications ideas from other brands that could have been written to this proposition? If you successfully communicated this, how would your ‘target consumer’ respond?

Push on. Take your proposition as just the starting point. Think laterally about its implications. For starters, try these 3 provocations:

  1. What could be the consequences of using the brand?
  2. How would this look to people who aren’t using the brand.*
  3. What would be the consequences of not using the brand?

There are many more ways than these of cutting your proposition cake. But these are a start and, once you push yourself, the ideas will start coming.

Communications propositions should be as creative as the creative ideas they inspire. Don’t settle for less.

* This new Adidas ad appeared just after this post was originally published, and is a good example of pushing the proposition through provocation 2: How would this look to people who aren’t using the brand.

This entry was posted in Advertising, Brand positioning, Brand strategy, Marketing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What makes a great communications proposition?

  1. Pingback: Why clever communications propositions usually aren’t | movementmuse

  2. Pingback: What do you do when your agency can’t produce the goods? | movementmuse

  3. Pingback: If you don’t ask, you’ll never know: the powerful inspiration for brand communications that marketing ignores | movementmuse

  4. Fellow planner says:

    This is brilliant and I use it every day.


  5. Pingback: What makes a great communications proposition? | movementmuse – MA Moving Image Blog – Enrique Munoz Jimenez

  6. Pingback: Why your advertising should be MAD | movementmuse

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