The War Room Mantra

Briefing a team on interactive is a balance between reductive over-simplification and excessive detailing of requirements. Everyone knows this. It was part of what made planning an art, it’s why agencies struggle with things like channel-neutral briefs. One of the best examples of a project brief comes from the 1993 documentary The War Room. I’ve used it 100 times. Sometimes, it supports the need to go beyond the three word brief (which is important for complex, rich interactive experiences). Sometimes, it supports the idea that anything, no matter how complex, can be simplified.

Back to The War Room. The documentary is about the 1992 Clinton Presidential Campaign. The filmmakers joined up early in the campaign when Clinton was more than a longshot, so they kind of lucked out in that they wound up being on the winning and unconvential team. The War Room of the title is the campaign office in Little Rock where soon-to-be-legends George Stephanopoulus and James Carville were calling key strategic thoughts in the campaign. At the end of the film, Clinton can be heard giving his victory speech on the steps of the Governor’s Mansion. The camera crew is inside the now-empty War Room and lands on a whiteboard (!) at the front of the office:
This was the mantra, or the brief, of the campaign: Change vs more of the same, Health Care for Everyone, It’s the economy, stupid. (It had several versions and I went with the one that was more memorable for me. Interesting to note is that the press simplified this even further to include only “It’s the economy, stupid.”)

The mantra defined what was going to win for them, their true north, the campaign’s compass, the priorities, the decision-making criteria in strategy. Of course, the campaign was going to take on other issues, but these were the themes to which they would return again and again, this was the source of their voice, their media presence, and their style. God help me for the marketer-speak, but these were the things which, if they owned, would put them over the top.

A great use of this mantra is for any team that complains that they can’t possibly formulate a strategy or brief that’s less than 2 pages. Surely, if a presidential campaign can be distilled to this, something as simple as a website, or a game, or an MP3 player can be tamed as well? The alternate use is to combat the notion that anything beyond three words is superfluous, confusing, too hard to work with.

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