If you're daft enough to read this blog occasionally, you might have concluded that my ideal job would be Chief Tea Taster at Yorkshire Tea.
You would be wrong though. I'd be a particle physicist.
Not a famous one, just someone who could do it for a living would be fine.
Because I find the truth about how nature works endlessly fascinating, inspiring and downright beautiful. There's so much mystery and grandeur in nature I don't need religion for that sense of wonder and comfort, It's all there.
Sadly general intelligence and very specific failings at maths mean I'm stuck doing planning. I get the principles of relativity, I understand why E=MC2 and why it matters, but that's as far as it goes.
One thing physics folks can teach agency folk though is how to go about and interpret research. Because they know that the same experiments will only produce the same results.
And they understand the more interfere with your subject, the less it can tell you.
Just as flashes of insight rarely come from focus groups.
Ernest Rutherford was perhaps the greatest experimenter ever. He wasn't a great theorist, but he was brilliant at devising experiements, and even better, looking for suprise results and working out what they meant.
His most famous was the gold foil experiment, where he fired alpha particles through the wafer thin metal, fully expecting them to shoot straight through, like bullets through paper.
But every now and again, they bounced back, as if they'd hit some immovable force. This was as unexpected a firing a cannon though paper and it rebounding.
The flash of insight to explain this was, roughly, that atoms are mostly empty space - all matter is concentrated in a tiny nucleus.Which was the beginning of our modern understanding of particles and leads to the conclusion that you and I are mostly empty space too.
If you could distill down the human race and push out all that space, we'd fit on a sugar cube.
There's Youngs double- slit experiment too. Where they fired electrons towards a barrier with two slits and, brain poppingly, they appeared to go through both.
Which led to modern quantum mechanics. Something most people accept as plain daft, but has been proven to be fundamental to modern nature - that you can't assume tiny particles don't take one route to a destination, you have to assume they take EVERY possible route. That particles can pop out and back in to existence.
Even more bizzare, the more you try and pin-point where a particle is, the less you know about where it's going.
Even worse, the more you try and box it it, the more likely it will disappear out of the box and re-appear somewhere else.
In other words, if you ask sub-atomic particles direct questions, the more they'll give you duff answers
Just like traditional marketing research.
Where interfering with human beings, just like particles reveals untruths and even bare-faced lies.
Because, just like particles can tell you where they are, but not where they're going.
People can tell you what they think (or at least think they think), but not how they feel or what they'll do.
Focus groups mean we conform to group think.
Our own decisions are clouded to us, our so called rational decision making process is a smokescreed to make us feel better about that fact we choose based on shorthand heuristics, emotion and instinct.
Even worse, our minds distort the past and predict our future based on our imperfect view of that past.
In fact, the only reliable way to research human beings is not interfere with them.
To observe how they they behave in their natural environment.
And get creative.
Look for unexpected.
If you know what you're looking for, the more likely you'll find it. And it will be obvious.
Leading to obvious advertising.
BBH didn't focus group Polaroid. They gave Polaroid cameras out at wedding and watched what happened - discovering they added to the occasion. You USED them to enhance the moment.
Leading to this...
AMV borrowed from cutting edge phychology and filmed how people shopping failed to notice a man in a gorilla suit in th aisles. Proving how much they were stuck in a routine. Leading to this:
That Gorilla insight was even used in a piece of advertising too...
And so on.
Game-changing insights in modern physics happened through creative experimentation and, well, by accident.
Not from repeating the same methodology.
Not from asking nature directly either.
So it is with discovering the truth about human beings.
And, probably, stealing as much methodology from Brainjuicer as you possibly can.
"The sophistication of modern sport workd against freakish solo-domination. In skill- centred sports rather than purely physical sports, some records are virtually unbreakable"
"There truly was a time when great men were greater -but human progress means those days witll never come back, there really will never be another Don Bradman"
Which is immensely sad. It seems like blokes need high mimetic heroes today more than ever.
From 'What Sport Tells Us About Life" by Ed Smith. If you fresh insight into sport,or life for that matter, because sport is really a mirror for everyday life, you should read it.
This also puts the arrogance of planners into sharp focus. It's not that most are genius strategists, it's just that others are even less good.
My career in a nutshell..........
It's 6am, it's cold and dark. I'm supposed to be getting up to go swimming.
Someone said these words recently, "You're nearly 40. isn't it time you admitted your age and let it go?" They haunt me.
Work means I'm not always around when the kids wake up. Shouldn't I be there every chance I get? Can't I listen to my aching body? It's always a bit stiff on mornings these days.
Sometimes the convinction wavers and, like gravity, the reality of being 39 year old drags me down.
But I go on. Mis-placed pride, ingrained habit and the knowledge that swimming has been such a big part of my life for so long, I don't know anything else.
What's more, when you know you we're born good at something, it seems somehow wrong to waste it. Even if the performance is a mere facsimile of days gone by.
I drive to the swimming pool. I dive in, it's freezing cold and my body takes longer to warm up that it used to. The old scar tissue from a torn shoulder muscle throbs for a little longer in the cold.
Then my thoughts wander.
It's been a hard three years as a husband and father. Being a parent puts simultaneously wonderful and terrifying challenges in front of you. I think it takes a real man do without a nights sleep, to comfort a sick child, then work the next day. It takes bravery to see your little boy in A&E without caving in, or have a doctor tell you your little baby girl might have brain damage and then not try and punch their face in when they've mis-diagnosed.
It takes a man to understand they will never be number one in the wife's eyes ever again. It takes a man to accept the immense responsibility to do more than protect your children, but help shape who they will become. To always be patient, to explain, to comfort, to not just shout and punish.
Winning at work, out drinking your friends, owning a good car or anything else that's supposed to signify manhood, pale next to this.
Including performing at sport. It seems pointless next to being their for my wonderful children. I love them and their mother so much.
But then I think of my parents, how happy they were for me to find something I loved as much as swimming.
How proud they were, win or lose, a long as I tried. And How pleased they were when I took it up again around ten years ago.
They're getting really old now, to the point when the fact they won't be around forever becomes less of a far off idea and more and ever present reality, quietly nesting in the subconscious.
Dad used to get up before 5am to take me swimming when I was young, then go to work. They sacrificed their weekends and their evenings together for me. Despite the prospect of all that time, they were still heartbroken when I packed in serious racing before my time, but they understood.
Trying to keep swimming at a decent level feels in many ways feels like a way to love and honour my parents and respect what they've done for me. Because, one of the many things they've taught me, is that everyone should be respected and valued. Everyone can do something well if you look hard enough,and everyones talent should be celebrated, no matter what it is.
This seems more important in these instant gratifications times, where people get rich or famous for doing nothing.While the quiet bravery of those that struggle everyday is forgotten. This is something want my children to understand as they grow up.
Then I'm not really thinking any more as I cut through the water. I'm just doing. I'm in a waking dream, totally in touch with my body as it remembers it can do this.
And it feels like home.
It feels like what it was like to be a child, when nothing needed a point, the joy was simply in the doing. You didn't think about playing, you just played.
I'm well into my session now. People often ask how I can spend so long in a pool, just going up and down. It's hard to explain what it's like. How you get to a state where you're not thinking, you're just focused on the act, fully aware of every stroke, every second, every turn.
How quieting the cacophony in the mind, not worrying about what's next, not going over what's happened, not second guessing, not trying to do ten things at once, lets your subconscious talk to you.
It's an escape, but that escape leads to ideas, solving of issues.By not thinking of them.All that stuff bubbling in the back of the mind just drifts forward. There are few problems or issues that don't seem easier after a good hard swim.
Swimming also stops me going soft, provides ballast. The harder it gets, the more it matters.That's whay that 6am conflict matters so much. If I give in to that, I start to crumble under all sorts of other temptations.
But it's not really any of that. The only point to swimming is swimming.
It doesn't have a purpose, it doesn't need it.
The act is enough.
Which in turn, reminds me how to live in the present and appreciate what's under my nose.
In my marriage, to not always pursue distractions, to just 'be' sometimes.
With my children, to not always be educating or even worse, having something more pressing to do. To just play for the sheer joy of playing.
Guess I'm saying that swimming is a contradiction.
It takes me away from wife and children.
Yet swimming helps me work out how to be a better father and husband.
I'm going away for a while. Got some some stuff to sort out, important stuff.
Unlike the unfortunate Lawrence Oates, I will return.
In the meantime.
Only use freshly drawn boiling water, warm the pot and always put the milk in first.
I get the train a lot. I quite like it. Even with delays and all that.
Sometimes I like the peace and the chance to read, just think and even, now and again do some work that needs thought.
But I also love the train for the chance to embrace the sheer humanity of everyone.
Slice into the stick of rock that is the British public and see what's in the middle.
To admire the sartorial bravery of some..
The Theo Paphitis lookalike in his expensive, mafia coat.
The commuter pairing his cerise Nikes with suit trousers.
The bloke on the quiet coach who waited in silent rage before telling someone to stop typing so loudly.
And the self righteous response from the perpetrator who pointed out that the rules only state that devices should be switched to silent. And just typed louder.
The inner city kids on their first ever trip out of Leeds, on their way to London. Who thought Doncaster was the most amazing thing they'd ever seen.
The old couple sharing a flask of tea.
The bloke on the phone begging his girlfriend to forgive him on the phone. Then laughing about it to his mates.
The coven of lairy hen-doers.
The very well spoken, very old buffet trolley bloke with an obviously intersesting story I'll never hear.
The ticket bloke with the Patience of Job over the indignation of umpteen people who have bought the wrong ticket.
Real people, real stories, real life. A thousand little dramas in the everyday.
You won't get stuff like that in focus groups. Where folks cannot articulate their own lives.
You won't get that in segmentations, that look for what to divides us, rather what connects us.
A thousand little insights, but it's more than that. Planning is as much about instinct as about fact.
It's not about research, it's about truth.
Instincts about what really matters to people and how to become a very, very small part of that.
People live in the real world. Not dimly lit hotel rooms or TGI runs.
Put another way, go to the jungle, not the zoo.
You may have noticed I have an, above average, appreciation for tea. Proper tea, made in a warmed pot with decent tea bags.Tea doesn't get much more complex than that for me. I believe it tastes better in a china mug, I think you should put the milk in first and I sometimes like Earl Grey for a little frivolity.
That's it. You CAN have silverware, natty trays, ironic mugs...you can even serve it in a stately home. But if you haven't done what you SHOULD, you haven't got the basics right, no amount of embroidery can make up for substandard tea.
Just like a really good steak need not be smothered in sauce - if it's good quality and cooked well, it doesn't need it.In fact, it shouldn't have it.
Just as good pasta tastes great with nothing more than great olive oil, garlic and quality parmesan.
It's a bit like that with planning and ideas in general. If your thinking is good enough, if you've done what you should:
Where are we?
Where could we be?
How could we get there?
It doesn't need bells and whistles. It stands alone in a well crafted sentence or two.
Just as ANY creative idea, digital or not, should make folks excited with nothing more elaborate than a few sketches and a few, well crafted words.
Just any presentation should make no more than 5 well made points.
I bristled recently in a meeting when a very senior planning person told the group, 'Sorry for the planning language in this, it's more for people like me and Andrew, we'll create something simpler later".
I reacted strongly against being lumped with 'planning language' which really meant needless long words and jargon, very complex charts and slide after slide after slide. That's not planning, that's hiding the fact you haven't done any yet. That's managing to alienate everyone else by implying they're a bit thick, only big brained planners will get this.
Well I'm sorry, if you can't say it concisely, if you can't get folks excited in a few sentences, you haven't thought about it hard enough. And no amount of quotes from Wittgenstein or 'The Social Animal' will mask it.
Just as no amount of reference, wireframing, quotes from Forrester or Mashable, mood films or mac concepting can mask something that is all execution, or even technology and no idea.
We're really lucky that we live an age with lots of choice, over media, technology and making ideas come to life really quickly.
But what hasn't changed is that all that stuff builds on solid thinking and a great idea.
It doesn't make up for flaky thoughts and bad ideas.
Or not having either at all.
As you might have noticed, I'm in midst of the Year of (nearly) not buying stuff. Some of this is to do with saving, lots of it is a need to notice everyday life a little more.
So I was putting together a photobook of my little boy's first two years, and the act of editing and putting together that story made all so vividly real again.
It forcibly reminded me how special it all was. There were no pictures of shopping bags, new clothes or any such things. It was all times spent together, that we barely noticed then. We were too busy looking forward to the next thing, rather than just 'being' and enjoying now.
Which is why I'll edit and play with photobooks more, they remind me to smell the flowers while I can.
On that first two years. Will won't remember any of it. Which is at once said and really great. There will be a point when he doesn't want to be with us much, he'll have his friends, his ideas, his own stuff.
But we'll have our own special time when there was just the three of us. He was all ours, we meant the entire world to him. The fact he won't remember that means we own it. It's our little secret together.
Which reminds me to focus on our one and half year old little girl that little bit more. When there's some bloke (or girl!) she'll replace me with eventually, but I'll remember this time when she was all ours, that for her never even existed. There's little more sad/wonderful than that.
He won't like me doing this, but since he's currently as far from the internet as could be, i.e the North Pole, there is nothing he can do about it.
I'm not talking about Robert Campbell, the legendary one with the big ears from Rainey, Kelly Campbell Roalfe.
I'm talking about Rob Campbell, the one from Wieden and Kennedy.
I'm talking about that one because I don't know the other Robert Campbell. I'm sure he's a nice bloke, but there's no reason he would talk to me. I'm a planning journeyman from Leeds. There's no reason Rob would either, but he does anyway. He's like that.
In fact, he talks to lots of people. He's incredibly generous.
Generous enough to blog nearly every single day about the job, offering all sorts of invaluable advice.
Generous enought to manage fantastic Account Planning School of the Web projects for aspiring planners around the world.
But it's more than that. In a business full of hubris, self importance and pretensiousness. Of arch irony and self satisfaction, he's totally authentic.
Not afraid to admit he likes Queen.
Not afraid to show how much he loves his Mother, his wife or his cat.
Not afraid to write in the most touching way about his departed father (who must have been quite a guy).
Not afraid to display absolutely no dress sense and doggedly stick to his army surplus shirts and Birkenstocks.
Not afraid to say what he thinks and tell it like it is.
Not afraid to admit when he's been totally wrong about Morrisey.
Not afraid to wear hats that him look a cross between Chewbacca, Justin Lee Collins and Mutley.
Who never defers to status - he treats everyone the same, junior planners, students, creative directors, CEO's.
And never uses his own. Never shows off about his considerable brilliance and incredible achievements. He just gets on with it.
No, not Robert Campbell. Rob Campbell. A shining example of generosity, authenticity and talent that gets on with being good, rather than talking about it.
The Rob Campbell who shows us that even Nottingham Forest supporting, Queen loving, Diet Coke addicts, not afraid to show their emotions, have time for everyone and don't seem to know that we stopped saying 'toptastic' in the '70's, can make it to the highest levels in this business.
Have fun with your Mum in the North Pole Rob.
So I was at AMV yesterday for something or other. Lovely place, lovely people. If ever there was evidence that you can be nice, decent AND really good and successful it is this place.
Still the largest agency in the UK, after so many years, still doing really great work.
Not really talked about all that much.
Because they don't need to be.
if you've ever suffered the kind of folks who seem to get ahead with the face that fits, or can't say anything without being arch, superior or downright rude, the bullies, the ones that work you to the ground then pull the rug from under your feet at the drop of the hat............
Keep places like this as living proof that decency and greatness are far from mutually exclusive, they are wonderful bedfellows.
There's a bit in Star Trek, after Spock has died and come to life, where Dr Bones McCoy asks him what being dead was like. Spock basically tells him he needs to die too before they can talk, as it's simply beyond his frame of reference.
Normal, non-reincarnated folk don't have the chops to understand.
It's a little like the brave new world of digital, especially social media.The majority if specialists in these areas tend to have the same approach as Spock.
There's is no way a digital/social guru can explain the intricacies of what they do - what clients are paying them for and what other specialists are asking them to support with - unless they're talking to another guru. It's beyond the frame of reference of most mortals.
And yet, anyone brought up in the fairly complex world of managing conjoint analysis, the Link Test, the oceans of data from Nielsen or TNS, 20 page client briefs, the unpredictable behaviour of customers, the game-theory like dynamics of any category - folks in those quaint old dinosaurs called advertising or, these days, integrated agencies - are continuously tasked with boiling everything down into a few sentences that are can unlock creativity, client buy in and, ultimately, the hearts and minds of people with better stuff to do.
Makes you wonder doesn't it?.
Is this brave new world really that complex? Or is just that those that specialise in it don't know really know what they're doing?
Usually, if someone can't explain something to you in plain English, they either don't understand it properly themselves, or they don't want YOU to understand.
Unless we believe digital social stuff is as profoundly outside our normal realm of understanding as the afterlife, quantum physics or relativity.
Actually, hold on there........
Can't help you with reincarnation though....
Once upon a time, after days of banging my head against a brick wall on a client brief, I got that curious sense of elation, relief and pure nuclear exhilaration when I hit on an idea. It was simply beautiful and beautifully simple.
It was a game changer.
Everyone agreed. My boss, the suits, even the creatives who just wanted to get their layout pads and scribble.
So we presented the strategy to the client. It was a great presentation, you'd have liked it. The client did.
But he didn't want to go with it, because he didn't feel he could sell it to the board.
Because it was game changer. It wasn't what they were used to.
The evidence was compelling, the potential was thrilling.
But he said they didn't want business ideas, they wanted advertising.
We were crushed.
Then we decided to both ignored him and listened to him.
We pushed on, but thought how to address the board issue.
The main reason we got the business was because one of our account execs was friends with the CEO's daughter - who worked in the business. .
So, in a totally immoral play, we got this account exec involved in the project.
Who innocently talked to her friend about how excited she was about the new campaign.
The daughter told her Dad.
At the same time, we persuaded the client to let us present.
By making great ads to show.
With vox pops interviews showing what happened when his staff and customers (including the bosses daughter) saw them.
Because no one gets excited by strategy, they get excited by creative work.
Because everyone is scared of new ideas, the need permission to buy it.
So he wanted to present it now.
Especially when the CEO told him he wanted to see the work his beloved daughter was raving about.
So we presented with him, to the board.
The CEO was already pre-disposed to buy, and no-one would argue.
Because only a fool calls the CEO's daughter an idiot.
And by jingo,when everything got made it worked.
No one gets excited by thinking, they get excited by creative ideas - you don't have a great strategy until you have great work.
If you believe in something enough, there's a way to make it happen - creativity is not just about the work, it's also how you sell it.
It's not who you know, it's who you know.
Research can be weapon, as well as your enemy.
If I'm not swimming or doing other painful stuff on bikes, treadmills or rowers, or reading, watching a film or playing with the kids; you're likely to find me cooking.
I love it. Always have. This isn't a daily chore, it's a joy.
I've been cooking in some shape or form since I was a little boy. What follows is why I love it and what it's taught me along the way. Some of that, believe it or not has beeb useful for the day job.
1. It's more special if you've helped make it. Like I say, I've been doing it for a long time. Some of my earliest memories are standing on my little wooden stool and helping my Mum. Sieving the flour, carefull stirring the bechamel sauce for lasagne, the patience and staying power required to gradually whisk in the oil to make mayonnaise, the crash bang whallop of flambe steak. And that's partly why I love food so much. Because I've always made it. We all love stuff that we've had a hand in creating. Which is how I'm already teaching my kids to appreciate their food and enjoy eating it. A useful trick to get people to buy your strategy and stuff too - let them help make it.
2. You can taste when someone's enjoyed making something. I call myself a cook, not a chef. I don't believe in 'performing' or making stuff that only looks good. I cook, I make stuff to please myself and others. I don't slave over stuff that's over complex, or meals I don't enjoy doing, I make stuff that's a joy to make. Because I firmly believe the most vital ingredient in food is joy. Again, that's maybe why food I used to cook with my Mum was so great, something about the laughter and, well, the deep love shared between a little boy and his Mum just rubs off into the food. I'm convinced people get that from ads and stuff, the stuff that's a ball ache to make - because it's been researched to death, because the client wanted, or because the agency folk didn't care. Versus the stuff that people enjoyed making, that they cared about. You can just tell.
3. It is better to give than to receive. I love having people around to eat. And it's great when I know them well. Because then I can cook stuff how they like, not always stuff I don't like to eat myself.I do love making things for me, savouring the anticipation of eating it; the 12 hour rabbit stew, a cassoulet that takes the best part of a weekend, but seeing the happiness on people's faces, the enjoyment, that's better. I don't believe that rubbish about refusing to make someone a well done steak. If that's what they want, I'll make them the best well done steak I can. I also never cut corners, people can taste and appreciate the effort. Garlic puree? Pah! As it happens, a level of generosity, enthusiasm and empathy are great skill for a planner to have. As are the delicate balance between giving someone what they're used to and what they're going to love. Only when you really know someone can you delight them. That goes for clients, creatives and target audiences as well as fellow diners.
4. Recipes are guides, not rules. I love trying new recipes. But getting to grips with them is only the start. Once you're familiar, then you can make it your own. It takes years of trial and error and learning the basics, but eventually, you develop the instincts to know what works, what goes together and what doesn't. And instinctive feel for the chemistry that rules food. Once you have that, you can create your own voice. Make your own version of classic stuff and even invent your own dishes, perhaps altering what you do depending on who you cook it for. That's the same for the job, like it or not, it takes years to not have to think about the basics and get inventive. To experiment, to create your own voice. Then, you can start to challenge, question and even discard the recieved wisdom of what works and do it your way. As long you respect what has gone before and understand why you're challenging it, rather than change for change sake.
5. Some quality ingredients you can't avoid, some you can do without A risotto cannot be made with cheap long grain rice, you have to invest in Arborio,Carnaroli or any other high starch version. It also lives or dies by its stock. The better the chicken stock, the bettet the risotto. The best comes from homemade stock made from the bones of a free-range bird. The cheap versions are just not the same. Just as crap supermarket mince destroys meatballs, or a bolognese. But in my view, any olive oil will do for cooking, while only decent extra virgin oil works in a salad dressing. Let's get this straight too - cheap balsamic vinegar is a false economy. But eggs in cooking are, well eggs (I'm assuming you won't buy battery). So is flour - unless you're making bread. And so it goes with the job, if you're going to base work in a killer insight, it has to be a genuine killer insight. If you're going to test work, for God's sake, don't scrimp on recruitment and pay for a good moderator. The wrong people looking at your work, in the unwell hands of a bad researcher is commercial suicide. On the other hand, if you're going to build your work on connecting a number of insights together (faster), they don't have to great, just reliable and ADD up to something great. In my experience, a great proposition is optional (especially with the kind of creatives that automatically ignore propositions) but a clear, juicy task is an absolute must.
6. Lose yourself in the task. Playing music while cooking is a joy, and somehow, music that suits what you're making makes it all better. But it should never distract. One of the joys of cooking is when you lose yourself in the task, totally in the moment, yet totally in trance. So when you finish, it's like waking up. That state when you're instincts and your conscious brain seem to become one. It's a source of great joy to get into this kind of state and enables you to work wonders. Ditto doing stuff like creative briefs - it's only when you stop noticing you're thinking that you really think. Writing, editing, distilling, refining - you need to concentrate really hard and avoid distractions, then the thing seems to write itself, you've forgetten you're working. . Same for any written piece of work, or presentations or whatever.
7. It's more fun when you do it together. I love cooking alone, it's quality 'me' time, but nothing brings people together like preparing a meal. I still like cooking with my Mum, but I also value that whole men and BBQ thing, the fellas clutching beer, chatting and working together through the acrid smoke on the meat and vegetable skewers. I love eating Christmas dinner, but I love the joint family effort to bring it together. It's great when Juliette helps me, that feeling of us working as a team. Eating at a table together is important, but making it together is even better. One of the joys of my life is my little boy helping me, perched on his little steps like I used to with my Mum. Experiences always last longer than things, and working side by side really brings people closer. It's the same with planning, if you're shy like me, it takes a shared task to get to know people. Nothing brings a team together like pitch. And if you want other to let get involved in their stuff (client relationhsips, creative execution) you need to let them collaborate with you. Any team only bonds when it has to do a task together, especially men, who don't socialise 'face to face' but 'side by side'. This is why football is so important to some of us and why we miss having to work with our hands together (even though we don't know it).
8. Some mistakes cannot be rectified, some can. There are some mistakes you can come back and repair in the course of preparing food, but some cock ups mean you have to abandon the whole thing and start again. For example, the secret to great curry is slowly cooked onions. But if you burn them there's no going back,nothing can hide the bitter taste and you must start again. On the other hand, if you over do it with the Chili or other fiery ingredients later on, you can just cook it for longer and that fire will gradually cool down. Just like making a white wine sauce, that usually needs creme or creme fraiche - when you mix dairy stuff with something acidic, like wine or vinegar, you can't let it boil, or the dairy bit will curdle, leaving hideous white little lumps in a thin liquid. It can't be saved, do it again. But if you're making bechamel sauce (flour, butter and milk) lumps might appear but it doesn't matter, just whisk it to within an inch of your life. Roughly, there are deep foundations to dish, and if you get these wrong, the whole edifice will collapse. But when the secondary stuff goes wrong, you can usually save, sometimes with a bit of ingenuity and invention, sometimes with a lot of effort. It's like that with developing work. By and large, if the underlying strategy is totally wrong, or even worse, if you don't have one, the work that flows from it will be wrong - and you need to start again. But sometimes the thinking is mostly okay, but it's just not watertight, or a little wooly here or there. Here you can rectify things,but the further you get down the line with creative development, the more those little flaws become yawning great chasms of wrongness. Always admit when you're wrong or you've made a mistake, assess if the project can be saved, or if it's a rip-up and start again. Pride gets you nowhere and the quicker you tend to little problems, the easier it is to solve them. The only exception is happy accidents, some times work is so great, it informs strategy, not on purpose, it just does. Just as I put sherry into a bolognese instead of port, and have stuck to it ever since.
9. It's okay to please yourself. One of my greatest joys is the evenings I get to cook for myself. Sometimes, this means Spaghetti Putanesca- the wonderful heat of the chilli, the pungency of the garlic and the dirty saltiness of the capers and anchovies makes for a big hearted gutsy dish. Mostly though, it's time to try new stuff and work out what I like and why I like it. I don't like experimenting on people, why would I ever give people stuff to eat I'm not sure I like myself? That I'm not proud of? So my first test of anything is,do I like it? Am I happy with it? Because we're all a little different, but we're also 99.99% the same. The chemistry of food reacting to taste buds isn't all that different for all of us, in fact, what we like can often be translated to 'what we're used to'. It has to work for me, as a mark of respect for the people I'm cooking for, and if it works for me, it will very likely work for them. It's just the same with strategy and the resulting work. Segmentations and stuff can be useful, but brands grow from mass penetration, you have to look for truths in what we all like, not what sets us apart. If you 'plan from within' and ensure it interests and excites you, and ensure it excites you as a human, not a planner, you'll do okay. Finally, if you treat people with respect and don't produce the 95% of crap this industry makes, you'll be rewarded with greater cut-through, greater salience, and in the end, greater long sales.
10. Don't accept it when people say "I won't like that". My little boy's first reaction to new food is "I don't like that", so we have a first plate strategy where he has to eat a spoonful of what he doesn't want before gets food he likes. Gradually he gets used to new food and tastes and, mostly, he only has to try stuff a couple of times to realise it's actually quite yummy. My wife once told me she would never eat nuts in cooking, and was suitably chagrined to find that pesto has pine nuts in it and my homemade korma is replete with almonds. She also hates anchovies, despite still not knowing it's in 30% of my pasta sauces. We're all fond of the familiar, and, despite the fact we're hardwired to seek out novelty, not only do we reject surprising stuff out, we base predictions of what we'll like based on what we know now. Many grubs and insects taste like prawn or lobster, but we have too much cultural baggage to get past our disgust of creepy crawlies. This is a big learning for planners in my view. It's why most pre-testing is a waste - because people are telling how they feel about stuff based on what thet know now. Sometimes you have to ignore what folks tell you they like and push on regardless. Even more fundamental, people naturally hate bankers, just like my wife hates anchovies. A good strategy is to disguise them as something else, get in the business of pasta sauce rather than fish. Polaroid was once in the social lubrication business, not instant photography, if they'd remembered this, they'd be a lot stronger today. Also, sometimes peopl really don't like a meal, they don't like an ingredient. I can't eat beetroot, put it in anything and the dish is ruind. So it goes with creative work, sometimes people can't express this though - sometimes the idea is fine, the execution is fine but they don't like the voice over or the casting.
And when it comes to clients, find a way to make them think they're getting what they like. Never confont them with 'you're wrong' - hide the anchovy in the sauce and let them marvel at how great it tastes.
That's what a deep and abiding love of cooking teaches me about life and planning.
There's a great scene, in the quiz night episode of Phoenix Nights, when Brian Potter's team show him their plan to cheat their way to quiz victory.
They reveal one of them has written all sorts answers on their forearm, concealed beneath their shirt sleave.
"Do you know the questions?", he asks.
"No", the respond, "But you never know".
It's here at at nine and a half minutes.
If ever there was a metaphor for skewering the lunacy of pre-supposing any sort of media or marketing specialism answer, before fully interrogating the problem and getting an IDEA, it is this.
Advertising is the answer, what is the question?
Digital is the answer, what is the question?
The brand onion is the answer, what is the question?
More email based advice. Just a reminder, this is what I think, not everyone.
Sorry to bombard you with questions. I feel that 'strategy's is not embraced within the client organization at all. Strategy is about retrofitting the execution as opposed to guiding the creative. While I know real life doesn't happen in textbook fashion, I believe this should not be happening all the time. What do you think?
You’re too right that real life doesn’t follow the textbooks,
And most of the textbooks are wrong.
I think the trick is to insert best practise into real life and not the other way around.
Loads of clients only care about you making the best ads, and have got someone else to do the ‘grand strategy’.
And yes, lots if planning tends to be a ‘ad tweaker’ as Stephen King put it.
Now I’m not here to get bad/indulgent/plain wrong work through the client or research.
I sure, neither are you.
This about patient and playing the long game – and not bruising egos.
I don’t like testing work, it’s mostly pointless and can kill great work, especially in the hands of a bad researcher. However, if you’re client is a fan of testing, use it to your advantage. It’s immoral, but as you say, we live in the real world.
So use research defensively.
If everyone is in love with an idea, but isn’t objective about how it works, and either won’t listen, or will hate you forever for killing their baby, be the voice of the consumer and test it.
Which means moderate groups yourself (you can’t escape this and getting good at moderation gets you great at client meetings and managing workshops) or making friends with the researcher. Researchers are lonely folk who no one takes the time to befriend. Have influence on the discussion guide, tell the researcher what you’re looking for.
In other words, fix work by getting people to say what you know is wrong with it, kill bad work if it’s begging to be put out its misery – but get people to say what you know is the right alternate approach.
In other words, people other than yourself to alter or crucify the work, but make sure you also have a clear, insightful and interesting way forward.
And because it’s endorsed by real buyers, the client will buy into it too.
Of course, you might not have the budget to do formal research and the client might not want to pay to test work (in most cases hallelujah!) so put the work in front of people of the doers in the agency who are not ‘comms professionals’ –accounts, PA’s etc. Get their feedback instead. Or do cheap and cheerful street interviews. Works internally, while clients bloody love vox-pops. Just make sure the respondents match the clients ‘minds-eye’ picture of their audience, not always the real audience, then they’ll accept it far more. Play to their prejudice. I once worked on a brand who’s CEO believed all their buyers where beautiful fashionista women (preferably with great breasts). So went out to do vox pops with precisely these kind of women (it’s a hard life). And no, my natural charm and film star looks didn’t make it easy to attract this kind of respondent, I took an account exec to man the camera who, in the looks department, did.
Now, as far as ‘grand strategy’ is concerned, this is really part of the same job. Folks, of course, don’t like work for surface reasons but mostly, when they talk about why the like or don’t like stuff, you can quickly root out the fact that the work is based in the wrong objective or direction. So, feeding back on work enables you to feedback on strategy and present a better approach with evidence as to why that’s the case.
Failing time to do this, make sure you do work to brief, but then present and alternative, just make sure you have strong, evidence argument for why it’s better, and let the account folk help with some of those dark arts of charm and persuasion.
If you don’t have time or resources for that, this is where dirty planning really comes in. Don’t post rationalise why the wrong work is right, invent the argument for why the right work is right – convince them it’s on brief. Most ads and stuff have a specific strategy and a specific ‘way in’ – executional idea. Just make sure the execution does the job you want it to, but convince the client it does what THEY want it to.
For example, a client thinks this about proving superiority by talking about quality ingredients,
but it’s really about relevance and role, creating a specific feeling and context for the usage experience, and getting across a unique brand point of view without saying it (we’re for folks who like being outdoors and experiencing more low-fi, authentic stuff, bourgeois bohemians) - a brand for ‘people like me’ that shares my values and aspirations. . It’s no good providing evidence without presenting the argument first.
Hope this helps
More email advice stuff. About these folks:
How are you?
One of the things I'm really struggling with at my current workplace is shaping my role. My role is a newly created role. I feel the client is execution focused and there is an enormous opportunity for strategic thinking to guide the brand. The thing is I haven't got a clue on how to do it, what I should be doing on a daily basis. I used to be a part of all meetings so I have a better sense of what's going on to identify opportunities where I can insert myself. That continued for a bit until we got an account director on the account. I felt a sense of relief as I thought this person might help pull me in at the right times instead of sitting through mindless meetings. What I'm starting to realize is I'm letting him dictate what my role and involvement should be as I don't have the confidence to tell him or figure out where and how I should be involved. In a nutshell, I just don't know what to do besides trial and error. How would you handle this situation?
Do you always attend client creative reviews?
By the way, I really like what you said about think about thinking about your audience as a protagonist in your story - it really helped when I was organizing my thoughts!
Yes, shaping your role is a double edged sword- it’s great to have the flexibility, but others can shape it for you.
In general, you should be following this job description.
But when it comes to reality, the world isn't full of purists.
Acccount directors can be tricky in particular because:
Ive written about working with suits before- here. But here's some other thoughts.
I attend most client meetings and most creative reviews because I’ve worked hard to win a level of respect from everyone.
More than that, people expect I’ll add something that won’t come from anyone else. Creatives, suits and clients can get along fine without planners, you have to make them WANT you in the room.
With any account director, make them feel your making their job easier.
That doesn’t mean you make them feel you’re cleverer than them, but that you respect what they do (I do I was failed suit) and want to earn theirs.
Don’t do cleverer strategy, do more generative strategy. Average briefs, briefings and overall thinking tends to frame business objectives, stays within the ‘category’ and doesn’t really help creatives that much with having good ideas. A useful trick is not to ‘own the strategy’ but add to it, contribute that extra 10% of thinking that turns it into a creative rocket fuel, rather than instruction….by pushing into something that people will care about, that make them respond, that will provoke creative response. Because, ultimately, suits like less creative reviews and less time on a job, so the better the start and the more creatives can allocate to solving a creative task rather than a ‘business one’ the better. For example – one thing I worked on recently turned ‘We need increase usage occasions and increase the emotional relationship ’ (don’t get me going on the double task) into “Inspire women across the nation to get more creative”.
Add more and more to the stuff you get invited to and you’ll see you’ll get included into more and more and more. Build a relationship with creatives – be a genuine bridge between them an suits. When suits see creatives want you around, they’ll want you too – creative are harder for suits to manage than clients.
So you then need to make sure you can PROVE that people will be interested in this – data, insights, examples from real culture. Which brings me to point about relationships with clients. You’re not there for clients to like you more than the account director (take this from a painfully shy person who can never ‘own the room’ with force of personality) you’re there for clients to want to maintain an strengthen the relationship. By removing risk for them – with evidence that the work is the right thing to do. By continually adding value with observations and nuggets into every meeting and by getting better work more smoothly out of the agency. The suits will get it right in terms of what they think the client will buy, you’ll get it right by proving it’s what the target will respond to, and how that response will help solve the BUSINESS problem.
In other words, by being a source of ideas and then helping get those ideas through, you’ll make both creatives AND suits want you around more.
In turn, that means surrendering your ego, be generous with all your thinking and ideas, let both creatives and suits take credit and they’ll want you around, because you make them look good (I even bury my best stuff within a creative brief, creatives’ natural response to a brief is to question it, let them discover the best stuff themselves. You need to know you’d thought of that, they don’t). But the moment you try and take credit for stuff, they’ll shut you out.
So that’s the approach.
Here’s some pointers to help you know what’s going on, which have always helped me:
I hope I’ve answered the question and you find it helpful
...and here's the second chunk of vaguely useful advice. Four basic questions. Whatever the agency, the 'specialism', the client. the category or territory.
I came across your previous post and the way you found your voice as a planner is inspirational. It brought tears to my eyes. It gave me a lot of courage as I find myself in a similar situation. I've always wanted to be a planner. It took me several years until I landed that symbolic title. I'm without boss and I'm the only planner on my team. I feel lost and confused most of the time and feel foolish for feeling that way. I've been reading blogs to figure out how I should do my job but I'm still struggling to find my voice.
Glad it helped.
By the way, EVERYTHING boils down to:
Where are we now?
Why are we here?
Where could we be?
How do we get there?
Structure everything you do around this and you won’t go far wrong.
Follow your instincts, just find a way to PROVE you’re doing the right thing
It amazes me 4 or so people who read this blog bother. I get even more incredulous that after reading it, some actually ask for advice. Please remember, I'm just a tea drinking swimmer who works in one of the most god-forsaken planning outposts in the world.
Not even my little boy listens to anything I say, unless it's our weekly swimming lessons, or sharing deep knowledge about Star Wars (and yes, this is shameless excuse to publish my favourite picture of the two of us, but for balance, I'd better publish one of both kids, but if Evie ever wants to know about Star Wars remains to be seen)
Anyway, I still swelled with pride when an former APSOTW student let me know he has his first planning job. Brilliant, brilliant - and I'm sure, nothing to do with the blatherings on here.
But he let me know that his first job is about shaping his own role without mentoring. At once great, since you can write your own future, but also tough - we all need guidance from time to time.
So I was glad to share some thoughts on this and that through email and, on reflection, thought it might be of use to the other three readers.
Probably not, but you never know.
Just be mindful, what I share won't be what everyone thinks, it certainly won't be 100% right.
Because we're all different and so are different organisations. How you fit and develop is a reflections of amplifying the best parts of both. So you have to find your own voice and mould that to wherever you are, or wherever you want to be if they end up mutually exclusive. .
This is just what I think and the kind things I try and do do get through the day to day.
(and these were stream of consciousness emails, I will apologise for typos and grammar mistakes even less than usual)
Anyway, here's the first email chain. Names and clues to identity have, of course, been removed.
As part of your job, do you create storytelling platforms? If not, who's job would that normally be?
That depends on the objective- if it requires overt storytelling then yes because it's as much about comms planning as creative therefore it needs to be collaborated on
If you are a great writer it's something you can own a bit more than traditional creatives
Just a watch out try and develop stories that include customers as fellow protagonists
Thank you, Andrew.
What do you mean by overt storytelling? Can you please give me an example.
I'll go about creating one with your advice about the customers.
Actually telling a story that develops in your communication rather than just making all your channels consistentAlso, think about the role of different channels they shouldn't have identical executions but should play their own part in the narrative ...they should make sense on their own and add to the wider whole
If you're not from the UK, it's unlikely you will understand the significance of working outside London.
Especially if you're a planner.
It's not like many other countries where good agencies and talent are spread around. In the UK, most of the good jobs and the talented people are concentrated in its capital city.
Now, you would expect companies in other cities to find some sort of competitive advantage, pehaps make damn sure they do it at LEAST as well as the London lot.
As a mimimum, be hungrier, work harder and scrap for every piece of business going.
But expectations are rarely matched with reality. If there's one thing that characterises agencies outside of London, it's complacency.
I've been critical in the past of agency folk in London, who don't get outside of their bubble. Who talk about marketing or, even worse, social media,rather than the issues, hopes and dreams of the people they're trying to sell to. Or even mentioning selling stuff.
Much of that is still fair. But at least they're trying to push things. At least they're interested in craft. Sometimes a little pretentiousness, embracing a bit of complexity or just reading stuff can go a very long way.
There's still a big opportunity for folks outside of London. They should be doing the 'integrated thing' a lot better London folk, because they've been doing it for years. The fake divisions don't exist out here.
It's just that 99% of it isn't any good.
There are so many London outfits dining out on their postcode.
Not the strength of their work.
So few genuine IDEAS agencies rather 'ad agencies pretending to be otherwise', or discipline specific design, digital social media (Jesus) or whatever else agencies.
So few that apply the level of thought and creativity you get and can still in 'advertising' outfits.
There are pioneers of course, you know who they are. BBH, Mother, W+K, Albion etc. But they're expensive and, well based in London.
Masses of client companies, not London based, put up with the distance because they feel there is no alternative.
No one with the mix of planning intelligence, creative magic and passion for business building ideas, rather than artificial discipline or media 'lines' or forcefields.
Who also offer a postcode outside London, with the reduced cost, reduced arrogance and reduced superiority complex.
Who just get on with it.
Nope, little of the integrated work outside of London comes from rigour, innovation, or even real business thinking. It comes from accepting the crumbs that fall North of the Watford Gap.
It comes from lack of vision and the belief that we're fine as we are.That we know it all.
Mediocrity that knows no higher than itself.
I don't strictly mean a lack of planners, partly lack of willingness to think like a planner.
(There's nothing wrong with account folks doing strategy, but when a suit mistakes half-baked thinking and writing a brief as strategy, that's where things get ugly)
passion for work that actually matters. Not in the industry. In the lives of the people we're selling to.
Not regurgitating the client brief to creatives and expecting the poor bastards to do the strategy.
Even worse, accepting that creatives think they can.
Not thinking that being a designer qualifies you to be an art director. Once makes things look nice, the other makes things work.
Not working in the same regional outfit for 15 years and acting like you know it all, or, even worse, looking down your nose at folks trying to do somethimg different.
Not worshipping outmoded models of brands (or worse, not even caring about them) and not even knowing the basics of the kind of stuff clients learn in college, let alone being able to challenge the recieved wisdom in this.
Not commisioning average researchers so you don't have to think and make decisions (although having stuff with some sort of input beyond over indulged creatives and jobsworth suits would perhaps be a start).
Not focusing on the money at the expense of the work - which in the end just stops the money.
There's a massive opportunity to make something exceptional out here. To change things. To do work that people will actually care about.
Because the 'advertising V digital v direct v PR' culture is already dead.
It's just that we need to rediscover the passion for intelligence turned into magic (as John Hagarty would say).
Because approach and mindset are much quicker to fix than infrastructure.
That won't come from a few Cream Awards and a Grand Prix at the Roses. Really it won't.
Only to find it was delayed.
Of course, I could have sulked, or melted like warm Nutella into an incandescant rage.
But the Year of Not Buying Stuff is about appreciating the present for what it is, being happy with what I have and not fussing about what I can't change,
Because, funilly enough, it's not changeable.
Also, usually, it doesn't matter that much and can present all sorts of good stuff - if you look at it right.
So instead, I got to appreciate 20 minutes sitting outside in the fresh air, on a nice sunny day watching odd southerners.
The Year of Not Buying stuff precludes purchasing objects for 'want' rather than 'need'.
Decency forbids me showing you the state of my gym shorts. Falling apart, with holes in the most innapropriate places.
New shorts have been needed for more than a while.
The problem has been that I hate long shorts and the fashion police have decreed that sports shorts need to be long.
I haven't found any short enough that are also a jersey material. Fussy me.
This tendency to 80's style sports apparel is nothing to do with a specific style choice or the desire to look overly camp (already a colleague has decided to christen me Camp David).
It's simply that I when you train at any decent level, your legs sweat and soggy material against your thighs is not a turn on.I just don't see the point of long shorts when it comes to sport.
So thank God for American Apparel for saving me.
And all hail the new shorts.
I get the train from Leeds to Kings Cross a lot.
Sometimes, the conductors don’t even bother to check my ticket, that’s how often I’m on an East Coast train.
So maybe I notice stuff a little more than the average rail passenger, but then again maybe not. In any case, one thing I don’t seem to be able to avoid is posters all over stations, and arterial routes into them, telling me how great the complimentary food is in First Class.
As is the case for most of us, First Class is a very rare experience indeed.
Now I know they’re trying to get folks to upgrade. I know good prices are obtainable too, as long as you book early enough. Surely though they must understand that the necessity of business travel tends to fall into the ‘book it the day before we travel’ camp.
So they’re not going to get many upgrades on that count. Plus, they should also know the ‘class’ thing usually comes down to company policy and, as such, won’t get shifted by mass advertising. Most business commuters don’t make the decision.
Of course, I may have this wrong and they can see revenue potential from leisure travel, but surely that should be targeted around weekends?
In any case, even if the upgrade strategy is bang on, to quote that James song, “If I hadn’t seen such riches I could live with being poor”.
Most people are happy with what they’ve got until they realise others have it better.
Being reminded how great First Class is reframes the experience of standard class immediately – from what ‘one is used to so fair enough’, to something inferior.
You notice the uncomfortable seats a little more, suddenly resent the crowding at peak time, while delays become big problems rather than understandable hiccups.
(I personally am not fussed, the Year of Not Buying anything is teaching me to appreciate the simple joy of getting the train - the views, the chance to read the paper cover to cover and watch the oddness of people up front. I also enjoy berating people in the quiet coach for making a racket, but that's just the Larry David in me)
In short, they’re alienating most of their frequent customers. Instead of feeling good about the brand, or at least not caring in a benign manner, they’re made to feel East Coast doesn’t care and is prioritising other people.
It’s the brand for ‘them’, not for ‘us’.
In a cultural climate where ‘the have nots’ are more than a little resentful of the ‘haves’ being seen to pander to the imagined bankers, CEO’s and others that have fucked things up for everyone else, doesn’t seem so smart.
If that wasn’t the case, this story about Gideon Ozzy Osborne squatting in First Class wouldn’t have got so much traction as a story.
If this wasn’t bad enough, East Coast are actually making promises they can’t keep.
The majority of the journeys I go on come with the tannoy announcement that, “ First Class breakfast/lunch/dinner is cancelled due to circumstances beyond our control”.
Bad enough they’re reminding everyone in standard class they’re merely cattle - apologising to the imagined ‘better’s in comfy seats, acres of leg room and decent tea and coffee - even worse, they’re telling EVERYONE over and over again how feckless they are.
It makes the commuter think, if they can’t get dinner right for the people they’re bothered about, how much are delays and cancellations due to crapness rather than unavoidable circumstance?
Perception is reality. We all look for short cuts to help us make our minds up about things, constantly telling folks you can't get little things like food right begins to get neurons to burn an automatic 'East Coast are not reliable' path in the brain.
So if your client is asking you to make promises about service or performance, however insignificant they may seem, make sure they can keep them and consider how it might affect the wider commercial context.
Because making promises that make the majority of their customers feel inferior isn't great.
Breaking them once is very bad.
Failing over and over again makes them look feckless and suggests they’re crap at everything else.
Telling ALL YOUR ACTIVE CUSTOMERS about this, even when it’s nothing to do with them, is plain dumb.
Because it’s the little things in the actual brand experience that can make the biggest difference usually, not the glossy ads.
Because takes time to build trust and create a relationship, any sort of emotional context for that matter. But it only takes an instant to destroy it.
Because people remember how they felt about an experience far longer than the facts about that experience.
Because how you feel about anything is based on how it is framed. We all choose by comparison and reframing standard class from 'more convenient and comfortable than driving' to 'much worse than what people resent get" obliterates positive sentiment quicker than the Death Star annihilated Alderaan.
Ads and stuff deal in illusion of course (especially our collective self- delusion) but they need to stay firmly aware of reality too.
Because it always bites.
More years ago than I now care to share with you, I went on a creative briefing course chaired by Saint Russell Davies. It was really a two day,"How to go about strategy" bootcamp, although bootcamp is a little misleading, because it was fun and inspirational.
The biggest eye opener was when we discussed the classic, "Why are we advertising" part of the brief and, critical to any strategy, the setting of objectives.
I came away with a new way of looking at the the way communications would be evaluated.
The first epiphany was a purist one. The second was downright Machiavellian.
Number 1 - no one should never think about any sort of communications without considering the real business context.
All advertising, in it's many forms should be developed and evaluated in it's wider business context. Not 'building the brand' or addressing brand perceptions, not getting 'likes' 'retweets' or shifting sentiment scores.
It should live or die by how it addresses business issues.
Take Philadelphia Cheese. Whopping great market share, little need to spend any more money on much more communications when, surely, share in the category is as big as it can get (I don't know a thing about their numbers, this is pure deduction my Dear Watson). The only reason to part with cash, is to try and GROW the category.
Hence the ongoing strategy to introduce more 'foodie' variants and increase reasons to buy through by portraying it as a cooking ingredient for busy families with no time for fancy cooking (all of them!), not just a 'spread'.
As Byron Sharpe might say, removing reasons not to buy.
You wouldn't get to this if you just looked at brand strength.
At best, you might ensure you maintained mental presence with customers, but just reminding people you exist is lazy and in, certainly FMCG companies, you'll try the patience of short term marketers who need to see quicker results.
In a purist sense, in my view, a rigorous approach to the business situation should inform everything you do, yes digital specialists and socia media gurus I mean you too.
Just because you're a digital agency, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be open to helping with stuff like distribution - perhaps you would create virtual pop- up stores for advocates to put on their Facebook pages.
If you're a bank and you want pissed off, but ultimately apathetic customers, to switch while they're still seeing red, perhaps looking for angry Tweets and responding personally and delightfully might be a place to start. That's what your social folks should be telling you, not, "Wouldn't it be cool to get people uploading pictures of themselves with funny angry faces".
But then we come to Epiphany 2.It's no good being a purist of your clients, or the people they report to are not.
Most of them are not.
Sorry about that.
The purist stuff is not that hard, most of us know the simple basics now:
Distinctiveness, not differentiation.
Penetration always wins over loyalty - so remove reasons to buy aim to connect with the widest audience possible
Fame and emotion, rather than rational
Build consistent memory structures, but refresh them
Spend above market share to grow it
Hard objectives always beat soft ones
But marketing folk and their agencies work very, very hard to make this much more complex and work to different agendas.
Passing the Link Test, reflecting the self image of the board, impressing shareholders, being seen to make a big change,winning creative awards, hitting sales volume figures, whatever the margin. Building loyalty and frequency with complex and needless CRM programmes. Building brand health scores.
Lord knows how many brand models and, of course, the legendary brand onion; as relevant to real people's relationship with brands as Neighbours is to Australian politics.
The Transformation Way.
Big Ideas v Long Ideas.
This is the stuff that fills the agendas of folk that makes marketing stuff.
I've even been in a situation where our work grew consideration amongst non-buyers buy 10%, while econometrics showed we created a 3% sales uplift.
But it didn't grow brand awareness (it was already over 80% amongst target audience).
So we were fired.
Basically we forgot that the CEO only cared about campaigns that made him feel good about himself, not stuff that sold.
It's sad to say that the real, critical realities of creating business value quickly get lost in a quagmire of personal agenda, recieved wisdom and vanity.
I'm not being negative, I'm being realisistic. I'll even admit I've used research defensively to get work though I thought would help the agency shop window (the CEO was pretty 'persuasive').
So have you. Admit it.
So what to do?
A purist would say you should stick to your guns, since your job is to be objective.
A realist would say you should apply the same skills you use on creatives to the client business.
Just as you alter your brief and your briefing to creatives who want a tight proposition, or the ones who ignore propositions but love a clear task, perhaps the ones are comic book geeks and always respond to superhero metaphors.
You should find out what makes the senior marketer and the CEO of your client tick.
The marketing person is easy, ask them what stuff they like that other people have done, look at the patterns in what they've done elsewhere (I once worked with someone who would preface everything with "When I managed Quorn") what their vision is for the brand and what the single most important thing is they'll report to the board on.
The CEO is even easier, even if you never get to meet them. Read what they put in the annual report.
Then, naturally, you're going to do the right thing, but make sure you can link it back to whatever you've gleaned is the real agenda from your two stakeholders.
Like the Greeks in the Iliad, smuggle your true purpose in aTrojan Horse of ego massaging and percieved agenda.
In any case, don't fall into the trap of doing the right thing when it's not what anyone else wants.
History and poplular culture are, replete with tragic heroes, those who are doomed to suffer, even die, following their righteous cause to the end. In some cases driven to madness and self-destruction when they are taught the futility of their efforts.
(If you haven't seen The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent was a principled District Attorney who ultimately went nuts when his girlfriend died and he was disfigured in spite of, and also because, of his righteous mission).
However, it is also littered with those heroic but deeply flawed figures who ultimately did lots of right by doing a little wrong.They were a little more morally dubious, but they got the job done...........
I love this leather rucksack/satchel/bag thing, it's just worn in enough to feel like mine.
But the other week, the buckles broke. In days of yore, that would be an excuse to get a new one, but in the new 'not buying stuff' regime, I took it to a traditonal cobblers and got new buckles fixed.
For just over a tenner.
Not only is nice to keep it now it's reached a great level of patina, it feels more mine than ever.
I was reading this post about working with suits, (for no other reason than the fact I needed a reminder myself), and wandered into the comments, where I re-read something about presentations.
"I would only expand them by saying that in presentations a planner should be funny, witty and interesting but a bit understating, not flamboyant. That's up to the creatives..."
This has been one of the best, common sensical pieces of advice I ever got.
It also helped me because, to be perfectly honest flamboyant I am not, I'm shy and a little absent minded, as, I suspect, is the case with most planning types.
Creatives have egos the size of planets (and that's no bad thing, if nearly all your work ended in the bin too I suspect you'd develop a few unique personality traits too) and, the good ones, present their work superbly, because they really care about it and understand how it works.
The very worst thing you can do is try muscle in on their glory.
Just as there's little point trying to be the laser focused, 'personality that fills the room' relationship builder. That's the main remit of the account people.
Planners are not cleverer than everyone else, but they are wired differently. The see things in a different way. What might seem obvious to you is not to others.
So the biggest challenge a planner tends to face is the way they get to thoughts that insinctively feel right thing that are interesting and fiz with with potential, much, much quicker.
Hunches you can't articulate, smears of stuff in your brain that might not make sense to you, they just feel right.
In fact much of the job is understanding how you got there, and bringing others on the journey. It can be frustrating when others 'don't get it' but if they don't, at best, you're not helping, you're just getting in the way while, at worst, you're coming accross as arrogant and superior.
And if you can't distill you're thinking down, it's not water-tight. Charm will only undo you in the end.
So aiming at slick flamboyancy isn't just political death, it also runs the risk of making you look too clever by half, making the folks you're trying to persuade miss the point and, if you can pull it off helping you get half-baked thinking through.
Which will unravel later, usually when there's more money, reputation and relationship at stake.
One should be aiming to tell an interesting, entertaining story with memorable hooks that hold it together of course.
But the trick, apart from looking like you've worked hard and you care, is to find a way to include your audience in the story (as in all communication, if you're going to use a mousetrap, leave some room for the mouse), be a little self effacing and even a touch shambolic.
Find the story, then tart it up. Never fall for the Michael Bay method of storytelling - namely special effects to cover up the fact you haven't really got one.
God help us, maybe in way I'm suggesting be a little more like him......
I never know what to ask for Christmas, so I usually just share my Amazon wish list.
In the year of not buying stuff, books won't be an issue, for a while at least.
I knew someone with a stammer once. The person had tried all sorts of voice coaching with only moderate success. It was only when he tried counselling and dealt with the pain and indelible shock of seeing his father die, that the stammer all but disappeared.
Because stammering wasn't the problem, not having dealt with that un-imaginable pyschological scar was.
When I was a child, I had chest infections and bronchitis all the time. In fact, when it came to lungs and breathing, I seemed got everything apart from pneumonia. Anti-biotics dealt with every new illness, but it was only when I started swimming 5 days a week that I banished illness for good, because the problem wasn't infections, it was weak lungs and general mild asthma.
It's not just child illness and speech impediments. Many percieved problems are actually a symptom of something far more fundamental.
You can deal with the symptom of course, but like the mythical nine headed hydra, the heads will just grow back until you kill the actual beast.
You can pump up the flat tires on a bike before every journey, or you can actually change the inner tube.
You can continously look for dieting fads, or you can change your lifestyle for good. Or change your outlook and be happy with who you are.
Just as you can mask unhappiness with buying things, which just leads to buying more things, but at some piont, you need to address why you need validation from consumption and search for more sustainable source of happiness, rather than gratification.
Just as you can stimulate sales by cutting prices, but at some point you have to address why not enough people will pay full price.
This 'kill heads' or 'slay the beast' metaphor is useful when to applied directly to planning, and like everything else, planning is a lot more useful when it avoids chopping a few heads wthin in easy reach and valiantly gets on with ending the life of the fearsome serpent.
Solving business problems with creativity and brands, rather than solving advertising or brand problems as an end in itself.
This isn't self -serving opinion either. The IPA Databank has conclusively shown that campaigns that set out to solve 'hard' business problems (business or behavioural results) have a 50% success rate against campaigns that set 'soft targets' (brand awareness, advantage and all that rubbish) with an average rate of 11%.
Taking the easy option, apparently, isn't that easy after all.
Which means reaching non-buyers, which in turn means removing genuine reasons not to buy. Of course that means a brand needs to be distinctive, but that's more to get noticed at all with people who don't care that much, much less moving people through 'Familiarity to Bonding' and ad nauseum.
Intuively though, it makes complete sense, since most busines problems are not brand problems, they're business problems! Just trying to shift brand scores will not necessarilly shift sales, but trying to shift sales in manner that will maintain, or shift brand scores will.
This addressed the fact that less people were considering a Golf because it was being lumped with the Max Power brigade.
This was all built on the realisation that Skoda didn't need to persuade people to consider the brand, they needed to make them feel their peers wouldn't laugh at them.
Then, when enough people were brave enough to put Skoda on the long list, they needed to know more about the cars before they would test drive.
And you know what? The work I'm most proud of is actually for a bed retailer desperate for a sales uplift, where the problem wasn't conversion, it was footfall.
The research told them the blockage to people coming through their doors was brand awareness- no one knew where to go, or could be bothered to find out.
But their budget was tight and they didn't have the time to invest in a long term 'brand preference' campaign that takes months, even years to pay back.
But with a few additional depth interviews with people IN THE MARKET, we showed them that the gestation period between deciding you need a new bed and actually buying one was around ten months, and the biggest barrier blockage was the pain in the arse of getting rid of your old bed (back in the day, retailers wouldn't take away your old bed for claimed hygiene reasons all of them do it now).
So they were persuaded invest in their infrastucture, to take away beds as well as deliver them.
Then do cost effective , tactical outdoor, within the vicinity of the retail parks where the client's stores were.
With a clear, simple, message, 'We'll get rid of your old bed for free', to create the "Sod it,why not, since we're here" moment and trigger spontaneous action.
It was the biggest growth in footfall they'd experienced, the biggest growth in sales volume and, most significantly, the biggest leap in profit. Because the cost of doing the tactical ads AND setting up the new 'take-away' service was tiny next to budget a huge campaign to shift brand preference would have cost. And they were able to charge a higher price for the bed to offset the take-away cost.
Then they put it well bought television and continued to build proditable sales further, but, significantly, the unexpected message in a world of 'sale ads' and the DEMONSTRATION of leadership and 'we get what you need' achieved additional growth in brand awareness and, more significantly for how brands really work, 'salience' that was unprecedented for the category and, indeed, any low budget tactical campaign.
I guess someone would call his a Behavoural Econimics case study these days. I just see this and the other examples as addressing the fundamental blockage to business success.
Now, if you're lucky, many of the briefs will be about the fundamental problem, but the majority will be about symptoms.
They'll ask you to chop heads much more than killing the beast.
One of the real skills of planning folk isn't to justify the executions, to be an 'ad tweaker', it's finding the correct role for the communication in the first place -without telling to their face the brief was wrong.
Diplomacy and tact are not just required skills for account handling. Sorry.
Still on the subject of being fast and good, team structure and process affect this massively.
To put it simply, big is stupid and cumbersome while small is clever and nimble.
Any sort of team should only be as big as it needs to be and, to be honest, smaller than that.
Both the agency team and also the core client team you work with.
Massive agency teams tend to, not just inhibit work getting out at a decent clip, they also inhibit quality.
Massive client teams will stop work getting approved any time and bestow an agonising death of a thousand cuts on it.
At a basic level, it's hard to keep everyone happy. In an agency team, everyone wants to contribute and feel they're part of it. Which only leads to compromise, which is not a reliable factory for good ideas.
Sometimes though, you're stuck with a big team, and let's face it, with the complexity of modern projects, it can be unnavoidable. Which means the best approach is benign dictatorship. A tight knit group of decision makers and a greater pool of surrounding 'doers'.
On the client side, decision by committee never works, because if you ask someone what they think, they feel obliged to tell you. Now, I've got to admit, I find creative reviews really hard, because, to be honest, at first, I don't know what I think, so I'm sneaky and make everyone else feedback first. If it's just me, I'll be honest and say I need to go away and think, to avoid saying something stupid.
I'm not horribly bad at judging ideas, but I need time to process them, we all do.
So if you're presenting stuff for the first time, you should try and insist it's to a core client team, and allow them space to think.
Otherwise you've got a blizzard of half formed opinions, even worse, they are from Jill from R&D and Bill from the insight deparment.
They will quickly become gospel, because no one wants to look like they've changed their mind in front of loads of people. Also, it's much easier to point out deficiencies in stuff than just say you like it, because no one wants to commit in big groups.
If you can get some sort of buy-in,especially with some sort of constructive feedback from small-ish team, they will feel they own the project and, when it's time to share it and get buy in from other stakeholders, they'll try and sell it in, rather than conform to group think.
Smallness is also important thanks to quirks of human psychology. Millions of years ago, we evolved an instinct to resist change, to stop predators noticing us. We're hardwired to play it safe. That's the little vioce in your head that says's 'But what if?", "But what everyone else does is..". The practical, side of you that likes to stick to what it's used to. We all have this little, safe, boring little bastard whispering in the back of our minds, trying to kill innovation and originality - the lifeblood of ideas that will work, because 'being right' isn't enough, being distinctive is the most important objective. All those car ads that look exactly the same? All those researched to death campaigns that have been beaten down to the same, obvious consumer insight? That's the result of Mr Safe getting his way.
The more people involved, the harder it is to avoid a critical mass of people giving in to the sneaky little bugger. Innovation comes from small, tight knit teams who instill energy into things, not brakes.
At some point, of course, you need to anaylse your logic, but while it's easy to post rationalise and shape something great, it's next to impossible to inject an idea into something that's correct but utterly dull and precictable.
Finally, a word on brainstorms. In the 1940's Alex Osborn bestowed the biggest trojan horse of mediocrity (to quote Richard Huntington) in the history of creative agencies.
An artificial situation where any idea is good idea means that really crap ideas can get through. The phenomenon of social loafing gives crapness a good chance too, because in big groups, we naturally try LESS hard, because we hope someone else will pull the weight, and anyway, the group takes responsibilty for success, not the individual.
Then there is the detrimental effect of social conformity. This is also a problem in focus groups. The people with the biggest mouths get heard the most and, because we all get along by mirroring and copying each other, it quickly becomes group think. Brainstorms are really a way for despots to get everyone to think they thought of their idea (which is how I approach moderation I'm ashamed to admit).
So again, forget big groups, aim for tight knit teams of people that trust each other to say what they really think.
Hope this helps.
And after that fast strategy stuff, here's a quick guide to faster briefing.
There are two reasons it matters.
Firstly, the best internal way to get maximise nimbleness is to follow the three steps outlined before in a closed room with the people on the team that matter. As a minimum, that should be one account handler, on strategy type and one creative. These days, a comms planner an interactive specialist and perhaps a social media specialist could or maybe should be there.
The core three, and everyone else, should have done some knowledge gathering before, then pool their brains, not leaving the room until you've agreed those three steps between you (or at least the first two). It's then the job of account handling to make sure it's possible. It's planning's role to validate it and, with media/comms planning, pinpoint where it should happen. It's creative's/interactive/social /PR etc role to bring it to life.
You need a creative brief to summarise that BETA strategy and bring it to life for everyone. Not just because everyone needs a shared document to work from, also the act of precis and distillation forces you to tease any wooly thinking and contradictions out create a more seamless,simple and slightly better spingboard. It also provides the blue-print for a client presentationm which saves time too.
Secondly, the reality is that plenty of organisations still insist on a creative brief being written right at the start. That's kind of okay, especially if you use a 'task' based proposition and focus on the challenge or the barrier. For example:
"Make the reliabilty of Honda desirable instead of dull"
"Make Fox's biscuits famous for maintaining quality standards"
"Dramatise that ghd does more than straighten your hair, in fact it does what you want"
"Make the Market in Compare the Market famous enough to affect Google search"
It's also okay because the act of writing a brief forces your brain into gear, in fact it can help you develop your strategy as you go along.
The constriction of the boxes means that you can only write so much, and forces you to make the boxes fit together. The act of precis and constantly looking to connect disparate stuff enables you to go lightning fast as long as you're prepared to do the work.
1. Stay in your chair. Switch off anything that might distract, in fact, go somewhere to be alone. This is all about 'Flow', getting utterly lost in the task, the point where you are thinkin without thinking, that heightened sense of awareness that is also totally instictive. When you're finished, it feels like waking from a dream. That means you need to keep at it, get engrossed and don't let your mind wander.
2. Start. No messing around with post it notes or staring into space waiting for inspiration to come. Don't look at boxes and not know where to start. Just decide which box you can fill in first,it might be the objective, it might be audience, it might be support. Write it as well as you can.It might even be a proposition.
3. Look for connections. The act of writing one box forces you to think about other bits of the brief. Insight into the audience needs relevance to the overall objective, if you've written the objective first, it should already be sparking thoughts of what that means in human terms and writing about the audience first, their issues and what they care about suddenly makes you think of the context of the product/brand in their lives which should lead you to writing the support which, in turn should lead to a proposition.
4. Embrace Failure. Don't waste time writing perfect pithy prose, or being crisp and seamless. Get that first draft which is roughly consistent, roughly interesting and at least complete.Then look at what's wrong. Do it box by box. Keep chipping away. An amend to the support has implications for the rest of the box's or could turn the whole emphasis on its head. Keep going until you're happy. Don't stop until you are.
5. Get an editor. By now you're too close to it to be totally objective and you're brain is a little fried. You haven't got time for the overnight test, you need to get it to other stakeholders for sign off ASAP. So show it to someone who knows nothing about the project. From any department.They'll quickly point out what they don't understand, what interests them and what, on reflection might seem plain dumb.Consider, amend, edit, precis distill.
6. Don't wait for perfection. It's more important to be interesting and inspiring that 100% rigurous and right. Great work is rarely on brief, it's an evolution of that original springboard. Your time is better spent totally validating the final recommendation, not what inspired it.
In fact, a barrier to speed is getting people to sign off the damned thing. A great and sneaky tool for getting people agree a brief is to leave some room for them. Insert a couple of deliberate mistakes in it for them to amend and they'll feel like they'll have input and happily sign off a quickly edited document.
Hope that's useful.
If there's one thing that having kids has taught me, it's the difference between happiness and pleasure.
Being woken up at 5.30 am by a half crazed three year old, bashing you on the head with handmade birthday card, the one he simply can't wait another second to show you, is happiness.
Gently stroking the hair of a one year little girl, to get her back to sleep at 2am is happiness.
So is swimming so hard the pain in your arms makes you want to cry.
Even rehearsing for a pitch at 2am is happiness.
Because the things that make you happy (as umpteen pyschology experiments show us) are rarely the easy things. And it's certainly not buying stuff for yourself.
Giving makes us happier than recieving, be that buying for people or doing for people. Experiences always win over goods,especially doing things with others, because the memories they provoke last much longer than stuff we buy - and our basic trait of seeking out novelty makes us bored with new stuff really fast.
We also need to feel valued and to flourish, like you've accomplished something, or feeling like you're making a difference and it's doing something for a higher purpose than yourself.
In addition, we're saving up for a extension on the house, not just a shared task which is already good, but something which will create more space for the kids playing upstairs and more family staying more often. So saving more money, not my greatest skill, would be good.
So for an entire year,I'm not going to buy anything for myself I don't need.
I have more than enough clothes (and don't care about fashion), enough CD's and DVD's to last a lifetime,I have a pile of books that will last a year and I don't give two hoots about gadgets.
This doesn't preclude subscribing to Spotify, going to the cinema, holidays or downloading a film of course, and food and drink. All are rich source of experience for me.
But I'm going to buy something, I already know that getting stuff for Mrs Northern or the kids just makes me feel better, but even then, not as happy as doing things with them.
Of course, if my bike packs in, our TV needs replacing or my winter coat falls apart, then NEEDING is different to WANT.
So I'm going to find out how much happier experiences not stuff, plus giving rather than recieving, makes me over a year.
Naturally, I'm aware this is not original, but I'm not doing this to be get a book deal or anything. I'm doing this because I'm curious, I want to teach myself to be better with money and I already know what makes me happy, so I want to try and do more of it.
Let's see what happens.
With the reality of modern lead times and client budgets, planning folk nowadays are challenged to get to some sort of strategy and resulting brief quicker than ever.
This isn't so bad though, in fact, I think it's probably a blessing in disguise. Here's why.
Firstly, on a process level, if anything has changed in the last few years, it's briefing a small team of advertising creatives on a taut proposition a lot less, in favour of galvanising a large team of different specialists around a clear task at lot more.
This means far less shiny, impregnable 'messaging' solutions that only work for ad people, and more around shaping the collaboration around a clear juicy communications task.
Shapers rather than planners?
In any case, when creatives feel they are helping to solve the problem, rather than bringing someone else's thinking to life, it works so much better, because we all tend to love things we believe we've had a hand in making, including strategy.
On more a craft level, it forces you to stop procrastinating, makes you focus on getting to the root of the business issue quickly and then helping shape the outcome.
Nothing focuses the mind like a deadline.
So how do you get great quickly? How can we get to, business building thinking that frames the right task for communication? That isn't just 'right' it's interesting enough to cut through?
I make no apologies for banging on about 'fame strategy' again. The IPA databank shows us that this approach- getting the brand talked about - consistently proves to be the most effective.
Being seen to be leading, to have authority, to have people wanting to spend time with you can reduce price sensitivity, increase penetration, mantain loyalty, build consideration all in one go.
It's naturally more integrated because, firstly, teams find it easier to coalesce around a clear problem, rather than a clear, limiting 'message' and secondly, because a task to create 'buzz' and get people talking about something is naturally social, as long as you leave the audience room get involved.
This also backs neatly in to the Byron Sharpe school of thought of building distinctive memory structures to reach the light buyers so precious to brand growth - while, secondarilly, maintaining loyalty by involving heavier, more engaged buyers in the conversation or collective action- making them willing, fellow protagonists.
Of course, it's not that easy, the trick is to making sure people are talking about the right thing - whatever is related to your business problem.
All well and good you say, but this only makes is good, it doesn't make it 'fast'.
The fast bit comes from deciding NOT to look for ONE killer insight, or 'Revelation' as Richard Huntington might say, you know, the new discovery that sheds new light on the category.
The velocity arises from conflating much more obvious and easier observations - re-configuring what's already there into new connections.
Three steps I've moved on ever so slightly..........
1. Inspect the business issue. Turn the business objective into a behavioural objective. What do you need people to do? Every business problem is really about what people are doing/not doing/feeling or thinking.
2. Inspect what that means is real life. How your behavioural objective relate to something people care about or need in their real lives? What issue, tension or emerging behaviour can we tap into?
When you have these, you're ready to brief in a clear task for communications. Then you need help with as much stimulus as possible.......
3. Relate that to something in popular culture. What is the most culturally powerful, most relevant way to bring this to life in a way that will make people take notice, care and, in the case of the most engaged, get involved? It goes without saying that relevance and not just 'copying' other stuff is the key here.
For example, this Yeo Valley ad was driven by the fact that the audience get together around the X-Factor, not rocket science, the brilliance to link 'X Factor' with organic values to get a boy band made of farmers.
You'll notice there's nothing about the brand in there, because 98% of the time the brand is not the problem, it's how people feel about it at best. If you set out to solve brand problems as your primary motivation, you'll solve brand problems but not business problems. You should be well versed in the brand point of view, positioning etc, I think it's a bit more about how you bring that to life in THIS particular situation.
Mostly, the 'leg work' in terms of hard analysis should come in at stage 1. Good planners should always be collecting observations and little insights about what's going in real culture - much of stage 1 and 2 SHOULD BE about connecting stage 1 to what you already know, or at least, have an instinct or hunch about.
1. To increase consideration of IKEA kitchens, we need to make them famous
2. Kitchens are increasingly the heart of the home
3. It's a common belief you always end up in the kitchen at parties (and no one has ever made use of the Jonah Lewie classic).
1. Sainsburys needed to add £1 billion to revenue, which broke down into getting £1 extra for every customer visit.We need to give people a reason to spend that £1.
2. People are looking for inspiration for safe experimentation to liven up their food.
That's the brief right there- give shoppers easy inspiration to add a spark of specialness to their routine cooking. Sainsburys has been an authority for good food for generations, we just need to refresh what this means and turn it into action
3. Then tip in insight from popular culture- in a UK where most cookbooks from TV chefs are left unopened on shelves, Jamie Oliver is the champion of 'chef food' you can actually do
The result, an idea that flexed accross promotions, advertising, staff and even product development:
How here's a made up example for Dove Men (with echoes of Old Spice I know)
1. We need to increase penetration for Dove Men amongst middle class Dad's over 30. Not only do they not care about shower gel etc enough to think hard about it, it's mostly bought by their wives who know this, so don't bother much themselves, just buying them non-descript own label or what's on offer.
2. This lack of thought when buying stuff for their blokes is part of a much wider symptom in culture, where mature, reliable men just don't get the credit they deserve. Read this. It's all well and good PG doing the Mums campaign, where the hell was the cheering for Dads?
So the brief becomes: Get women and men to talk about the role of men in family life
3. This audience over indexes on arch, hyper-real, knowing sit-coms like the Office, Outnumbered etc. In most of these, the cultural cliche is of the bumbling Dad and the savvy, resourceful Mum who always saves the day. Subverting this could be culturally powerful.
On the other hand, the middle ages boyband has got traction with Take That. It could be interesting to ask women why Take That are cool, but their own partners are not (in their eyes).What if we did a multi-platform X-Factor to find a grown up boy- band for women who want men, not boys.
Anyway, that's a poor ten minute thought experiment, what could you do in ten hours?
Hope that's useful.
So we were at Mum and Dad's in St Ives for Christmas.
Which meant getting kitted out for winter beach fun. That's Will's 'hurry up and take the damned picture Dad' smile.
He cheered up when he got to the beach though.
So did Evie, although she was mostly inerested in eating sand.
After rough and ready beach fun on Christmas morning she scrubbed up pretty well.
She may well look beautiful in her dress and cardy but not as cool as Will and I in our matching Christmas socks.
I've always loved Christmas, but it's the kids that make it magic.
It's brought me closer to my parents too, because the thing about being someone's child is that you don't really understand them until you go through what they did.
The way having kids is both awesome responsibility and pure joy.
The way I only now get the pressure my Dad felt in his job, when my own is about the kids' shoes. not just being able to afford a few trainers.
Mostly though, you don't get how much, how helplessly and unquestionably your parents love you, until you love your own children in the same way. Christmas somehow brings this home even more.
Anyway, to counteract the sentimental seriousness, here's the offspring doing their best to break Grandma's bed-springs.
By the way, I do love my Mother very much, but not enough to neglect pointing the horrendousness of her choice of duvet cover. Monstrous.
In many ways it's wonderful to be working in a creative agency right now, because we have never had so many options open to us. Do a TV ad, fund a TV programme, outdoor, interactive outdoor, page take-overs, live stunts, webcasts, carnivals, Google Earth mash-ups, inventing new sports. Sometimes, God forbid, a press ad.
But having virtually unlimited choice of WHAT to do won't guarantee great results, in fact quite the opposite. All that choice merely means we have a greater opportunity to do something really stupid, or even worse, pointless.
Until we even begin to consider WHAT, we need to ensure we have a really great WHY. That starts with business objectives, it doesn't start with trawling Contagious or Wired for something to copy because it would be 'really great'.
Basically, get a clear business objective and translate into a clear behavioural objective- who you want to influence and what you want them to do.That's the WHY.
For example, "Increase penetration amongst 18-30's by creating a new usage occasions for our premium butter" might translate into 'Get people into eating toast as a brilliant mid-morning work snack'
Only then, dig into the WHAT - which should be informed by what you're audience cares about, what media they consume,what drives their relationships, what creates social currency etc.
For example, people in offices tend to gossip around the toaster, perhaps we could dramatise what happens when you miss the crucial office gossip. Or forget the office cliche and dig into the double life young people of this age live- they take work more seriously than previous generations, therefore feel more pressure to be seen to be letting their hair down.There's a lovely tension to play with there, which is a little similar to Clark Kent /Superman thing.
In any case, while it needs to be insanely great, interesting and provacative to cut through the clutter and apathy, if that isn't wedded to actual business needs, and what people care about, it's just indulgence.
I really enjoyed the Hobbit film, mostly because the book means so much to me. I read the book when I was eight and it was magical, I still adore it and look forward to reading it to my kids.
I have to admit I'm a slight geek about Tolkien stuff, but not so much is a Dungeons and Dragons manner.
It's more to do with the way the books make me feel something, they manage to blend hope, joy extreme darkness and a beatiful sense of bravery in the face of much sorrow for paradise lost.
It's a lot to do with how the books make me feel like a child again.
But it's mostly do with the way the Hobbit's, especially Bilbo, are US. Decent, normal people forced to do frightnening, extraordinary things. They show there is greatness in everyone.
As Philip French mentioned, Bilbo and the other Hobbits are low mimetic heroes - normal people plucked out of their lives, who will go back to it afterwards. People we can identify with, who we can 'live' the story with, they are our eyes in the world we are shown.
As opposed to the 'high memetic' Thorin or Gandalf in the Hobbit, or Aragorn in LOTR- people who are better than ordinary people, they remain extraordinary whatever happens to them.
When it comes to the people you portray in advertising and stuff, it's really worth considering if you're characters and overall narrative are about the high or low mimetic.
For example, I'd say that most of the women in beaty ads are high mimetic which means that many women might not identify with them, whereas the Dove women are low mimetic rebelling against the impossibility of high mimetic.
The real idea behind the Lynx effect plays with it: low mimetic, ordinary blokes, enabled to live a high mimetic life as long as they use Lynx. While, in the same category, the Old Spice guy is high mimetic- but laced with irony.
Most fashion is all about the fantasy of high mimetic- maybe too much so.
Look at the crass high memetic of most travel advertising compared with visit Wales.
Now,coming back to Lynx, it feels really interesting territory to play with the low mimetic more.
Because the mistake many brands make is to just replay back the humdrum of everyday life to show we 'get you'. I don't really like the Asda Xmas ads because of this, although I could be wrong, I'd love to know if Mum's respond to being portrayed as ordinary people performing extraordinary things. Or just go, oh, another brand who thinks my life is all toil.
As opposed to this lovely Lurpak stuff, which manages to not do the 'Mums' cliche.
Look at Indiana Jones- he works because of his very human ordinaryness, he gets hurt and makes mistakes, despite existing in a fantasy world.
Threepio and Artoo are droids in Star Wars,but really, they are us, ordinary jobsworths thrust into chaos.
The rejuvenation of Batman and Spiderman were all about making them normal, confused people who happen to be superheroes. Superman works because of the low mimetic Clark Kent.
All examples of well loved 'magical' stuff we utterly identify with because of the humanity and recognition of our own lives. The hope that can be us, and is, but not in such a grandiose way.
Worth thinking about.
One final thing. Maybe one way to cut through all that brand onion/pyramid/wheel rubbish is to ask yourself, is this brand itself a high mimetic character we all look up to? Or is a plucky everyday hero? Is one of us?
TV advertising didn't die
The new age of this and that never occured
Acres of animatics and scamps died a death of a thousand cuts in research
Most people didn't bother participating with brands in social media
Digital banners still worked
Google retargeting stalked us accross the web without pity
95% of brand communications output was still a waste of time
There was another fifty new models for how brands work, none based on how people and business works
About 50% of original individuals who work in agencies all wore Converse
Women were mostly portrayed in ads as clever Mums with a twinkle in their eye or one dimensional airheads
Men were mostly portrayed as feckless buffoons or buff alpha males devoid of personality
I made enough quality tea to fill a swimming pool
For reasons I won't bore you with I'm spending lots of time in London, which for most visitors means navigating The Tube, to get from a to b as quickly as possible, but for me means getting as close to the people in the streets as possible.
For creative (or would be creative) types the Tube means missing a golden opportunity. Because being throwing yourself right into the over crowded, multi-faceted pace andm let's face it, grind of the city is a precious source of creative inspiration. The noise, the overheard conversation, the sights, the sheer sensory overload.
Being right amongst all those people, the friction of them piled on top of each other is the constant jolt to the system that makes cities THE engines of creativity. Yes, part of that is the fantastic opportunuties for serendipity, but much of is is the sensory smack in the face that keeps your mind awake and wide open. It feeds the subconcious with all sorts of stuff to bubble up later
So every now and then, don't descend into the faceless Tube, get the bus, talk a walk or hire a bike. When there's so much happening around you, take the time to notice.
(this is a Howies picture)
I don't believe in having didactic rules and proprieraty process for going about strategy - it's quite simple, yet quite hard..........
Understand the business issue and our role in solving it
What do we know about the audience/culture/market that will help us?
What is the core thought?
Why is that right?
Where should this happen?
How do we evaluate success? (this bit gets missed a fair bit)
That said, I do have some sort of approach that has emerged, when I say it, people seem to nod their head. Probably because I'm quoting others.
I wrote this for something or other:
Behind every business problem is a very human behavioural problem you need to change. The art of strategy is making people care enough to behave differently
When they don't want to be sold to anymore, if they ever did, we need to start with what they're interested in and work back from there. Real problems and tensions in real lives
So we should stop thinking of them as consumers and start thinking of them as actors and fellow protagonists in our ideas and content, because that’s the key to engaging with the few to create cultural noise with the many
Which is critical because the many - light buyers - are the key to brand growth and they simply don't care
Therefore simply outspending the competition, or expecting people to pay attention, is not just a failure of imagination and a willingness to understand what motivates people, it is also commercial suicide
Bbecause in world where people have better things to do, the enemy isn't the rest of the category - it's indifference
I think those are kind of the core principles. Not earth shattering, but at least, if you ever have the misfortune to work with me, you know what you'll be getting.
I did what I thought was some pretty good thinking on something or other. The people with me at the time did too.
so I wrote it up, then got lots of feedback from the people who weren't there that clearly showed they didn't get it.Which was my fault not theirs.
Because when I looked at what I'd done, it was pretty well written but I'd clearly got carried away with writing a piece of prose and not a piece of planning. It was lovely to read, it was even concise but it didn't make any point really well.
Smartness is all well and good, but when you're trying to communicate it to others, you need hooks to hang that smartness on. Memorable, pithy distilations of your thinking.
It's good for your audience but it's also good for you. Boiling down your thoughts into a series of soundbites helps re-appraise your thinking, cutting out what's unnecessary, keeping what's working and, also seeing how it can get even better.
I forgot that.
Which just shows the distict disadvantage of the indpendence that comes with a little 'seniority'.
You just don't get the constant feedback that naturally comes with a good mentor to report to.
It pays at every level to seek out as much input as you can, but I dare say that actually becomes more important with experience, not less.
One final thought. If you're working on a presentation, you really should rehearse in front of someone who isn't involved, because then the mirror neurons fire and you see your stuff from their point of view, not yours.
Suddenly all sorts of flaws - pace, delivery, ordering, clarity and, in some cases, fundamental problems with logic , structure and argument - become clear, stuff you just don't see if you're too close to it.
The routine seems to be putting her to bed okay, eventually stumbling up ourselves, being woken by a little coughing fit around 2am, waiting for her to either go back to sleep or give out frightened little yelps and then remembering it's your turn and stumbling into her room, or turning over and going back to sleep, secretly relieved.
If it's my turn, the little monkey might want to play, she might wriggle while she's firmly cuddled and has her fine, candy floss hair stroked, but she does eventually go to sleep.
Then I drift off, usually awoken by a little bundle has quietly rolled over and put a hand on my arm.
She's okay and sleeping fine, but she just needs to know Daddy's still there.
My little girl can't speak yet (beyond pointing and saying 'Dat'), but her little questing hand talks to me in a way that her words, when they finally come, will never do.
Sometimes the feelings evoked by being a parent are just too intense to articulate, they really are.
The best planning internship opportunity in London is now open. Get a move on.
I couldn't find an appropriate picture - you know, metaphors for open, hard work, opportunity etc.
So here's a swan in a car park instead.
I had the children to myself on Saturday, which was lovely. Before reading, painting, trip the park and then on to see the parrots at the pet shop, there was a little bit of watching Toy Story while Daddy made breakfast.
According the the academics and psuedo experts on Mumsnet, telly is a total no no for under two's but then again, in the real world you can only do your best.
Ona another note though, one has to marvel of the genius of the makers of kid's telly and films, whom, ever since pioneering Sesame Street have, at their best, made stuff that rewards both kids and parents watching with them.
I've never understood why ads and stuff don't manage to follow the same idea. I'm sure there are some but I can't think of any off-hand.
My love for Yorskhire Tea s far from secret. So it will be no surprise that I read their IPA case study with interest.
There are many things to love about the Little Urn campaign, but what I love best about the data in this case study, is that my beloved Yorkshire Tea is a genuine exception to the iron Double Jeopardy law of brand loyalty.
Basically, brands with a higher market share get that share mostly from having lots of buyers, who are also slightly more loyal that average. But Yorkshire Tea's share comes from having a lot less buyers who are a lot more loyal and drink buckets of the stuff.
Contrary, bloody minded and opposite to conventional wisdom (actually not of course, double jeopardy is ignored or just plain unheard of amongst most 'seasoned' marketing folk) - how wonderfully Yorkshire of Yorkshire Tea.
There's a great quote about fast food, "Speed and convenience is everything, flavour is secondary".
Now one could argue that culture has followed suit beyond food; with music, films, books,telly everything- lots and lots of stuff when you want it, how you want it, with less thought about quality and more about quantity. And predictability.
Then there's the devices and media we enjoy stuff on these days.
The impact of 3D cinema in place of actual content that takes your breath away.
An IPod that's an approximation of the rich tones you get from an old school seperates system.
Watching a high quality, cinematic HBO drama on an IPhone.
Somehow we're managing to squeeze the 'occasion', full flavour and TEXTURE out of the experience.
Like fast food.
More, more more.
Now, now now.
Without bothering with flavour.
Or stopping to taste it.
On the part of the makers, creating more clones polystyrene for jaded palates to cram themselves.
On the part of the consumers, not giving content the respect it deserves.
Like drinking vintage wine from a plastic cup.
Or buying Yorkshire Tea Gold and not making it in the pot.
Yes yes, more stuff out there, more interesting, more connections for all sorts of ideas.
But more isn't always better. To make connections and mould newness out of the cacophony requires quietness and concentration. Instead of blocking out yourself and your consciousness with constant noise, remembering how to hear and feel them.
Little wonder then, that when something comes along with real texture and flavour, people respond.
They remember what it's like to feel something, to be challenged, to escape pre-programmed life for a bit and experience something real, tangible and maybe a little raw.
The unashamed joy and feelgood that was Mamma Mia. For example.
The wave of mixed up pride, hope, connection and wonder that was the Olympics.
No surprise that advertising that sets out to make us feel something these days can be commercial dynamite.
From a very complex mixture of guilt, hope, inspiration and, perhaps, even revulsion.......
To the pure, uncomplicated joy that is being around kids.
Or even a shared, intake of courage and pride and determination.
It sets out to make you feel something and tugs at the cultural mess around the need to resolve the tension between the need to still buy new stuff and appearing to be a bit more considered and 'old fashioned values' in austere more morally ambiguous times.
Little wonder when so much advertising is banal, pre-programmed, triangulated, message orientated, devoid of texture and flavour, work like this reminds us what we have become, and what we should really be aiming for.
If you're an aspiring planner, you're probably looking to do an internment.
You have a choice.
You could learn about politics and meaningless proprietary processes at places like Grey, Ogilvy and Leo Burnett.
You could learn about doing 'advertising' that shifts brand scores but not much else.
You could contribute to the 95% of marketing communications output that is largely banal, unnoticed and met with indifference.
You could learn about real craft, ideas that change minds, affect culture and, more importantly, solve business problems with creativity - rather than 'brand problems'.
You could make a difference, work harder than you ever have before and end up doing the best work of your life.
You could have fun along the way, learn to surrender your ego and meet some great people who only come through the door to do great work.
Not to be cool.
But to make a dent in the universe (yes I'm quoting Steve Jobs).
You could start on the long road to developing the skills and track record that could lead you to working where the hell you liked - inside or outside of the agencies, or advertising.
And it's paid. In an industry that flogs young people to death, that's very rare.
While you're there, tell the bastards to open a Northern office.
So I was sat on a train, en-route to Heathrow and eventually the Nurburgring, Italian race cars and ridulously good Italian cuisine. You'd have liked it (it was work by the way).
I found all this exciting when the trip was first planned but, to be honest, one hour into the journey I was already missing my little boy and baby girl and the prospect of not seeing them for two days wasn't all that welcome.
Because there's a big difference between the IDEA of a thing and the reality of actually doing it. That's why it's very easy to agree, in October, to have the family around on Christmas day, when you're feeling all noble and pleased with yourself for being a good, loving family member - the idea of it sounds appealing.
It's also why you probably curse your luck mid-December as the reality of the work and expense become apparent, not to mention how excruciating your brother in law is, or how just know your cousins will outstay their welcome and Grandma will annoy everyone by telling them how to make their kids behave.
There's a big difference between what we think will make us happy and what actually does.
Just like the times, at home, when all I want is half an hour to myself. Sometimes it's perfectly understandable, in a world where one has to lurch into gear every single day at 6am to be in charge of nuclear powered offspring, to be a little whistful towards the days of no responsibilty and doing what the hell you liked.
But as soon as I get a taste of it, all I want is my family. It's always nice when it gets to 8pm and the kids are in bed and it's just the two of you for a bit. But we can't resist going to check in on both of our sleeping little children at bedtime, because we already miss them.
It's true that I'm happy and at peace when I'm in tremendous pain swimming lap after lap, but nothing compares to the simple pleasure of jumping up and down on the trampoline, or reading to Evie Suzanne.
All it takes is a brief spell of the everyday to be taken away to be reminded just how stupidly, deliriously wonderful the everyday actually is.
That goes for work too.
I once had the chance to work in the foreign city of my choice, and great brands with truly exceptional practitioners. I turned them down because we were planning a family.
Now I would have learned more than I could ever dream of, about the job but also about other cultures. There isn't a day when I don't wonder about what might have been, the work I could have done, the stuff I could have been involved with. But then I remember I plan for a living, which really isn't the same as work. I remember to really not care that it's not Nike, that it's mostly engine oil because the Nike bit is the pretentious self image bit that really doesn't matter.
Doing something every day you actually enjoy, that you don't suck at entirely (colleagues may disagree with that bit) with people that are largely OK is the bit that matters.
What I'm saying is that wanting to a famous planner that works on the coolest stuff known to man is OK, but that's not where happiness comes from. It comes from being a planner in the first place and hopefully being given a chance to flourish in your own way.The clients matter less than what you make of them.
Job satisfaction is a comfortable illusion anyway of course, all the little failures and victories at work serve a vital purpose to make us feel useful, but really, for me, work pays for family that is afforded freedoms that others, not so fortunate, don't have.
I heard on the radio about a Mum who walked 40 minutes to school with her son because they can't afford public transport. Then she walks an hour to work.
We are so lucky. People in agencies are so lucky.
Amidst all the politics, deadlines, jostling for 'profile' and whatever else, sometimes it's worth remembering to be happy, by remembering where that really comes from.