Why Planning is Subjective

I’ve just finished reading “The Seven Basic Plots” by Christopher Booker, and it is a truly stunning book. Anyone who is remotely interested in storytelling – or in understanding humanity at large, should read it. (Allow about six months though as it’s a mammoth tome…)

The seven basic plots are: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth. Booker then reveals that all of these stories are actually just different strands of the same overall narrative, with each story type giving us a different perspective. His central theory is that stories and archetypes, have a profound role in human development. They’re designed to teach us how to become mature and whole individuals, embodying our collective wisdom on the subject so we can pass it down culturally.

Many plots however, especially in modern literature, subvert the archetypes in various ways. Booker suggests by way of explanation that this is where the role of the writer and the purpose of the story have become mixed up together.  The shortcoming of a story in fulfilling an archetype, reflects the immaturity or skewed perspective of the author themselves.This is a slightly ironic claim given that when you get to the second half of the book, it’s very obvious when Booker’s own right wing ideology starts seeping out between the lines. (But don’t let your liberal leanings get in the way of appreciating his intensely valuable ideas).

My personal opinion is that far from being a flaw, good writing, whether or not it is fulfilling the archetypal pattern, should always reveal something about the author. In fact writing rarely has the power to strive a nerve with the reader, unless it is drawing from something raw and real and revealing.

And I would suggest that this is absolutely true for any creative product, including advertising. BBH legend John Hegarty alludes to this in his book:

“It’s essential for a creative  company to have a point of view and  a philosophical foundation for their work”

His opinion is that agencies need to have a strong point of view, an ideology even, which permeates all of the work they do.  You get a definite sense of what BBH stood for in Hegarty’s time – irreverence, provocation, humour – being the black sheep which stands out. Anti-conformist and anti-authoritarian, and doubtless reflective of the personalities involved in founding the company.

We use narrative all the time in advertising, and planning specifically, to make sense of a brand’s problem, to uncover the human truth, to present the strategic way forward. It’s inevitable as we interpret and shape a brand’s story, that our own viewpoints and ideologies will influence the solution we think is right.

But aswell as being inevitable, it’s desirable. When the creative solution has been artificially contrived and the people behind it don’t really believe in it, when it’s not a telling reflection of them- the output will be lacking something. It will feel hollow to the people who are on the receiving end. It’s only when we put something of ourselves into the creative output, that we’ll hit on an insight or an idea which will connect with people. Which is why planning is, and should be, subjective.

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