Archive for the ‘ planning ’ Category

Why do we make bad Ads?

Watching Ad breaks on TV can be a pretty depressing indictment of your chosen career when you work in advertising. It’s so often a painful showcase that prompts your friends and family to wonder why on earth you would choose to dedicate your professional life (she had such promise, sigh) to such meaningless rubbish.

From shouty tack based on the premise that telling people what you want them to think is the best way to persuade them, to bland wallpaper that is little better than sticking your logo onscreen for 30 seconds, to cringe-worthy self-important brand manifestos – Apple, you should be deeply ashamed. No wonder everyone from our focus group participants, to our clients, to our Mum, thinks that they could write a better Ad than most agencies are capable of.

What’s our excuse?

It’s not from want of financial investment. Despite the tightening of production budgets, most 30 second Ad campaigns still benefit from more cash than your average independent film makes do with.

It’s not from lack of expertise on what makes for effective advertising. We have more evidentiary back up than ever before to support Adand’s longheld intuition that creatively interesting and emotionally potent advertising will deliver superior business results.

It’s not from lack of talent. Creative agencies are crammed to the rafters with smart analysts, lateral thinkers, passionate craftspeople and despite our shortfall in diversity, we’ll still doing better on that front than our friends in law and banking.

It’s not our clients. Aha! I hear some pushback on this one. There’s no doubt that some clients are tough work and wouldn’t know a brilliant creative idea if it hit them in a head with a gold lion, but that’s too convenient a cop out. Yes clients get the work they deserve but that statement is true the other way around too – agencies get the clients they deserve.

I think the real issue is that we’re too easy on ourselves. We feel overworked and under-appreciated (by our bosses, by our clients, by our waiting public) and too often we just give up the fight early. It’s easier, and more profitable to our careers, to play politics and allow poor work to slide out the door if everyone else in the room seems happy. It’s the ultimate game of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Meanwhile everyone has the same eye out for the same award winning opportunity that they can all fight over for credit, stick on their CV and tell their mates they made it.

The reputation of our industry continues to plunge, the creative benchmark is set by the tripe on TV now and we wonder why Google is suddenly winning all the prizes at our festivals.

I think we deserve better for ourselves. It’s not enough to make one great Ad that we can hide behind. We need to make all Ads, across the board, that little bit better. Our self respect is on the line. Our livelihoods too. Because we’re not just competing amongst ourselves anymore.

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Future of Planning

I was lucky enough to be shortlisted for the Admap Future of Planning Prize, the winners of which were announced last week. The calibre of the three winning entries was exceptional – some incredibly original and thought-provoking thinking is on offer here and free to download for the next week.

Nick Hirst wrote about “Experience Architecture” which I found particularly fascinating as someone who started their career in a media agency and was always interested in cognitive psychology – context is key to how we understand or experience a message. My takeout from his article is the need for creative planning that is much more involved in the when, where and how ie. staying involved in the practical application of the idea –  and media planning which is as qualitative as it is quantitative. So many times I’ve encountered media choices that look great on paper (large reach against the right audience at the best price) and yet it’s the wrong moment, the wrong mood and mindset, so it’s unlikely ever to convert people. Whether those two planning roles should be united or separate remains to be seen…

Tom Woodnutt wrote about a concept called “Mutuality”, also highly relevant in modern planning given that like it or not, the influence of the general public on actively shaping your brand is reaching new heights, so you might aswell invite them in. And a philosophy that puts give and take at the heart of brands is definitely something I would support. And Philippa Dunjay wrote about microcutures, which I think is a really fruitful and creatively rich place to look for both target consumer potential, and ideas on how brands can add value.

There were also many excellent pieces by the other shortlisted authors, all on WARC if you have a subscription. In particular I’d check out Brian Millar’s piece which offers a compelling invitation for undervalued planning talent to think beyond advertising agencies and make a mark on the wider world, John Shaw’s voice of experience that elegantly looks at the things that will never change in planning, and Sarah Booth’s piece which is a refreshingly written take on cutting through the trends in plannery thinking and going back to basics.

And when you’ve read all those and for some unfathomable reason still want to read more, I’ve linked to my article below.

Taking a step back, I think I was writing slightly off the topic as my essay probably focuses more on the future of business and brands, than an analysis of the discipline of planning within an agency. But it was an interesting process to work through the essay title and to really think about the work we do as planners. I also found myself tying together some of the recurring strands of thinking which have been bouncing around this blog over the last few years.

Would love to hear your thoughts…  Do you see any truth in the wisdom argument, or have I lost the wood for the trees?

Wise Planning by Neasa Cunniffe

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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