A Planners job is to help create great brands. In so doing, a Planner should help create opportunities for great creative work, and help inspire the creation of that work. Or at least increase the chances of those things happening.
But when a TV production company sets out to create a global success formula from the start then the result is creatively weak. Miss World, the Eurovision Song Contest and It’s a Knockout are global TV formats that tend to be creatively weak.
Great global ideas start life as great local ideas. The trick is to encourage local ideas, spot the great ones and export them to other places. We call this ‘Networked Creativity’.
Vision rather than Insights
The second area in which I sense we are narrowing our inspiration is to do with a thing called consumer insight. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone says this phrase.
Consumer insight is becoming some kind of Holy Grail for marketers and Agency people. The current belief is that you can’t have a great strategy or a great creative brief or a great piece of advertising if it doesn’t contain some insightful thought about the target audience at the centre.
We have gone insight mad. I sensed that things had gone too far when last year I was asked by someone, who’s job title was ‘Head of Consumer Insight’, to speak at their conference, which was entitled, ‘Consumer Insight’, and her brief to me was, ‘Could I speak about, ‘my insights about consumer insights’.
We seem to have forgotten that consumer insight and insight generally is a means to an end and not an end in itself. The quality of consumer insight is entirely dependent upon the quality of the creative work it can inspire.
But there is a bigger point here. Great creativity does not require consumer insight. Consumer insight can sometimes help but it can be completely absent from the creation of something wonderful. There are many, many other things that can help great creative work than consumer insight.
But I am trying to make a bigger point than simply cast doubt on consumer insight. I don’t dislike consumer insight at all. Like many others these days, I am concerned that the role of agencies is increasingly seen as a narrow one. The more we are reduced to ‘insight spotters’ the more it negates the bigger role we can actually play.
Our creativity must be used to help businesses and brands take huge leaps forward. We should be creating big, new, delicious futures that provide creative opportunities in abundance. If on the way we unearth a consumer insight or two then marvellous but let’s not get dragged down into the level of insights at the beginning. The question should always be, ‘what vision do we have for this brand?’ not ‘how can we get the right consumer insight?’
Stephen King spoke about the importance of Planners being ‘Grand Strategists’. Men and women who could look to the long term, create a view for how a brand could be, and map out what solutions would be needed - communications, product, distribution. Be ‘Brand Designers’, he said. From this wide perspective creative people can graze on the finest opportunities that are just not afforded by an insight or two.
Long term brand ideas vs short term execution
In times of great change we all have to spend time learning all the new things. And right now those things are very executional. How should we best use interactivity in communication? What’s the right way to advertise on mobile phones? How should brands communicate on social networking sites? How should we integrate our use of different media channels? What is the right balance of budget for on and off-line communication?
These are all very important questions to ask, and difficult questions to answer. But we must keep asking and keep trying to answer these questions.
However, there is a danger that we are getting trapped in execution. We try to solve the problems of all the bits and pieces of communication but never look to see what it all adds to. Adding a great new on-line game to a campaign can often be a source of pride but what is it doing to the make the overall effect greater? We can often get excited about a great execution for YouTube that secures millions of views but what does it add up to when viewed alongside the rest of the communication for a brand?
We should not just be creating executional greatness for the bits of a campaign we should understand what the sum of the bits could be.
Stephen King wrote back in the 1970s that brands were becoming diced up into separate parts as different agencies were getting their hands on different aspects of the brand’s marketing. He pointed out that a brand is a holistic entity that must be planned as such. I think his fears are ever more true today.
The most consistently brilliant creativity that I see these days comes from brands that seem to have a very clear sense of what they are and what they want to become. It is no surprise that we see great work from clearly defined brands like Dove, Apple, Playstation, Axe… They have brand ideas. Long-standing, creatively fertile brand ideas.
Having these ideas makes it so much easier to know how to navigate all those difficult questions I mentioned. The question becomes not ‘how to advertise on mobile devices? but – in the case of Nike – ‘how to use mobile devices to encourage a sense of Just do it?” A different and much better question to be addressing
Better creativity will come from getting brand ideas first before diving into the executional bits. They will provide a clearer guide for using all the new media channels, allow for more creative opportunities in the long term, and hold the creative work together to build a coherent and exciting brand.
I would urge us all to find greater creativity in looking more broadly and searching more widely. We need to have fish-eyes, seeing the whole picture.
Let’s push ourselves to take a proper look around the world for inspiration and not get stuck thinking that great ideas must come from certain cities.
Let’s push for Grand Strategies that open up big new creative opportunities and not just fiddle with consumer insight stuff.
And let’s use the power of brand ideas to drive us to bigger creative campaigns rather than getting stuck in one-off execution.