A view from Sue Unerman

Rule-breaking is essential for great media planning

Last week, I was filmed answering a set of questions for this year's delegates at the Media Business Course.

Who knows what will survive the edit? But I will say that I mentioned the need to follow the money through the planning process – ie. never lose sight of the fact that the very point of the plan is to deliver sales for the brand (or, of course, behaviour change). Challenged to explain how to find a good consumer insight in a few words, it was quicker to explain what a bad one was – for example, don’t bother with the revelation that teenagers like music or that men like football.

I didn’t give the most powerful advice – no question quite prompted it or I only thought of it after filming. So I’ll give it here: break the rules.

Of course, you have to know what the rules are in order to break them. But, if you do and you find a way to break them, you’ll power ahead. What if the target market is only teenage boys? That was true of gaming until Nintendo developed the successful Wii Fit. What if underwear advertising only ever runs in women’s magazines? That didn’t stop Wonderbra stopping traffic and changing the brand with poster ads.

We’re currently enjoying an event invented by an outrageous rule-breaker. An event that The Sunday Times has predicted that "if it all goes to plan, it will be the most commercially successful event in the sport’s history". 

The Rugby World Cup.

By some accounts, in 1823, a 16-year-old schoolboy at Rugby School, William Webb Ellis, was meant to be playing football but, instead, as a commemorative stone states: "With a fine disregard for the rules of football… first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the rugby game." As one source adds: "Lucky he didn’t go to a comprehensive – he’d have got the shoeing of his life." Though many people contradict this story, it has made Webb Ellis’ name last for more than a century. 

Look for the rules of the category you’re planning in and think about how you could break them. That might be by changing the target audience. It might be by using a medium that no-one else in the category does. It might be by advertising all-year round in a seasonal market. 

You might break the rules by breaking the rules of the competition. I won a contest by a ruthless disregard of the rules. (Note: this is high risk. One judge wanted to disqualify us but we talked our way into the win.)

So Media Business Course candidates, look for the rules and subvert them. Most of the judges will have broken a rule or two in their time, and it’s worth getting those stories out of them when you get the chance. 

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom