Photo credit: Julian Hanford
Photo credit: Julian Hanford
A view from Dave Trott

A view from Dave Trott: No idea

Recently, I heard about a talk given by one of the most respected planners in London.

He is retired now but, apparently, he said he realised his job had never been about ideas.

It had only ever been about execution.

In fact, he realised that advertising isn’t about ideas at all.

It’s only ever about execution.

Wait a minute, have I got this right?

The idea is unimportant; all that’s important is the execution.

That’s from one of the most respected heads of one of the most respected strategic departments.

If so, I’m confused. 

I thought the "idea" was what we communicated and the "execution" was how we communicated it.

Surely, what we communicate is the "strategy" and how we communicate is "tactics".

I thought the planning department did the strategy.

I thought the creative department did the tactics.

But, apparently, that’s dinosaur thinking.

Is he saying planning has abandoned strategy to concentrate on tactics?

That execution is all there is, so planning concentrates on execution?

Which presumably means marketing, account men and clients also concentrate on execution.

Hopefully, creatives are still allowed some input into execution.

If so, that means no-one is doing ideas.

So advertising has no ideas.

Isn’t this exactly what Stephen King warned against?

Stephen King was the man who invented planning.

He invented it to provide exactly the strategic thinking that no-one else in advertising could provide.

He wanted planners to be about the big picture, to distance themselves from the detail.

He had one main warning for future planners: "Don’t become mere ad-fiddlers."

He knew it was tempting for them to offer an opinion on the execution: the script, the editing, the casting, the actors’ facial expressions, the soundtrack, the props, the dialogue, the typeface.

But he warned that this was execution and would detract attention away from the strategy, away from the idea.

I wasn’t there when the distinguished planning director spoke.

But I’m guessing he would say that, nowadays, we realise emotion is more important than logic.

I’m guessing he would quote Daniel Kahneman on Type 1 and Type 2 thinking.

I’m guessing he would say that, nowadays, the execution is the idea.

The how is the what.

And no doubt that’s a very seductive intellectual argument.

The only problem is, of course, intellectual argument doesn’t work on ordinary consumers.

But that’s the place where advertising has to work.

And what works on simple consumers is simple common sense.

"The medium is the message" may be a seductive intellectual argument, but "don’t become mere ad-fiddlers" is simple common sense.

And that is what we are short of in advertising.

Dave Trott’s book, One Plus One Equals Three, is out now