The 10 Best Planning Ideas ... Ever!

Truly great planning can redefine the way brands are perceived, launch trends and socially engineer behaviour. Larissa Bannister pays homage to the Campaign top ten.

What is that nebulous thing that turns a passing strategic thought into great planning? What-ever it is, it doesn't have to come from a planner.

At least four of Campaign's top-ten best planning ideas - marked out of ten by 15 of the UK's top planning directors - had their roots outside the planning department.

Planning was created in an attempt to "institutionalise" advertising genius into a process, Damian O'Malley, the executive planner at McCann Erickson, says. "There don't seem to be geniuses around any more - now, it's about being willing to look at a problem and turn it on its head, which is something that happened in every one of these campaigns. Great planning feels a bit like sexual attraction, it's when you come up with something and go 'hang on a minute, that could work'. Then you take your idea apart and find out what's wrong with it."

Some of our planning top ten were born out of research - Lucozade and Orange, for example. But many were the product of a flash of strategic insight, often from a creative, sometimes from a client. Bill Bernbach and David Abbott were both separately referred to by planning directors as being two of the best "planners" of all time.

"I think there is an artificial distinction between strategy and creative - some of the best creatives are great at strategy," Charles Vallance, a founder of Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest, says. "It doesn't matter where an idea comes from, the point is that an agency has a culture fluid and imaginative enough to let planners, creatives and clients all work together."

Many brilliant pieces of work - from Guinness, Creme Egg, Volkswagen in the US, PlayStation and Yellow Pages - narrowly missed out on a top-ten spot. Here are the ones that made it.


The best planning strategy ever is this Howell Henry Chaldecott Cury classic from the early 90s, which came out on top by a considerable margin for being what is probably the UK's most effective piece of competitive positioning.

Just before this campaign was created, the AA was a struggling brand, new-member sales were on the slide and customer retention was poor. Its "I don't know, but I know a man who does" work had been running for nine years and, though a favourite with the public, was looking a little tired.

Legend has it that the positioning strategy actually came from an AA patrolman, who, at a meeting with the agency, was trying to explain that arriving at a motorway breakdown at night had nothing to do with being a "very nice man" and was more like an emergency rescue.

The campaign boosted member sales by 24 per cent and retention rates started to rise. It also had a great effect on staff. Most importantly, the new positioning relegated competitors to an entirely different category and promoted the AA to a whole new role in people's lives.

"Great strategy has a double effect and this campaign is a brilliant example," Charles Vallance, a founder of Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest, says. "It should be an inspired observation about a strength of the brand and it's exactly what the competition doesn't want you to do."

Score: 97/150


Second billing goes to Bill Bernbach (arguably one of the greatest "planners" of all time) and this granddaddy of "humble" strategies. "Number 2" is the greatest example of how to take a brand's biggest weakness and turn it into a strength.

The campaign results were immediately striking. Before it launched, Avis was nowhere near number two in the US car rental market - Hertz was the clear leader, followed by a chasing pack in which Avis was only a small player.

The year after the campaign began, Avis made a profit for the first time in 15 years. In 1964, the company's revenues jumped to $44 million on a profit of $3 million. Hertz lost 10 per cent of its market share to Avis over the next few years and even acknowledged Avis' new number-two status in its own subsequent advertising.

"Avis teaches a valuable lesson about the nature of insights, which is that they are often staring you in the face. You just have to be able to see familiar information in new ways," Damian O'Malley, the executive planner at McCann Erickson, says. "That's a gift all great planners have."

Score: 72/150


Lowe Howard-Spink transformed Stella into a market leader with this idea, inherited from CDP.

The premium lager category is made up of three very different groups and this message had relevance to all of them, as well as playing on consumers' perception that you get what you pay for. It also appealed to the trade at a time when publicans were questioning the worth of stocking premium lager. Because of the ads, landlords could charge more for Stella and increase their profits without reducing the brewer Whitbread's.

The brand has never looked back - if you taste-test Stella unbranded against the top-ten premium lagers, it ranks lowest, but if you test it branded, it comes top.

Score: 53/150


Another concept that, according to advertising folklore, came out of a meeting between client and agency - Dan Wieden, speaking admiringly of Nike's can-do attitude, reportedly said: "You Nike guys, you just do it." The campaign was just as effective. Like Stella, Nike managed to reach different groups without compromising brand strength, building a reputation for serious sports and strong fashion values.

The campaign positioned mere participation as being as good as winning, making every Nike-wearer feel a success. In doing so, Nike took a generic emotional benefit and attached it to the brand to great effect- Reebok could have done the same, if only it had thought of it first. It also captured the sporting mentality of a generation and tapped into the trend for seeing sports stars as celebrities.

Score: 51/150


When Orange launched in the UK in 1994, it was as the last entrant into a market that Cellnet and Vodafone had dominated for ten years: Cellnet in the consumer sector and Vodafone in business. Nor was Orange the cheapest network - One-2-One, the brand launched six months previously, had already made that claim.

The one thing that was missing from the market at the time was strong brand values, or indeed any kind of brand value beyond that of price.

Following research that showed consumers liked the idea of mobiles but were frustrated by the reality, the "future" strategy was defined. The launch was backed with innovations such as per-second billing.

"The view was that there was no vision in the market and no philosophical leadership," Charles Vallance, who worked on the campaign for seven years at WCRS, says. "Everyone was depressed in 1994 and here was an optimistic, inspiring message. The optimism was something we cultivated more and more as time went on. I don't think we had realised quite how it would resonate when we first launched."

Score: 50/150

6. APPLE 1984

Chiat\Day's iconic Super Bowl spot turned the public perception of the personal computer on its head. MT Rainey, who worked on the campaign, says the ad encapsulated the Apple founder Steve Jobs' vision of the company.

At the same time, it made computers accessible to non-techies.

"We already had a launch campaign, which actually ran," she says. "But it became clear from talking to Steve that we needed to do something more radical. It wasn't enough to talk about the product, we had to show the business' revolutionary zeal and that it wanted to democratise technology."

The "1984" film was so unlike traditional US ads that the Apple board originally didn't want to run it. That was where planning had another key role. "I played the ad to consumers, filmed their reactions and showed the board. I was banging my fist on the table, telling them they had to run it," Rainey says.

Score: 45/150


Lucozade's brand history was "steeped in illness and convalescence", particularly in children, according to an IPA study, when a healthier population began to have a negative impact on sales. Leo Burnett developed this classic strategic switch following research into how the drink was consumed.

It transpired that the majority of consumers were healthy adults. The agency decided to turn the drink into a regular rather than an occasional purchase by emphasising the energy content. The strategy had the added benefit of building a new and now very successful sector of the drinks market.

"This was a reinvention to hugely increase the volume opportunity," John Lowery, the planning director at Grey, comments. "It was very smart - more often than not, attempts to do this fall flat."

Score: 39/150


Tesco's graduation from also-ran to clear market leader has been well documented, but great planning from Lowe Lintas was key to the change.

Image was the problem - Sainsbury's was perceived to stock better-quality food. "Every little helps" broke the mould by focusing, for the first time, on the shopping experience rather than on the products. Not only did the ads attract new customers, they also enabled the company to branch out into services outside those traditionally offered by supermarkets.

"Tesco is now arguably the greatest British retail brand ever and it was built on a simple philosophy," VCCP's Charles Vallance says. "It was a bit like the AA, in that the strategy was developed with the client, who said that if customers want something such as shorter checkout queues, then that's what they get. Simplicity sells."

Score: 32/150


BT grew an already buoyant market from a market-leading position with this campaign by addressing underlying attitudes that restrict telephone usage.

The campaign followed research that showed men see the telephone as a means to an end rather than a medium for enjoyment. Many were acting as gatekeepers, restricting usage and making women feel guilty about the minutes they clocked up.

David Abbott - another creative who can claim to be advertising's best strategic mind - was the man behind "It's good to talk". The campaign has since been described as "social engineering" because of the impact it had on behaviour.

"It is a warning to the planning community, before we all get too cocky, that the greatest piece of planning thinking of the 90s was produced by a creative and not a planner," Richard Huntington, a planning partner at HHCL/Red Cell, says.

Score: 29/150


It is only fitting that the agency behind planning greats such as Hovis' "heritage" and "Heineken refreshes the parts ..." should get an entry in the top ten. This classic Collett Dickenson Pearce series began in the 60s and only left our screens in 1991 after all tobacco TV advertising came to an end, though the campaign continued in cinemas until 1999.

The strapline was apparently conceived when two creatives lit up on a bus after being caught out in the rain. The campaign was an exercise in bravery and is possibly the best-ever use of failure as a selling strategy.

"Celebration becomes consolation and so liberates a barrel of laughs," John Lowery says. "I don't know about you, but life seems to serve up far more reasons to seek consolation than to seek celebration."

Score: 25/150.