Pride cometh before a fall
The communications industries have an annoying habit of chasing fashions. I worry that we are not doing enough thinking and, instead, we lurch from fad to fad.
This move towards anti-planning is a desire for a set of instructions, behaviours and must-haves that abdicate all responsibility for actual thinking. People sit in meetings with an ever-lengthening list of things "we know", things "we must do" and "spaces we must play in" without anyone giving any category, brand or brief-specific thinking to the issue.
The whole room nods. No-one disagrees. And we congratulate ourselves on our progression, our forward thinking.
Swallowing one’s pride
No-one disagrees because no-one wants to look like the person in the room that doesn’t get it.
Here’s an analogy for you. A normal, middle-aged couple walk into a bar on an evening out and order a bottle of Moët & Chandon. They pronounce it with a hard "t". A bourgeois group at the next table titter at their ignorance – they don’t know! They don’t get it – everyone knows it’s Mo-ayy, darling!
Meanwhile, you and I both know that the winery was founded by a gentleman of Dutch origin in the 18th century and the correct pronunciation is indeed "mo-wett". We know this because we are well-informed, curious and don’t like to be ignorant. But we bite our tongues. Because to pronounce the hard "t" in front of the second table is to invite their scorn at our perceived ignorance. It’s human nature not to disagree.
And that is why we need to be a little bit more prepared to call out the assumptions, the black and whites, the inane and incorrect received wisdoms that are in danger of dominating the industry. If everyone in the room agrees, then we are probably missing something – it’s good to be wrong now and again.
The irony is that, across any discipline of the industry you chose to identify with, we have more stimulus, fact and evidence at our disposal than ever before to see what our audiences are doing and what is actually working. We can see their journeys, their intent, the waxing and waning of their interest in a brand or their need for a category.
We can now properly make the distinction between what our audiences tell us they do, what they are looking for and what they actually do or look for. We can see the importance of certain assets owned by a brand – and those that are ineffectual.
We can see exactly the kind of stuff that our audiences find entertaining or useful. We don’t need to subscribe to fashions, fads or flavour-of-the-month channels when each individual brief has a unique set of learnings to lead us towards a solution.
This isn’t drifting into an argument for big-data and black-box planning – more a point of view that, with so much data available to us, there is no excuse not to think. Hypothesise intuitively. Prove or disprove with data. Plan accordingly. Be able to have a point of view on effectiveness within days, not months. React.
However, allowing space for proper thinking is not just the responsibility of agencies. Clients also need to leave their preconceptions at the door, embrace the above and take pride in the energy and thought that their agencies can bring to bear on their behalf.
An inspiration: Philip Larkin or Stewart Lee. Moody, pretentious and self-referential.
Thought for the year: Hindsight’s a bitch.
Guiding priciple: Never run for public transport.