How proper media planning can save you from your ego

Earlier this month there was an interview with Charles Dunstone in the Financial Times. Nothing special about that, the man is ubiquitous. The interest lay in a brief passage about how, in its early days, Carphone Warehouse took the then-radical step of concentrating all its spend on radio, with the result that, in its sector, it owned the medium. Very smart, writes Dominic Mills.

These days Carphone Warehouse is on TV. "The TV ads they did for us were the first TV ads they did for anyone," the paper quoted Dunstone as saying in a reference to his recently appointed agency, the Clemmow Hornby Inge start-up. "They were terribly important to us, but they were more important to them [my italics]."

Hmmm. This makes you wonder whether a little hubris hasn't slipped in somewhere. The result, it seems to me, is that Carphone Warehouse now dominates nothing. Very odd.

From a media planning perspective -- let alone anything else -- this sounds like a mistake. In the argot of the business, you could say that Carphone Warehouse had gone from what we could call a media-engaged planning philosophy to -- and let's be blunt here -- an ego- or agenda-driven one. At the very least, the choice of media is now dictated by the sort of things it ought not to be dictated by.

It would be wrong to speculate how this might have come about. Suffice to say that the concept of media neutrality has been conspicuous by its absence. We are in the early stages of the debate about media-neutral planning, but it seems to me that the arguments around this subject will be the ones that shape the industry during the coming decade. Those who take the concept of media-neutral planning on board -- let's define it as an unbiased selection of media based on a consumer's relationship with the brand in question -- will prosper. Those who don't will find themselves withering away at the margins of the business -- a bit like dinosaurs unable to adapt to climatic change or, to use an analogy closer to home, Collett Dickenson Pearce in the 90s.

To me, there's a parallel between media-neutral planning and the integration debates of the 90s. I'm sure it won't be long before everyone accepts that media-neutral planning is a Good Thing -- it'll be like a hygiene factor -- but that's a long way from walking the walk. In the mean time, there's plenty to talk about. Such as what is media-neutral planning? Who should lead the way? How do you create the right environment to do it in? What tools do you need? And how do you know when you're doing it?

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