How QI provides a great template for ad planning
A view from Sara Barqawi

How QI provides a great template for ad planning

The quirky quiz show is a must watch for strategists

The rules of the game are simple. 

You have to answer obscure questions. 

They’re sometimes so obscure, you’re actually unlikely to give the "correct" answer.

But the aim of the game isn’t to be "right". It’s to be interesting.

Points are deducted from you for answers which are not only wrong but are pathetically obvious.

And you’ve got to do it for everything from jumpers to jam.

Sound like ad planning? 

It’s actually the blueprint to British TV panel show, QI.

Watching it makes us better strategists because both the discipline and the TV show format are of the same ilk. The QI Manifesto wouldn’t look out of place being entitled "The Ten Commandments of Planning". 

Here follows QI's guiding principles (verbatim, I may add), as published in a special QI-edited edition of The Idler.

1. Everything is interesting: provided that you look at it in the right way

…even telco. 

2. Ask more questions: everyone asks lots of questions at a young age, then you are told it is best to let people teach you things, which are often assumed right until proven otherwise.

Questions can invite dialogue – opening up the possibilities of alternative solutions engenders a culture of mutual respect, which just make working far more pleasant.   

3. We all know less than we think we know: this is what General Ignorance is. We still do not know how or why the universe began, what consciousness is, what light is, or even the best way to bring up children. 

The sooner we all learn to admit this, we’ll probably end up with a more diverse set of ideas, a better way of working, and a far more dynamic workplace structure. At the end of the day, a good idea can come from anyone, regardless of their pay scale or the years they’ve spent in the job. 

4. Look for new connections: Write down the things you do not know already. Interestingness cannot be defined or taught. It is a spark that arcs between two previously unconnected things…

…which is why we can’t put a price on originality. 

5. If it's worth writing down, it's worth writing down clearly: jargon, technical terms other confusing pieces of language are the enemies of truth.

I once knew a creative pair who used to physically cringe when they saw a colleague of mine. Turned out she used to write 14-page-long briefs (yes, really). No good brief, presentation or conversation is built on jargon. 

6. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in: It is better to be useful and interesting than to be comprehensive.

See point 5. 

7. Digressions are the point: QI is about making connections, not lists of trivial facts. One piece of interesting information leads to others just as interesting.

That’s the reason the industry isn’t dead (yet). While every Tom, Dick or Harry might have tried to write a framework for creativity, it’s all in vain - creativity is far more organic than that. 

It’s also the reason for you actually collaborating with your peers - it’s really difficult to make these connections without bouncing your ideas off someone.  There’s nothing worse than being told that planning is a "lone wolf" discipline, when the best planning comes out of teams. 

8. Take your time: It may take a long time of reading boring information before you finally find a gem that will change your life...

 (...or campaign). 

9. Walk towards the sound of gunfire: Do what is right and say what is right, without fear of what other people will think of you…

… because anodyne people think in anodyne ways, and it creates really dull wallpaper that might get sold to a cautious client, but won’t get noticed. 

We have a saying here about "Diversity of Thought": Similar people think similar thoughts; diverse people think different thoughts; diversity of thought is therefore a creative necessity. We need different voices and perspectives in order to get the great ideas.

10. You already have everything you need: Instincts, curiosity and your own ignorance. The paradox is that you have to stop talking about how much you know. And here lies the importance of humility.

Ironically, the obvious thing the QI producers haven’t included (perhaps because it goes without saying): there is a real importance in seeing the lighter side of things. QI is a comedy by genre, and sometimes you’ve just got to laugh at yourself. The frivolity of the industry gives us space to enjoy it.

We can all take a leaf from Alan Davies’ book: he teaches us about self-deprecation. You only need to go as far as Twitter to see that planners take themselves quite seriously. But finding the joy is important, because at the end of the day, it’s just ads. 

Next time you’re struggling for something to watch, give QI a go. At the very least, it’ll fundamentally tickle your brain, and if you watch it enough, you may even start to expect a klaxon when you come up with something painfully unoriginal and obvious.

Sara Barqawi is a strategist at M&C Saatchi

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