The Sexy World Of Planning

June 19, 2011 / Features

By Charlie Snow

First in our Perspectives series, DLKW Lowe's Charlie Snow tells us why planners need an image change.

Photograph by Lewis More O'Ferrall

In the business of Advertising, we don’t have much contact, planners and producers. Which is a shame. I’ve always secretly admired producers from afar. They’re the sexy ones, the Foreign Correspondents of our profession, right at the heart of the action, swanning around in their shiny, puffed up North Face jackets, sorting out the evening’s entertainment for their close friends, the stars. They do stuff, make stuff, produce stuff. They are the mothers.

And we’re the Planners. The people that prepare stuff, set up stuff, plan stuff - the fluffers of the industry. Or at least that’s the common perception. 

As a little experiment (you could call it research), I asked our Production department and their Producer friends what they thought Planners did. The answers either made us out to be pretty dull and geeky...:

“Planners are thinky.”

“Planners are yawn.”

“The Planner’s work is based mainly on the critical analysis of research and focus groups, which are generally attended by people who are only there for the free sandwiches and Jaffa Cakes.”

“Planners read the graphs no one else can understand.”

Or, they made us out to be an incompetent nuisance:

“Planners take so long, there is never enough time for the production, which is really the only thing that matters.”

“Couldn’t planner (sic) piss up in the brewery.”
“Like the Grinch, they’re there to take the joy away.”

There was some ray of light, though:
“Planners are normally more interesting than Account people.”

Well, thank goodness for that.
I’m here to try and put the record straight, tell you what Planners do, and show you that we’re just as sexy as producers, if not sexier.

In Planning, as in any trade, there are some people who are good at it and some people who are bad at it. In my view, good planners do the following five things:

1. Have commercial nous.

Good planners know that we’re in the business of making ads not art. They make it their business to know how the client makes money, and they are very clear how the advertising will contribute towards building business.
Good planners know that advertising is there to sell things or get people to do things. Sure, we must do this in brilliantly creative and surprising ways, but it is the planner’s responsibility to define the purpose for this creativity.
This is the bit of the equation that requires planners to be ruthlessly logical and analytical.
A fantastic example of a planner applying commercial nous to a problem is on Sainsbury’s. Sainsbury’s wanted to grow revenue by £2.5bn over three years. The planner did the math, and worked out that this equated to an extra £1.14 for every individual shop that a Sainsbury’s shopper made. This thinking led to a new role for Sainsbury’s, encouraging people to ‘Try something new today’. Precision planning at its best.
In today’s world, what we are finding more and more, is that clients are not so much asking for communications ideas so much as broader business ideas - new product and service initiatives that can transform business – think Walkers ‘Do Us a Flavour’.

2. Love people.

On the softer side, the best planners also care about people, deeply - they obsess about what makes people tick, why they do things the way they do, how they can change their behaviour. It is this real understanding of people that reveals the magical ‘insight’ that can have a powerful influence on strategy. It is why anti-smoking messages to young women focus on how cigarettes can destroy their looks (the thing they care about above all else); it is why parents are told that their children will copy them if they cross the road when the little red man is flashing; it is what stimulated the Real Beauty campaign for Dove, because women were tiring of the perfect looking models.
In recent years, there have been many exciting developments in the world of neuroscience and behavioural economics on how the brain works and why people behave in certain ways. And contrary to what you might imagine, much of this learning proves that humans respond overwhelmingly on an emotional rather than rational level - meaning that the tone, the look and feel of the communications, carry far more power than rational messages. We all know this to be true, but now the science is proving it. And this is good news for all of us.

3. Think different.

Great planners also have the ability to think laterally. And this, for me, is the part of the job that makes it so stimulating. There are numerous examples of advertising ideas based on brilliant thinking: the AA being positioned as the ‘Fourth Emergency Service’; the idea that Honda used ‘Positive Hate’ to revolutionise the diesel engine; the idea that ‘Dirt is Good’ for Persil. The best planners provide inspiration for creative people to let their imagination run wild – they turn things on their head, they provide provocative thoughts that will get noticed. Bad planners constrain creativity, good planners unleash it.

4. Care like mad how it’s working.

Good planners should also take responsibility for how the advertising is working in market – always asking how things could be made better.  These days, with the power of new technology and social media, you can tell almost immediately how people are responding, and what further opportunities can be exploited. It’s all about real-time effect, and the best planners are on it.

5. Keep it simple.

Above all, what the very best planners are able to do is make it all seem so simple. They take the reams of data and the bundles of marketing bumph, and don’t just regurgitate it in an indigestible way, but shine a clear light on it, make sense of it and insightfully edit, interpret and illuminate it.
The best planners make it all seem so easy and obvious. The worst make it all seem complicated and clever.  

All these are very difficult principles to live up to. And it’s because they are so difficult that it’s such a wonderful discipline to be part of. It is a constant challenge, stretching you in all different directions, requiring you to be both Scientist and Artist.

I’m sure now that you’ll be desperate to get into Planning. Well, it’s got to be better than being a jumped up Cost Controller, which is all producers really are isn’t it?

Charlie Snow is Director of Strategy at DLKW Lowe. He was Convenor of Judges for the 2011 IPA Effectiveness Awards.

Advertisers Anonymous No.1: Producer

March 14, 2011 / Features

By Anonymous

Each edition we seek to get some honesty out of ad people by offering them the cloak of anonymity normally reserved for crime victims and MI5 agents. First up is a production company producer.

Photograph by Lewis More O'Ferrall

I live on a one–way street. Tonight, a motorcyclist roared past the front window going the wrong way. Momentarily exhilarating but quickly dull again. Two opposing thoughts immediately zip though the mind: ‘wanker’ and ‘good on yer mate’. Producing is akin to motorcycling the wrong way down a one way street. Calculating decisions that can make you a ‘mate’ or a wanker. Momentarily exhilarating but suddenly dull.

In filming terms, producing commercials is boring in the extreme. Doing the job properly involves being completely paranoid about everything that can go wrong rationally and irrationally, taking some ever so calculated risks, ignoring certain aspects of Health and Safety and current employment law, exposing yourself to uninsured risks and putting every failsafe in place in order to turn up on the shoot and watch the fruits of your paranoia deliver the dullest day in the whole history of dull days. Get it right and you are resident bored-shitless-smartarse.

Yes, we have to think hard about chemistry and politics. Sometimes there’s arduous mediation in the natural conflicts that occur between the director and the creatives, the agency and the production company, the crew and the production company, the location and the production company. Again though, do your homework, set the framework for a good day and largely a ‘good’ day is what you get. Yawn.

And then, Kaboom! Out of nowhere something completely unpredictable happens. The catering truck runs over the actor’s foot. The client cant give you any of his product to film (yes, really!) and, unbelievably, this becomes your problem. You fire two cars at each other via hydraulic rams to see the effect of the new hydraulic bumpers absorbing the impact, with the slight hitch that the effects bloke manages to get his head in between them just as his colleague presses the fire button. As night draws in, your location turns out to be the epicentre for local rent boy renting, and the head pimp wants to stab you and / or the director for ruining his business, to which the director prefers the staying alive option and goes home. 

None of the above are invented, and here we have the real oddness. Such is the art of producing that we celebrate these problems. The perversity is that we strive to avoid all that can negatively affect the production and yet this produces a deep - seated desire for something, anything to go wrong on the day in order to engage the grey matter and bring to an immediate halt the fascinating 45 minute conversation you’ve been having with the make up lady about her children. This in itself is a direct product of the crew having to apparently like you personally and ‘love working with your company’ since you pay them money. Yuk. 

Not the whole crew, you understand. The sparks, in contrast, are giving you the evil eye for ‘swanning about drinking cappuccinos’ while booking actors’ taxis unnecessarily early and generally pissing money (which of course would otherwise be going straight into their pockets) up the wall. Give me a spark any day. 

Many are the times that in refuge from these inane conversations you lock yourself away in a production office or Winnebago, staring gently at the wall. And then, the briefest of cursory knocks at the door reveals an ashen faced, breathless assistant who’s been despatched to find you. Brilliant, you think. Something to DO

If you have things to say that you can't put your name to, please contact, quoting Advertisers Anonymous.

Thought Experiment: Small Print ⊧ Hoodies

March 14, 2011 / Features

By M. Barron

How we might all be less angry, if we weren't constantly lied to.

Let us take small print to mean any proposition whose truth is contained in a subclause standing in the corner whistling with its hands in its pockets and looking shiftily from side to side while the main clause SHOUTS AT YOU EXCITEDLY! For example that


Now let us take Hoodies to be angry disaffected kids who loiter in groups at poorly lit bus stops and fly kick phone boxes, smoking and grow up to be the kind of people who jump redfaced from their cars veiny and screaming when you so much as remind them that the lights have been green for 10 seconds.

Consider that the defining social relationship of our human lives is between us and what used to be called The Man, i.e, the voice of authority in all its forms. Every day we are at the mercy of The Man - whether he provides our broadband, our speed limits or our phone boxes1. The tone of this relationship dictates how we relate to the world, whether we see it as our friend or enemy.

I submit that subdivisions of The Man are not appealing to us. When I (or Joe Hoody) get a flyer through my letterbox offering a free large bottle of Coke when ordering two medium pizzas, somewhere in my mind that flyer has come from the same place as my council tax bill. So when I then go out and fly kick some phone boxes I’m venting my anger not at BT specifically but at the pizza leaflet, my crappy broadband connection, taxes & cetera.

I also submit that the advent of small print was the point at which the tone of The Man’s conversation with the individual became openly contemptuous. The underlying message of small print is that not only is he lying to you, he’s not even lying about lying. This is an important distinction.

Another important distinction is between intuitive and technical truth. Free texts** is NOT the same thing as Free texts when you spend £25 a month. We all know it isn’t. It may be technically true but we instinctively know that in spirit it’s a lie. A doubly insidious lie for its derisive bet that you won’t follow the asterisk2. It’s the spirit that matters when we assess how The Man feels about us, just as in any other relationship. Emotionally speaking, technical truth is empty3.

One might reasonably ask why, if we all subconsciously know these to be lies, they work. My answer would be: well, do they? As we wander confused and preoccupied through our lives, it seems obvious that we can’t afford to interrogate every message to get to the truth of it. Can I read the whole of the provisional contract supplied by every home insurance provider as I consider their quotes? I cannot. Instead we form the defensive (and prudent, though inaccurate) general opinion that all insurance is a con or that all advertising is a lie. Even worse, seeing as we can’t opt out entirely we’re forced to buy in through gritted and hateful teeth. The transaction is poisoned by the feeling that we’re being stiffed - whether we are or not.

By employing small print or even by allowing it to exist, The Man is saying that it’s OK for him to try to trick or mislead us into doing something we wish we hadn’t done. He is defining our relationship thus: his role is to wheedle and trick our money4 out of us in any way he can, and our role is to be diligent enough to prevent him. Assuming that our money is precious and we are inclined to dislike anyone making eyes at it, the relationship has become adversarial. Him against us for the prize of everything we hold dear.

Not only is he unashamedly declaring himself the enemy, our only defence is blanket distrust of anything and everything with his name on it. So every time we see an ad we’re reminded at a deep, instinctual level that The Man (the government/ the world/ life) is against us. Given that this happens on average 32,000 times per person per year5, is it any surprise we’re against him too?

There is an initially ludicrous sounding but surprisingly neat remedy: ban small print. Would this result in 48 sheets rammed to the gills with copy detailing every last exclusion to an offer? Perhaps initially, but how long before the first advertiser decided to sacrifice these labyrinthine clauses in exchange for cut through - before Free texts for the first 6 months when you spend £25 a month on a minimum contract of 18 months only applicable to new customers became simply Half Price Texts For Everyone?6

In terms of enforcement the onus could be placed on the advertiser to prove in any dispute that the central message of their communication is true without recourse to further information. Central would of course be defined by visual prominence (and for television / radio, aural). Typeface, font size, volume, length of time displayed etc. As punishment a contravening advertiser would be legally obliged to deliver on their misleading central message, incentivising consumers to enforce the rule and allowing the spectre of Hoover to hover grimly over Marketing Managers’ heads whilst signing anything off.

These ideas are hardly detailed enough, but it’s surely nothing a few clever people in a room couldn’t solve. The prize after all is substantial: a realignment of our attitude to the world we live in. The transformation of The Man from hated adversary to something more like advisor.

Do I think advertising has a moral obligation to be honest? Yes. Am I naive enough to argue for that? No. But a first step would be to remove the legitimisation of open deceit that small print represents - the barefaced admission by The Man that he hates you, and therefore the invitation to hate him back.

There seems to have been a time when the general public had implicit faith in The Man. To today’s reader this seems more remote and outdated than top hats, penny farthings or even slavery. Distressingly, slaves can still be found in modern Britain. You’d be hard pressed to find a single person with blind faith that the forces of authority are acting in their best interests.

It does raise the intriguing question of whether, and how, this trust could be restored. It’s interesting that it seems to have begun to decay around the mid 20th century, parallel (coincidentally of course) to the emergence of a newly sophisticated advertising industry. It may have survived a million bullets when in the First World War those same authorities he trusted sent him to pointless death, but Joe Hoody’s faith in society has turned out to be no match for 32,000 lies a year.


*When read in conjunction with another article that persuades you for example to undergo cancer screening just as a malignant storm happens to be gathering.

**When you spend £25 a month.


1Needless to say the less money you have the more the terms of this conversation are in The Man’s favour, hence the comparatively low numbers of Eton educated youths to be found riding bicycles slowly down the middle of main roads / throwing bricks through windows of disused buildings & c.

2 In fact asterisks seem to have fallen out of favour these days, replaced by a crucifix symbol, perhaps to lend an air of religious solemnity or even JC’s implied approval to proceedings.

3 Cf. The husband who argues that he hasn’t lied to his wife because she never actually asked him if he was fucking his secretary. He is resorting to a technical truth, with results I think we can all predict.

Money is the most obvious but far from the only example. Consider also time and personal information.

5 I googled this stat and I don’t care if it’s inaccurate. We all know the figure is high.

6 Equally they may choose to dispense with offers in favour of something more abstract, in which case fine. The object is simply to prevent ourselves being surrounded by lies.


Max Barron is a writer and director.

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February 19, 2011 / Features

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