Is Planning planning Obsolescence? A naive POV of a young planner.
I am in Shanghai right now, leaving for Xiamen tomorrow morning and completely overloaded with impressions and there are so many things I write about China that it seems strange that when I sat down tonight to do exactly that, my head forced me to write something down that I wanted to write a while ago already.
Often times, on twitter or in discussions, I hear planners who want to work only on the innovation side. Many reasons for that appear:
- because digital presents exciting opportunities to do amazing things or
- because they think advertising sucks or
- because they genuinely think it is more effective to ‘make useful stuff’ or
- because they are selling something and need to deposition advertising
Roughly as many times, the quote about marketing being like sex and only losers paying for it is thrown around. I think that’s a sad state of affairs. Not that I hate self-criticism – I wallow in that often myself –, but I don’t find it quite useful for an industry to talk itself into redundancy.
Sure, I guess there are often and stupidly separated budgets for both, say a customer experience and marketing communications. And yes, there are even econometric models that (try to) tell you and how much investments in advertising can shift quality perceptions compared to you doing, say, a real improvement in product quality. So there’s the design or innovations consultancy doing X and the brand consulting company is doing Y and until there’s something communicated planners are mainly translating pyramids into creative briefs.
My naive point of view, though, my unrealistic dream of the planning I want to do and I am setting out to learn is a different one: that planning can be the instance that plans what the best way to increase margins or penetration or frequency of purchase is, be it something ‘designed’ or ‘innovated’ or communicated. Or that planning sets the goal of the whole endeavor together with a client in the first place and then collaboratively comes up with an idea, or a concept and work from there. Or with many ideas, that are then innovated or communicated.
If that’s the starting point, then I don’t think that improvements in ‘objective’ product quality are always the way to go, or have the moral high ground. Not because you couldn’t make a e.g. Coke itself better, but because there often is (almost) nothing to measure that standard against. Or a mineral water. Or a shower gel. Better is relative. Inherited taste is often random.
With saying that, I certainly don’t mean that there isn’t potential for improvement in the world – there certainly is, especially in service industries. And if that’s the case, then by all means, make the product better, but not just because you can now put twitter in your car computer, for lack of a better metaphor.
In any case, advertising isn’t by definition useless. On the contrary, when done well, it is an essential part of the product or service sold.
Making people noting it, reducing complexity, contributing to life in an inspiring or tension-reducing or many other ways – all of that is useful as well. All of this doesn’t change the fact that 90% of it is utter bullshit, because it’s done from the perspective of “what can advertising do to people” (aka how can we easily persuade them) instead of “what can people do with advertising”. But then again, that statement doesn’t change the principle, and is true for innovation as well.
For people in planning, there shouldn’t be a difference between the two. For me, they are the two sides of the same medal: perception/experience. Both sides should be treated with the same respect and careful consideration: make people want brands by making brands people want.
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