What happens after we collect the underpants?

A friend reminded me this weekend me of a clip from South Park in which the underpant gnomes are stealing all the underpants from the town. This is stage one in a three stage plan in which the third stage is to make a huge amount of profit. The problem is that there is no stage two.

How redolent of the vast majority of advertising campaigns.

Heres the clip (or not – obviously the makers of Southpark have had it removed from You Tube).

Time and time again one sees clients and agencies with an accurate and complete picture of the business problem they need to solve and an advertising campaign they think might solve it but with no understanding of the way in which the advertising will work to deliver those results.
They know that stage one is to advertise and believe that stage three is profit but they are largely clueless about stage two.
In a way this shows a rather endearing belief in the power of advertising but it is also one of the reasons that advertising gets marginalised within an organisation – even within a marketing department. Sure, time and energy are spent pitching the ad account and working with the agency to deliver the work but no one seriously believes that its really going to deliver so meanwhile efforts are redoubled elsewhere (particularly in direct) to ensure that the business results are delivered.
It’s one of the reasons that many clients now see their ad budget as ornamental rather than instrumental – it makes everyone feel good and provides some air cover for the rest of the business but it’s not there to deliver real, tangiable and immediate results.
This problem is exposed most clearly during ad pitches when clients are often extremely clear about what needs to happen in the business – the problem that they face. However, they rarely spell out how they believe that advertising will help deliver against this (perhaps feeling that this is an answer they are looking to agencies to provide) and they rarely seem to commission work that will actually solve the problem.
You can also smell it in weak agency briefs. You know the kind of creative brief that waffles on endlessly about the ‘background’ rather than spelling out the role for communications in meeting the business objective. This is one of the reasons that I insist that creative briefs don’t carry background but start with a clear idea of the problem and our expectations for the way advertising will affect it – a model for the advertising if you like.
And beware the creative presention that whitters on about talkability, fame, cut through, and all that malarkey for it is a clear sign that the creative director doesn’t understand how the work is going to work either.
Everyone working on a campaign but most especially the planner must have a clear idea of what will happen once all the underpants are collected. My feeling is that few do.

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8 Replies to “What happens after we collect the underpants?”

  1. Great post. And the Unilever line made me chuckle.
    Brands have to stand for something these days – fame is all well and good (see Saatchis and Shockwaves), but will it increase sales?
    I’m skeptical.

  2. Advertising is often given the job of pursuing some intermediate objective (awareness, attitude, underpants) with no clear idea of how this attitudinal change drives behavioural change – or even if it preceeds it at all.
    And then it goes on to measure how well that intermediate objective has been achieved. “Well done everyone, underpant collection is up 5%.”
    A sensible approach might be at least to measure offline’s effect on online behaviour; at least you are there registering a clear behavioural change of some kind.

  3. Great post. But I think the clients are right about advertising: ornamental, makes the team feel good, provides air cover, maybe puts the brand on a pedestal but run a good promotion at the same time. I think this is realism born of experience not flabby planning.

  4. Funny and true. And there isn’t an argument in this business that can’t be brought to life with a reference to either South Park or The Simpsons.

  5. You know what’s interesting? The number of people who’ve commented on this post compared to the one on brainstorms.
    Just goes to show how “real” this post was and how many of us – including me – swallowed a bout of air down our Adam’s Apple and said to ourselves, “Fuck, I hope I don’t get caught.”
    Coz this one pricks most of us at what we believe we are good at.
    Richard, damn you’re good. I’ve gotta start thinking more on how I plan. Damn… that means more work… damn!
    Anyone willing to take me back to kindergarten for planning, please? Coz otherwise ill always live under this illusion that I know what to do when I don’t.

  6. Totally agree. Background is redundant – creative folk inherently like solving problems so we always start the brief with the business problem – and get it as granular as possible. I particularly like the myth of the AMV Sainsbury’s re-pitch where the business problem was framed as getting existing shoppers to put one more average value item in the basket on the weekly shop – hence ‘try something new’ and busted revenue targets.
    We also have a heading after the Objective which is ‘How will the advertising work to achieve this?’ It’s the toughest bit of the brief but it really forces the planners to think about the ad model. Even if it ends up soemwhere else at least you know what the intention was – you know design not default.
    Btw you are 10 years behind on the Unilever Brand Key – I nicknamed it ‘Brand Kenny’ at BBH…

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