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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