No more Mr Nice Guy


Oyster beds at dawn. It is the grit inside the oyster that creates the pearl. Image courtesy of thepres6.

A mentor of mine once told me that there are only two types of planners in the world - nice planners and nasty planners. He maintained that by far the best kind were the nasty planners.

By nasty he didn’t mean that they committed acts of unspeakable cruelty to puppies or beat the living daylights out of old ladies for kicks. He meant that really good planners should be appropriately surly and uncompromising when the need arises, especially in fighting for better advertising. In other words nasty planners get in the way when the work is not right.

This is because the planner’s ultimate job is to ensure that the work works. This may seem obvious to you but it’s not necessarily getting through to planner-kind judging from the comments on a post I recently wrote for my website. A remarkable number of planners seemed utterly appalled that I had tarnished them with the primary responsibility for effectiveness.

Indeed I genuinely think that many planners now feel that their job is, to use a ghastly phrase beloved of the headhunting community, ‘the third member of the creative team’. They believe that they exist in order to contribute to the creative quality of the work not its efficacy. At the same time many of our media agency partners feel that creative agencies have planners simply to justify their recommendations to sceptical clients, that we have become little more than proof poodles.

The moment that we lose sight of our basic role to ensure effectiveness is the moment we concede that planners have no separate and defined role within the agency and we all descend into a homogeneous mush of creative generalism. If that’s the case then fine but lets abandon the idea of planning and hire more creatives.

And don’t imagine that this is just about creating clear blue water between planners and creative teams it is just as much about maintaining a professional distance between planning and account handling. In particular ensuring that the agency’s own self interest and the day to day harmony of the client relationship don’t get in the way of the work delivering a result either.

After all an effectiveness culture is not one in which the agency makes the work, crosses their collective fingers and if all goes wins an IPA award. An effectiveness culture is one in which the planning discipline are obsessed with making work successful and actively intervene at every stage of the process to ensure that it is, whether this is palatable or not.

In my experience standing up for the right work especially towards the end of the process when everyone else just wants to get the thing out there, takes a bit of backbone. And the right kind of nasty streak.

This post was orignially published in the 10th August edition of Campaign magazine.

Comments just want another "is blogging killing planning" fight don't ya? ;-)

I personally believe that US Americans should have maps....oops...wrong speech!

Now seriously, each planner should be wise and aware enough to define his/her own role based on their passions, strength, interests and agency needs.

nice weekend


Posted by: Asi at August 31, 2007 10:57 AM

Wouldn't more planners want to stand up for the 'right work' if they were sure of how the effectiveness of that work were measured.

Seems to me that's the problem. Too many ways of judging effectiveness.

Your nasty planner sounds very much like a creative director who relies on pure intuition (a good thing in my book). Yet defending effectiveness relies some sort of left-brained model that is tweaked for each client, perhaps even many times during the course of a campaign.

If planners are to care they need to get more skin in the game. Rather than billed time, an agency's renumeration should be based on a share of effectiveness which the agency planner decides for themselves.

You can only fight for a 'something', not for an 'anything'.


Posted by: Adam at August 31, 2007 02:06 PM

TOP post, Richard! Particularly since some arse stole my 10th August edition of Campaign.

I think there was a time when planners were proud of their difference - one grounded in a difference in discipline, contribution, and craft skills. They didn't seek to be members of the creative department (or any other). But it seems that today too many of us are running around wearing the same ironic t-shirts as creatives busy being their fluffers and groupies.

It's the difference between planners and creatives that makes for better (i.e. more effective) work.

A - Any planner who believes that effectiveness is an optional responsibility depending on whether he or she enjoys it or is 'passionate' about it, isn't a planner. It's that simple.

Adam - If there are planners who aren't sure how the effectiveness of their work is being evaluated, they should be immediately bundled into the boot of a car never to be seen again.

Re. "Too many ways of judging effectiveness"...

"What we need… is not a wholly comprehensive theory of advertising, but a slightly advanced theory of advertisements. A framework for thinking how different sorts of advertisement might work, for different circumstances, at different stages of time" (Stephen King)

I would have thought that the IPA Effectiveness Awards would have made that abundantly clear by now that there are many ways of evaluating effectiveness precisely because there are many ways in which advertising can work.

Planners who don't contribute to, understand, and take responsibility for effectiveness aren't planners and should be immediately replaced with a) proper planners or b) creatives

Posted by: Bigmeanstreak at August 31, 2007 03:12 PM

Um, feels like dejavue kicking in here. Isn't this the part where Mike Hall comes in and says his bit about developing a model or hypothesis about the way the work should work and talks about developing frameworks to measure effectiveness and that a planners primary role is to ensure a rigorous and disciplined approach to tracking effectiveness??? Or have I just woken up after the APG conference in Boston in 1997?
What happened to "planners as the guardians of the brand" and "Brand Stewardship"? Get Mike Hall, Terry Prue or any other good "frameworker" to come in and give a quick refresher:-)

Posted by: Rodney Tanner at September 1, 2007 06:46 AM

I thought it were obvious that planners job is to create or at least to contribute to creating an effect. In my eyes the planning job is about creating the change in people's behaviour, this is our destination and we should never lose it out of our sight. Otherwise, we are doing the wrong job or no job at all. Planners need a clearly defined route that will take brand from A to Z (to put it simple) and it is crucial to have Z and other anchor points on the route clearly defined. My experience is that many of us are in pursuit of creative idea for idea's sake. There is lots of talk about creativity and not much thinking about where the idea will take the brand.

Posted by: Daria at September 2, 2007 11:08 AM

So this is where all the planners were while Juan Cabral was selling Cadbuy's Gorilla.

Seriously, is there any point of discussing planning when ideas like this are worshiped all over the blogosphere?

Posted by: Arnold at September 3, 2007 09:29 AM

Rodney, I worry you might be letting planners off the hook. The frameworks of Mike Hall et al (that were pre-dated by King lest they take too much credit) are purely about the intermediate effects of advertising. By their very nature intermediate effects are not an objective, but a means. Planning's responsibility for effectiveness does not stop at demonstrating by means of a tracking study that advertising awareness or liking or image attributes went up.

Mark Earls has already done a nice job in puncturing the rhetoric of 'brand stewardship'... can't find the relevant extract from his book right now, but he suggests the language of guardianship positions us as curators of something static, rather than demanding we be faciliators of change and growth.

Arnold... are you in favour of Gorilla... or planning... or both? Wasn't sure from your post!

Posted by: Grumpy at September 3, 2007 11:17 AM

Sometimes work has no basis in rational persuasion - it is purely emotional persuasive and it is disaster to try and think about it too hard.

This is what Cabral (and Fallon under Cabral) specialise in - pure emotional persuasion. Don't scrutinise Sony or Cadbury's or even Skoda too hard - they kinda fall apart (unless you buy the stuff about keeping it real on Bravia and shooting everything in camera).

Buy boy does this approach sell. Brand salience of the sort that will come Cadbury's way now sells chocolate bars. That's what I hope the planner was doing persuading people that salience and emotional persuasion would be effective. The way that Balls has turned Sony's TV fortunes around inthe UK.

You see it doesn't matter how you deliver effectiveness as a planner but it does matter that you see it as your responsibility.

Posted by: richard huntington at September 3, 2007 04:18 PM

It's worth mentioning that the argument of "nevermind the message, just be salient" has some heavyweight intellectual defense (albeit challenged in some quaters) in the name of Prof. Ehrenberg:

"Many advertisements appear in fact to promote their brand as simply the product with a name: 'here I am' (or 'Coke is it'). Often ads merely show their brand implicitly or explicitly as an example of the product category/subcategory - with or without the hyperboles good/attractive/none-better/new/cheaper, or whatever.
As we see it, such ads are straight publicity for their brand. They are often highly coloured ('creative') for impact. But they do not carry any explicit sales promise, nor yet image-building types of message which are characteristic just of that brand."

For those interested in making the case to clients, it's worth starting with his 1974 paper 'Repetitive advertising and the Consumer'

I don't buy that Gorilla works by persuasion of any sort. Based on his analysis of purchase and brand dimage data As Ehrenberg notes:

"Consumers’ attitudes to similar brands are very similar. Purchasers of frequently bought goods usually have experience of more than one brand and they mostly ignore advertising for brands they are not already using.It follows that there can he little scope for persuasive advertising"

Posted by: Grumpy at September 3, 2007 06:14 PM

"the language of guardianship positions us as curators of something static, rather than demanding we be faciliators of change and growth."
Point taken. I always like to use the Marry Baskin quote - "Brands are like sharks, if they are not moving forward, they die."

I am not sure I agree on "The frameworks of Mike Hall et al (that were pre-dated by King lest they take too much credit) are purely about the intermediate effects of advertising." They are also very much concerned with effects on the brand relationship, changes in brand consideration and brand commitment. In Colin McDonald´s book on Tracking Advertising and Monitoring Brands, he makes the point that tracking advertising is really about tracking brands (outcomes) and what drives brand commitment.

A big blind spot I come across with a lot of planners I meet is the lack of knowledge and interest in the business of brands: revenue streams, future cash flow, margins and profits.
Daria´s point on taking the brand from A to Z captures the business mandate nicely.

Posted by: Rodney Tanner at September 4, 2007 05:19 AM


Love that quote too. And Merry. She rocks.

Hmm... I have to insist on my point though that commitement and other measures of brand relationship while important are still only intermediary effects, because they are NOT ends in themselves. Would that life were so easy.

No tracking company - whether it is Hall & Partners, IPSOS, Millward Brown or whoever claim to be measuring effectiveness.

Because there's a diffence between monitoring advertising's effects, and affectiveness.

Which ALWAYS comes with a £ or a $ sign attached.

Posted by: Grumpy at September 4, 2007 09:59 AM

crikey, sorry for all the typos

Posted by: Grumpy at September 4, 2007 10:02 AM

Emperor’s new gorilla suit...

Posted by: jemster at September 4, 2007 12:09 PM

but haven't we strayed far from a point so well made?

Have to agree that any decent planner should have the confidence to stand in the way of work that wont work, just as much they should stand up for work that will (... with the client for example). Planners need permission to be difficult, when it matters that is.

To be able to do this, you have to have a decent and shared understanding of what you're trying to achieve and how you will be successful; a framework if you like, effectiveness with a small 'e'.

How would you solve a problem like gorilla?

I hope I would have the balls to stand in the way... easy to say I have to agree as you often get caught in the wave of enthusiasm.

Why? To my mind saliency (if that's what this is) has to link to the brand to have an effect. Tango did this brilliantly, so did Bravia.

I just don't think the Gorilla does... but I'd be delighted to be wrong.

Balls = Colour = Colour reproduction = Sony TV = Brilliant

Gorilla =?=?= Chocolate = Brave but flawed

Posted by: jemster at September 4, 2007 01:55 PM


Posted by: yada at September 4, 2007 03:10 PM

Jemster, I think you've hit the nail on the head. Not all salience is created equal.

Posted by: Grumpy at September 4, 2007 04:09 PM

This is well off the point, I grant you (and Richard, for the record, a good point, well made, planners are there to make sure that the work - whatever its purpose - works).

But on Cadbury's (and we have yet to see any of the other campaign creative), I buy the argument that the ad is re-creating the emotional feel of a good bar of chocolate.

It makes you smile, it makes you warm inside, it makes you feel faintly ... satisfied.

If brands are going to go full-on into content, creating emotional connections with the effect that they hope their product will have on people works far harder for me than out-and-out placement.

Posted by: James Gordon-MacIntosh at September 4, 2007 11:31 PM

erm yes.... but wouldn't they rather sell them a chocolate bar to make them feel that way?

Posted by: jemster at September 5, 2007 10:56 AM

It seems the gorilla needs a post of himself from 'da main man himself'. What d'ya say richard?

Posted by: Arnold at September 5, 2007 01:39 PM

Gorilla's performance = joy = chocolate

Anyway, I've not heard so many people talking about an ad in glowingly positive terms since, well, Bravia Balls.

A TV ad which is a media event in itself and creates great word of mouth can't be a bad thing. Weren't those days meant to be over?

While we're on the subject of the power of emotional engagement I'm sure you've all been reading Drew Westen's book The Political Brain (,,2143885,00.html)

It's a fascinating analysis of why emotional connection is so much more persuasive than rational.

Posted by: Phil Teer at September 5, 2007 03:11 PM

I understand the analysis Phil, but still don't buy it. It's not emotional response I'm not buying, just the emotional response to this ad.

And are the people talking about it real people or(unreal)industry people? Unreal people love this ad and want it to work: real people might just disappoint them.

Posted by: jemster at September 5, 2007 04:16 PM

richard, this new topic of conversation does deserve a posting from yourself...

Gorilla + Phil Collins = Joy to watch. Cadbury's = chocolate >> joy to eat.

Does it need to be anymore complex than that?

I for one am a major advocate of investing in emotional persuasion over and above the rational conversation, particularly when it comes to advertising in the purest sense - that is the unashamingly one dimensional 'self promotion' (let search and the millions of social networks talk about the truth...which hopefully has been seeded by the brand!)

What's more, as I see it, it would take a Gorilla playing the drums to Phil Collins too cut-through and change those brand conversations from "Aren't Cadbury's chocolates "that ad made me laugh/confused/smile etc ...

I for one, think this ad will have a profound effect on the Cadbury business.

Posted by: mm at September 5, 2007 07:19 PM


I am increasingly of the persuasion that the only way to do TV now is either to use it incredibly tactically - knock off this clear objective amongst this clear audience as part of the broader marketing mix. Or to deliver fame. By which I mean a piece of work that escapes the break and lives online and critically in popular culture. But if you want the latter you have to be geared up for it. As scamp has observed you need big planning, a belief that the creatives are right and for the creatives to be right.

But the reality is that on today's budgets there are no half measures with TV.

On a slightly different note I don't buy that you should prioritise emotional over rational persuasion - it is all important. The ad that says that the Sony Bravia 30 inch is only £699 at John Lewis is pure rational persuasion. But I do believe that planners have to be more comfortable with emotional pesuasion (me included).

Posted by: richard huntington at September 5, 2007 08:10 PM

OK. Nasty as in "with a backbone" ...

Nasty as in : "when ou guys will finnaly get out of this mush crawling on your bellies, I will be the one standing at the other side tellin you: 'I told you so !'"

What happened to "The Art of Making a Point Without Making An Enemy" ?

Creatives generally have a healthy dose of Ego, enough to put daring Creative Ideas outside.
We Planners should be humble enough to provide is a map of the region where the action is taking place (see a nice and corny metaphore of Strategic Planning here).

So the art of convincing, of providing the Creatives with the right info for them to perform cannot boil down to being "nasty". Some spine, yes, some guts too, to go against general consensus and the "easy way out", but above all the capacity to create empathy with the Creative Teams and speak their own language when need be.

See the corny metaphores here:

Posted by: Alfred LARGANGE at September 6, 2007 07:35 AM

... and your point is?

Posted by: jemster at September 6, 2007 10:52 AM

I think we'd all agree about the critical importance of emotional content, and that people (not 'consumers')are emotionally driven ... this isn't a new thing is it?

I'm just not sure that the link is clear enough for this to pay out for Cadbury, I hope it is, their bravery (the client in an extremely tough year)deserves it.

The big concern, bigger than opinions about an ad, is that while the people who make communications are dialled into emotional response, the people who claim to be able to measure their effect are miles away.

Posted by: jemster at September 6, 2007 10:58 AM

"I think we'd all agree about the critical importance of emotional content, and that people (not 'consumers')are emotionally driven ... this isn't a new thing is it?"

No it isn't a new thing, but it is ignored on all fronts. It is ignored because we are obsessed with rational justification and qualification. We don't have the time, inclination or balls to act without metrics that prove it's worth doing..

"On a slightly different note I don't buy that you should prioritise emotional over rational persuasion - it is all important. The ad that says that the Sony Bravia 30 inch is only £699 at John Lewis is pure rational persuasion. But I do believe that planners have to be more comfortable with emotional pesuasion (me included)."

But you can always argues yourself out of a rational conversation. Whereas an emotive form of persuasion is just that, an emotional desire to act that can't be justified, doesn't always make sense, but feels right and feels good.....

Posted by: mm at September 6, 2007 01:19 PM

Jemster, the people were "real". They were friends who don't work in media, who saw the ad on telly and couldn't wait to tell me about it. (and ask me why I wasn't making ads like that!)

My reference to The Political Brain was maybe too obtuse. Westen's point is that people respond to communication primarily in terms of how it makes them feel. When they make their mind up about a presidential candidate they are asking themselves: "how does this person make me feel, how does his party make me feel" etc. These feelings are informed by "networks of associations, bundles of thoughts, feelings, images and ideas that have become connected over time."

I think its fairly obvious how this can relate to brands as well.

What's difficult is persuading clients to go with something that feels right. It is so much easier to through a pseudo-scientific process that seems to lead logically to a proposition. Such Deductive Reason is massively comforting. It feels scientific. We can justify every decision we made along the way. It feels so professional. Of course it a delusion. I suspect that no planner has written a strategy that a proper scientific journal would publish. Creativity is not a science, it is an art. Planning is all inductive reasoning, we extrapolate big laws from small observations, having neither the time nor any real need for a truly scientific process. Creative leaps are instinctive, insights are often random flashes. Consumer response is primarily emotional with rational facts being employed to justify choice, not to make it in the first place.

If they want to do good work is critical that planners understand emotional engagement and are able to persuade their clients that creativity works.

Posted by: Phil Teer at September 6, 2007 02:43 PM


Robert Heath has written much about LAP, which is essentially what we're talking about here.

He has argued - on the basis of empirical research - that "Most advertising works not by getting over a rational message, but by establishing unique concrete associations."

So far so good. We're on the same page.

Jemster's point however, is important - whether the salience and resultant conversations it stimulates amongst ordinary people will be connected at some level with the brand.

While I suspect you're more familiar than most with this work, this from Robert Heath -'Emotional Advertising Works', Market Leader, Autumn 2004 - is worth considering:

"The Tango campaign would have achieved nothing if it had shown ordinary people conveying pleasure; instead it showed orange people creating a shock. Likewise Marlboro abandoned traditional smoothness in favour of the unique cowboy, who was visibly tough and self-reliant. Distinctiveness is needed because the memory systems we use when we are processing at low attention are no good at working things out. Subtlety, which works wonderfully when you are paying attention, becomes a meaningless blur when you are not...

Many traditional ads try so hard to get the viewer's attention that the brand becomes lost, selectively filtered out from consideration. This is also a pitfall for LAP (Low Attention Processing). Brand name processing at low attention is inefficient, so the brand identity needs to be spoon-fed to the consumer. It is not just a question of name prominence, the branding needs to be structural. For example, I can usually identify a BMW ad from the moment it starts, because of their unique moody style."

I'd argue that the branding in Gorilla is not 'structural'...

Salience and engagement is not automatically and by its very nature well branded salience and engagement.

Posted by: Grumpy at September 6, 2007 03:04 PM

completely agree Phil, but I do think more clients are prepared to take a leap of faith, it's just their once trusted ally - the agency - has got old and cynical and no longer want's to play that game. So instead of encouraging a client to be daring, different and bold, they insist on being right.

When I've been a client, the partnership with my agency has been the strength on which I can get through ideas that challenge company culture/views.

So does this not tie in with richard's responsibility of ideas and planners posting, in other words, more people should be involved in the process - strength in numbers and all that..

Posted by: mm at September 6, 2007 03:04 PM

Off-topic. There has been a distinct downturn in planning blog activity of late. Some have been all but abandoned, others are on an extended hiatus. It seems as if the love affair of planners with blogging has died down. The thrill has gone. Perhaps people are actually doing work instead. Richard: it's time to pose the question, is planning killing blogging?

Posted by: Sir Winston O'Boogie at September 11, 2007 12:01 PM

Maybe blogging killed blogging

Posted by: Grumpy at September 11, 2007 12:40 PM

Some thoughts on the reported death of blogging:

there are a lot of pitches in town at the moment and everyone's busy

there are a lot of planning blogs out there and everybody's too busy writing their own blog to contribute to anyone else's. If so, expect a frenetic wave of mergers and aquisitions before a couple of mega-blogs emerge to dominate the market. Both will be secretly owned by Publicis. WPP will be apoplectic.

After a period of contemplation over the summer the key bloggers have all realised that the reward they get from blogging is not worth the effort they have to put it and are now only adding a post once a week or so.

The key bloggers are keeping more than one blog and feeling a bit stretched.

All the planners joined digital agencies over the summer and are now too knackered from working 18 hour days to even think the word "blog".

Everyone has taken my advice from earlier in the week and are now reading The Political Brain. It's a big book so expect a significant lull in activity.

That Gorilla ad has single-handedly restored everyone's confidence in TV as a medium and the bloggers are all pitching for cable channel licenses.

The weather has suddenly improved and everyone's down the boozer.

After a year of over-blogging we have all ran out of opinions.

Posted by: Phil Teer at September 11, 2007 04:26 PM


Posted by: empty blog at September 11, 2007 07:58 PM


Posted by: tumbleweed at September 12, 2007 10:28 AM

Planners nowadays all seem to be recruited from business school which probably work fine in some aspects but I also think it would be a good idea to recruit more all-round 'intellectuals'. People with genuine critical thinking with backgrounds based on active participation within multiple cultural platforms. Planners (and the advertising industry as a whole) need more understanding for context and put less focus on concept. I don't think there is a coincidence that W+K is recruiting 'Innovative Communications Thinkers' which in my eyes would very much should be the description of a planner.

Posted by: ADF at September 12, 2007 01:52 PM

Speaking as I client, I want, no need the planner to be the nasty guy. The client whilst hoping the brief and evaluation of the presented work has the customer at its heart will also be thinking about selling it on internally and all of the non marketing related politics that comes with any business activity. The same goes for the agency creative department. Is the customer really at the heart of the work or are they also thinking about the next D&DA? The account guys liaise between the two and the agency culture tends to inform which side they really take client/creative debates. I want my planner to be in the middle of all this maddness banging our heads together and fighting for the only person the work should be made for - the customer. If the account guy is my voice back at the agency I want the planner to be my customers voice when I forget them sometimes.

Posted by: Han at September 12, 2007 04:29 PM

Wise words indeed Han(nah)

Posted by: jemster at September 13, 2007 12:21 PM

"You need big planning, a belief that the creatives are right and for the creatives to be right."

ie, no planning

Posted by: Sir Winston at September 16, 2007 11:28 AM

What an interesting post to come back to.
If you havent got the passion to fight for quality then really, what are you doing in advertising other than getting paid?

Posted by: Rob Mortimer at September 17, 2007 12:48 PM

Someone mentioned clients are sometimes prepared to take a leap of faith.

Its the planners job to turn that into a leap of judgement.

Posted by: Jordan at September 24, 2007 09:25 AM

Excellent post with a great point. I couldn't agree more that planning is about "standing up for the right work". It has to be. To my mind, it means that planners' primary concern must be to understand human motivation and behaviour better than anyone else. Planners ability to articulate their knowledge and understanding internally [convincingly and persuadingly] will ultimately dictate their level of influence in that creative review towards the end where everyone just wants to get the thing out there. Effectively, that internal creative review becomes planning's moment of truth.

Posted by: fredrik sarnblad at October 1, 2007 11:17 AM