The four I's


United London's anti-salt campaign from last year. The four I's in action

I have been giving a bit of thought to a planning approach recently. Something that reflects they way I do it at the moment but nothing too heavy and contrived.

Naturally it involves alliteration and specifically the words ‘interesting’, ‘instinct’, ‘insight’ and ‘idea’..

I guess my professional mantra of late has been summed up in the phrase ‘it is vital to be interesting, it is merely important to be right’.

Strategists spend vast swathes of time desperately trying to be right with the result that the majority of strategic thinking is cliched, lame and dreary. So how about if you tried to be interesting first - to think of the most interesting idea possible for your brand, category or the wider world - and then worked out whether it was right? Or could be made to be right.

My faith in this approach is partly fueled by the belief that there are no longer right strategies anyway, merely ideas that engages people to a greater or lesser extent. ‘Dirt is good’ for Persil/Omo and ‘Turn to 30’ for Ariel are both great brand ideas. As are both Lurpak’s foodie strategy and Anchor’s free range approach

W+K's Lurpak work planned by the genius like Matt Boffey

Anchor from CHI

It is also because you don’t have to go to one of Russell’s conferences to believe that the principle currency of human interaction at the moment is ‘interest’. If that is the case, whether an idea is interesting or not should be the most important measure of how good it is - not the only one but the most important one.

So thats the basic philosophy - find the most interesting thing that you could possibly think about a brand, category or the wider world and then figure out if its right. Simple. It makes what we do both breathtakingly easy and phenomenally difficult - because everything rests on your ability as a strategist to come up with interesting ideas.

I have to say that as the person in charge of strategy at a large agency like Saatchi & Saatchi I also find it the most potent guide in my thinking about the work of other planners. When you are trying to comprehend the quality of thinking on a very large number of brands of which some are more familiar than others, it is incredibly simple to apply the interesting yardstick rather than try and figure out the right answer.

Now, the more I think about it there appears to be a series of stages to developing an idea, by which I mean a brand idea - or the idea behind the brand.

The first is to do with instinct.

Very often if you thing about a project at the beginning of your journey you will have an instinct - something that your gut tells you about the brand or category, or that you have always wanted to do with that brand or in that category. Loads of people think that you can’t possibly start your strategic journey with instinct, well I beg to differ.

For starters you will often understand the brand as a consumer does because you are a consumer. You live in the brandscape and as such your point of view (however representative or not) is entirely legitimate and its a great place to start. In many ways your instincts make the most real insights because they are very personally felt.

More than that, whether you are a strategist that has been doing this for a while or just starting out, you are progressively training your instinct to know a good thing when it sees it (much like the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something that Russell talks about).

The more you exercise your instinct the more reliable it will become for you.

Finally all this instinct stuff doesn’t negate the need to have a look see what the data (whether qualitative or quantitate) says. A spot of data might be exactly what your instinct need to lick start it.

On the Alcohol Harm Reduction project for the COI the planner an I were reading through reams of Client research and both came across the word Vulnerable. Nothing much more than instinct suggested that vulnerability seemed like an interesting place to start - casting binge drinkers as victims of alcohol in clear and present danger not perpetrators of an terrible social evil. It led to work that talked about the way in which drinking substantial quantities of alcohol made people vulnerable to harm.

That said when it came to relaunching the cereal bar Tracker it was pure instinct that suggested the answer lay in the brand name - Tracker simply had to be about the great British outdoors with it drizzle, kagools and yappy type dogs.


So trust your instinct, ask your instinct what it feels and train it to be perceptive and powerful.

Then use that instinct as the place to hunt for insight. In many ways your instincts make starting points for the most real insights because they are very personally felt.

An insight for me is a new way of thinking about the brand, the category, the wider world or indeed the consumer. A way that is both surprising in its originality but also in hindsight true. Insights are by definition new bits of thinking and nothing upsets me more in the world than tired insight.

On Lotus Freshness (an Aloe Vera impregnated toilet tissue from Georgia Pacific) the instinct was about turning it into Molton Brown or Aveda of loo roll. It felt that no one in the market was stepping up to the changed relationship that we have with our bathrooms, not least in the way the products that we buy for them are now on display because they look so good rather than being hidden in a bathroom cupboard.

That is not where we ended up but was without a doubt the starting point for an insight about toilet roll as part of the skincare market and relaunching Lotus freshness as a skincare brand.

The idea is how you crystallise this insight in a way that is powerful for the brand. At Saatchis this is called the Organising Idea, other places have their own versions of big idea, brand idea and brand ideal. And there is loads of stuff elsewhere on the site about what makes a potent Organising Idea.

On Lotus the Organising Idea became ‘Lotus. Skincare for your derriere’

On Tracker the insight that British families needed to get out more and enjoy the Great British outdoors led to the idea of “Tracker. The rucksack snack’.

On our salt reduction campaign for the Food Standards Agency the idea was ‘Is your food full of S**T?’. This was built from the insight that Salt is a hidden killer lurking inside prepared foods in unfeasibly large quantities. And if you really want to follow it back the instinct was about needing to get really tough about Salt. While it is essential for human life the average British male is consuming 11gms of salt a day against a maximum allowable daily amount of 6gms. The creative team spotted in a moment of God like genius that shit and salt are both four letter words beginning in S and ending in T.

Interesting, Instinct, Insight and Idea - not infallible but not a bad way to approach life strategically.


I'm loving seeing the Salt & Tracker work again. Top stuff.

I'd ask a question of instinct though - what happens when it becomes bogged down by data which doesn't really help it, or when clients aren't prepared to listen?

Posted by: Will at March 22, 2008 06:24 PM

I love this. It feels right.

My only 'build' (as they say here in the US) is to wonder if questions still matter?

Or, to put it another way, is there still room for simple human curiosity, and the asking of big questions that nobody else has thought of?

Maybe this is just another way of saying that being interesting, instinctual and insightful may all be fundamentally rooted in wondering about things that no one else has wondered yet.

Posted by: Adrian at March 23, 2008 01:19 PM

Adrian - I think you are absolutely right. So often I find that asking the questions that no one is prepared to ask or answer yields great new thinking. On Lotus and its sister brand Nouvelle we spent quite a bit of time trying to get to the root of why we are disgusted by faeces as a way of coming out somewhere new.

Will - I really believe that good instinct leads to real insight because it is true rather than contrived. I am having a bit of a battle at the moment on a strategy that started with a pure instinct. People keep trying to avoid it and create something else - which I keep allowing. Cos I think the idea will win out in the end. And the client and the agency team will come round to it. It they don't at least I will have a skunk strategy.

Posted by: Richard at March 23, 2008 06:55 PM

Reminds me of the CP+B "don't write me a script, write me the press release" urban-myth

Why would anyone be genuinely interested in the idea that you have developed. If you struggle to answer that, it's a fair bet to say that the idea is probably not that interesting...

Posted by: Amelia at March 24, 2008 11:27 AM

When does the Organising/Brand Idea end and the creative idea begin?

I have a constant intneral debate with people about the difference & relevance of the 2.

In Richard's examples, the brand idea & exeuctions are seemingly one in the same.

Am I living in the past by differentiating the 2. Or are we in an age when the brand idea needs to shimmer its way to the surface of brands?

Posted by: Andiho at March 25, 2008 03:20 AM


Yes I think this is a particularly live debate.
Traditionally there was a strategic idea and a creative idea and in pitches you sold the one and then the other.
I really want to get to a more holistic approach, because the brand idea or organising idea should be somewhere between the two.
With Tracker the 'Rucksack snack' is both the strategy and the brand line. It was framed by the creative team to the strategic territory we had sketched out in the position we created for the brand. In the form of the Rucksack Snack it, as you say "shimmers its way to the surface".
But many orthodox marketing clients and agencies hate this approach and insist that the thing in the middle of the brand key or brand score is not the 'brand idea' but an essence or strategic direction.
Of course none of this is to be confused with the executional idea for advertising or any other communication - these have to be periodic outings from the brand that are allowed to burn brightly and then burn out leaving the brand idea stronger and leaving space for new creative expressions from that brand idea.

Posted by: Richard at March 25, 2008 07:45 AM

like your points on the process of strategy development.
like the carlsberg initiative
on first viewing i think Visa is a little contrived... a man running to marry a hot chick.

Posted by: mm at March 25, 2008 04:11 PM

On an "advice to young planners" angle there was a saying at HHCL that "if you are feeling uncomfortable then that's good".

If it takes 10,000 hours to hone my intuition then are there any other tips or do I just wait for the magic to happen?

My advice would be "don't be afraid of the dark side (Luke)" i.e. wilfully explore the "bad" bits of a client/brand/situation. Often these are the most Interesting (to come back to your other "I") if not the most obviously "right" answer.

Preparing to face into the teeth of the uncomfortable wind that is the truth usually gets results.

A small example from today:

One of my PR colleagues wanted a quick slogan/title for a charity celeb-picnic hosted by Fortnum and Mason for the benefit of our boys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

So what's the link between posh food and limbless squaddies then?

Now a rather mischievous take on Fortnums and Mason is it sells all the stuff from the people that the British Empire conquered over the centuries. And indeed it's hampers contain the very best of the Empire's Plunder for the delectation and delight of the ruling classes whether home or on Imperial duty abroad.

(Aside : I was never allowed to pitch this thought to the client but i once found a very Interesting idea for F&M :"English virtues, English vices")

So while it might not be a good idea to mention the Empire right at the moment, intuitively contemplating the "dark side" of the brand did bounce me on to a possible link via the hampers.

Hence the working title "Hampers for Heroes : a Homecoming Celebration for our Veterans created by Fortnum and Mason"

While I'm rambling (or promoting my clients brands; hey I work in PR!) there is a wonderful "dark thought" that the reason Pilsner Urquell is so wonderful a beer is that it is "Commie Beer". Or more precisely while the Germans and Dutch were internationalising and corrupting their lagers as part of the post-war capitalist thing the Czech beers were locked behind the Iron Curtain. Protected by plucky Czech brew masters the beer has emerged blinking onto the international stage in pure pristine state, un-corrupted by Big Business. My intution tells me (actually it was Rupert Price at Ogilvy who first spotted it) that this may not be the right positioning for Pilsner Urquell but it is certainly an Interesting one.

Perhaps a certain mischievousness is a thing young planners should cultivate.

Anyhow, got to carry on building the Death Star (as we think of PR relative to you advertising Jedi's)

Posted by: jon leach at March 26, 2008 01:47 PM

This comment was emailed to me by Amaral Ramiro in Sao Paulo.

I really like the four I’s concept. And for me, INSTINCT is the one where big, differentiated and interesting ideas start being born. When we face a job at the first sight, our instincts tend, kind of automatically, to take us to different territories. The ones that our subconsciousness already knows wouldn’t repeat formulas and ideas we are used to seeing everyday.

Besides, we train our planning senses hard everyday and all day long and this lets our instincts rule in the first approach for any project. For instance, how many times we don’t have the feeling of being misdirected of an interesting insight when we enclose our instincts to pay more attention on the rational, data driven analysis? (At least, it happens to me sometimes).

Although the use of instincts doesn’t negate the need to see and use data, I think even when data confirms if you are right or not, we should trust more on our INTUITION. It plays another big role in the planning process, in my opinion. Because, at the end, I strongly believe that it is our intuition that will make us strive making the courageous questions and finding the genuine insight.

This happened now with us here in McCann Brazil in a project for a new client’s product launch. We really trusted in letting our instincts and intuition go through the whole process. The final result was a very interesting idea. Unfortunately, the client rejected this interesting strategic idea (which required some b***s to be approved), asking us to come up with something that could be right (and boring). But we won’t quit. This is a worthwhile fighting.

Posted by: Richard at May 7, 2008 07:23 AM