The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

The Fatal Flaw Of Planning: Judgement Contamination!
March 30, 2007, 9:09 am
Filed under: Comment

Regardless of the research … the product … the client … the category … the consumer … the past, future or present information … planning has one inherent flaw – it is always influenced by the personal views and experiences of the planner involved.

This is not to highlight the fact we always have a minimum of 2 planners [preferably with dramatically different viewpoints to the same issue] working on each piece of business – though that is something I am proud of – nor is it to say that planning should be done by robots … it’s simply to highlight that if you’re a planner who believes in the ‘Management Consultant / Intellectual Superiority’ approach to brand development [where exposure to ‘real consumers / cultures / life’ is nothing more than an odd focus group and research paper] then you need to realise you are disproportionately responsible for some of the awful communication being inflicted on the masses and as such, should take greater responsibility when the campaign and it’s goals, crash, burn and die. Thank You.

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Campbell for President?

Comment by George

Hey man, enjoying your blog…

Well, planning is a subjective opinion, and there is never 100% certainty for being right. All one can do is make sure the opinion is sufficiently informed, and to run it across the opinions of other people in the team (not necessarily to water it down), but to get an indication, whether you might be right.

Comment by Michael

He’d get my vote George.

Rob, as you and a couple of your boys are now officially a virus linked to core of the WPP Death Star, you should use this power as a plaform to get your views heard to a wider audience.

Your passion, experience and opinions are inspiring even to an old planning head like me and more people need to hear it, especially WPP.

I think it was Fred who called you the Bob Geldof of advertising, and though you are not Irish or have any hair, you are one of the few I know who have the anger and energy to make people stand up and take notice.

The force is with you, make it count. 🙂

Comment by Pete

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Well said rob. I’m in the midst of writing something in praise of subjectivity because at the end of the day we, and brands,are subjective. We have points of view and bias (or should have) about what we do. Even research, by its design, is subjective. Planning is, at the end of the day, about informed subjectivity. So let’s accept the responsibility.

Comment by gareth

George and Pete – could you please stop trying to get into my pants, I’m engaged remember! Ha.

Seriously, I appreciate your ‘faith’ and we’ll see if we can continue to use the JV to change the Death Star from the inside-out, but I don’t know if we have enough of ‘the force’ to do it properly, ha!

Hello Michael, nice to ‘meet you’.

You are of course very right about planning [and communication in general] as there is so much to do with subjectiveness throughout the process.

Infact what I tend to say is there is very rarely a ‘wrong’ way to do things, it’s more a matter of there being lots of ‘right ways’ to do things – so the real skill is finding which is the most effective one to answer the clients needs – whilst also ensuring a positive long lasting impression of the brand on the consumer. [To help build real brand loyalty/affinity as Pete said in his post …[]

If there was a perfect ‘system’, we’d have a whole less advertising in the World – and whilst that would be nice, the fact is there isn’t a perfect system because people’s needs / wants / fears / love continually change because factors both in their control and out are constantly changing … hence I am a firm believer that to answer a clients business need powerfully, it all starts with understanding the real issues in people’s lives [not just the category or some flawed research from campaigns gone past]

Comment by Rob

Hi Gareth … how are you doing mate?

Yep, subjectivity is in everything, which is why I want more planners to get breadth and depth of opinions – including cultural and life issues, not just category – rather than just relying on research or clients ‘blinkered’ views because this way they can formulate a much more informed opinion on what is going to motivate the masses.

I passionately believe planning is a people and creative dicipline and it saddens me so many planners seem to have little or no relationship with either of those areas.

Infact it more than saddens me, it amazes me – almost as much as the planners who don’t take ANY responsibility for what they are getting their colleagues to create in a bid to solve their clients business problems.

We’re in this together and maybe the issue with agency intergration starts with the attitude of the planner rather than the process the agency believes in. Just a thought.

Comment by Rob

I know I normally take the piss out of planners but that’s only because most of the planners I worked with previously took the piss out of creative with where they thought their responsibility started and ended.
As much as I will deny writing this later, what you and the planning team do is fantastic, not just for the creative industry, but for the people we’re creating ideas for. The fact you see your responsibilty including selling the idea to the client and the results it achieves is fantastic and is why probably have such great clients who let us do things differently for them.
I’ve just written a mature response. Fuck.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Congratulations Billy – I am most impressed you have finally written something on this blog that isn’t trying to encourage sex, violence or just annoyance, ha.

I will also remind you of what you have just written next time you complain one of the guys are trying to stop your genius shining – despite the fact you’ve not even read the task in hand, ha

Comment by Rob

I knew this would come back to haunt me.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Yes it will … as will my boot in your face if you don’t go to sleep, you’ve got a big flight tomorrow and I/we need you all in tip-top form.

Comment by Rob

Debitel (sell mobile phone contracts) have started a campaign here in Germany under the motto “Jeden mit Jeden” (anyone with anyone). It seems to fit in here quite neatly (I’ll take some photos later and post them somewhere).

It’s a poster campaign and, like the Toyota campaign, it’s everywhere (this seems to be the new trend in Germany – probably pushed by Media on Crack). The poster features the famous picture of Brezhnev kissing Honecker and the claim (which comes from the swinger scene) “Jeden mit Jeden” is white on a red flag. You should know the picture from the Berlin Wall.

Anyway, looking at it I was initially quite impressed. German advertising doesn’t tend to risk upsetting people and this campaign is actually quite demanding because it’s loaded with recent German history and Eastern European Communist imagery. My subjective view was initially quite positive because I was of the opinion that anybody in Germany over the age of 12 would be able to pick it apart and see what they were trying to do. I thought it was intelligent, full of insight quite well executed and brave – for Germany.

Bollocks is it.

I was sat in the underground next to a dad (40- 45 years old) his eldest son (around 12) and what appeared to be his friends. We pulled into a station and they looked at the poster. This is what they said:

Son: “Dad who ARE those two men”
Dad: “Not sure”
Friend 1: “I think it’s Schroder and Stoiber”
Son: “But they’re not gay are they”
Friend 2: “It’s phones for gays”
Dad: “Gay men use phones too, you know”

For years that image was THE image of the Warsaw pakt. I know that they teach this stuff at school (my eldest of 11 is doing it right now) it was the image of a country divided and given even more weight when it was painted ON the Berlin Wall.

I can see the agency looking at this and, subjectively knowing that this campaign is right. It fit’s into their personal polemic/politic and I can see their breasts swell with pride when they hang it on the wall. But they had forgotten one, very important thing. That to pull off this kind of thing it still needs to be relevant, still needs to mean something to people. Hell, it would help if the average guy on the street knew what the fuck you were going on about. Satirical insight from the 1970’s doesn’t cut it in 2007.

Comment by Marcus Brown

What a wonderful example Marcus – though to be fair, those people may be somewhat on the ‘thicko’ side whereas the masses ‘get it’.

It could be worse I guess … imagine if Debitel were doing a mobile phone campaign for homosexuals and those people looked at the ad and had the following conversation …

Son: “Dad who ARE those two men?”
Dad: “Not sure?”
Friend 1: “I think they’re homosexuals”
Son: “But homosexuals are always pretty”
Friend 2: “It’s phones for hetrosexual men”
Dad: “Hetrosexual men use phones too, you know”

Comment by Rob


As for changing the eath Star: (see bottom of post)

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Love it …

Abit like Fred’s wonderful post –

Comment by Rob

I’ve just tested this. I’ve asked a 20 year old to tell me who the two men are and what the signficance of what they’re doing.

I think you can guess what he said.

Comment by Marcus Brown

Cannon and Ball?

Comment by Rob

Oh God … what have I done?

Before we get inundated with sad comedian double-acts, can I ask to keep on the subject matter [or at least try] as this is – for once 🙂 – quite an important matter for me.


Comment by Rob

No he thought that it was Schroder and Ardenauer. This is upsetting me.

Comment by Marcus Brown

As we know, focus groups tend to create lowest common denomenator answers. Which is probably why most ads are also LCD.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I’m disappointed by the lack of interest in people’s own history. Here’s a thought. Where will the communications industry end up, if people start loosing interest in things that for me are still VERY important.

Comment by Marcus Brown

You’re so right Marcus … I have always wanted to make cynic abit of a political ad agency – fighting to get humanity to a happier place. Infact, you might – just might – here something about this in the not too distant future.

And Rob – yeah the focus group in unbelievably flawed [in fact quite often, the views are even more subjective than most other areas of comms] but clients need/want/like them as it help them justifies their communication choices to their bosses and shareholders.

I absolutely appreciate that companies need to check the idea they’re going to invest millions and millions of dollars in is going to work – but to only base decisions on a few ‘artificial situations’ is madness – hence my ‘push’ for people to look beyond the category and into life and culture … truly appreciate the ‘pulse of the consumer mindset’.

There’s never going to be a perfect way – and this is not against traditional research methods – it’s about looking deeper and broader to get the best answer rather than a few areas which ultimately are open to subjectivity and quite often are influenced by a clients pre-determined choice of idea.

Comment by Rob

And I cannot argue with that one bit.
That IS the answer, companies what focus groups to justify their big spend; but they should be informed that actually there are much better ways to judge their spending.

Good question Marcus…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Marcus – i love your example and it made me think about how much i love the freedom of being an artist when it comes to communicating.

When i’m trying to communicate an idea, i’d like as many people as possible to get it, but I know that some people just won’t and luckily for my art, that can actually be quite a lot of people because i’m only trying to communicate an idea, not an idea attached to a financial transaction.

When i had my last big show, i got a couple of great LCD responses: a) the artist must be a feminist because red is the colour of feminism (hmmm.. not so sure about that) and
b) the work was about menstruating because it was red and peeling off the walls.

a bit basic, a little frustrating and more off-target than i would have liked, but the work focused on red and was about entropy (the inherent destruction/degradation in a closed system) so while they were off the mark, it wasn’t so bad that i needed to go and slit my wrists – they still connected with the ideas of the work at the level they were able to.

people will read into things what they will. and for me, the key is to remain as authentic to a broad idea, as opposed to a final response, as much as possible, so that even when people have a LCD kind of relationship to the work, it’s still plausible.

so, while debitel aren’t a gay phone company, “jeden mit jeden” still works as an idea of unity. it may not be exactly what they planned, but it’s not that far off the ball and who knows, that kid might grow up to fall in love with men and go with debitel ‘cos when he was 12 he believed that they were accepting of ‘jeden mit jeden’.

isn’t that connection the actual idea of the campaign, rather than the specifics of political history? [as frustrating as it is to realise you live in a country of political and historical ignoramuses – or is that ignorami..] or am i being to idealistic here?

Comment by lauren

I think you are right Lauren.
Sometimes you have to accept that people won’t understand what you do; just look how many couples pick songs for their weddings that ‘sound’ like love songs but are actually about break ups or worse!

E.g.: The Police – Every Breath You Take; Bon Jovi – Always etc.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

ha ha.. and i thought i had a musical reference for everything!
ooh… that reminds me..

Comment by lauren

I don’t Marcus was just slagging off the fact people didn’t get the message of the German Comms Company campaign [but it did annoy him] it was more the fact a significant moment in German history had been forgotten by a few of the citizens – especially the Father who would have definitely been around to see it when it happened.

It’s like someone not realising the significance of the poppy in November and thinking it was ‘abit early to start advertising valentines day’.

Of course people will interpret things differently – that’s the nature of being human – but advertising is not art and as such, should encourage of ‘commonality’ of a viewpoint rather than be ambigious to the point where the ‘benefit’ of the communication is not appreciated by the masses.

God that’s a serious answer AND IT’S A SUNDAY!

Better go back to bed I think …

Comment by Rob

im jetlagged and surrounded by frogs, not one of them hot. does life get any worse than this?

Comment by andy@cynic

It will if you don’t present well on Tuesday!

Comment by Rob

Andy, there is nothing worse than France.

Comment by Marcus Brown

yes there is marcus, turkey.

Comment by andy@cynic

you sure?

Comment by Marcus Brown

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