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

If Picasso Had A Problem With Computers, He’d Certainly Have A Problem With Planners …
September 6, 2012, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

What are planners today?

What are we supposed to be?

It appears – at least to me – that we’ve somehow positioned ourselves [at least to ourselves] as ‘the brains’ of our industry, relegating everyone else as bit part players in the creation of whatever genius we have envisioned is right to make.

That is scary for a number of reasons.

1. Being called a planner doesn’t automatically mean you’re the only person who has a valid opinion just like being called a creative doesn’t automatically mean you’re the only individual who can have a good creative idea.

2. Adland is at its best when it collaborates, rather than dictates.

3. Being desperate to be seen as intelligent, is the surest means of showing you’re not.

Of course there are plenty of other reasons, but all that aside, one that really bothers me is, like Picasso’s view on computers, we seem to have become a discipline that only operates in the trade of ‘giving answers’ rather than ‘asking questions’.

Yes … yes … I know many people will argue with that, claiming they ask copious amounts of questions to give them insights into how people think, feel, fear, love, want and do … but they’re not the sort of questions I am talking about.

What I’m talking about are questions that no one has the definitive answer to.

Questions that inherently have a massive challenge attached to them.

Questions that – if an answer was found – could maybe change the way people think, feel, fear, love, want and do … forever.

I appreciate this all sounds the sort of advertising ‘big idea’ wank that has made us the pariah of business for the last 20 years [mainly because what we often come up with are big ‘advertising’ ideas, not big ideas] but these are the sorts of questions great business people ask themselves each and every day … questions that are about affecting the future rather than reflecting the now.

Of course, whether a client would be willing to pay for such an approach is open to debate when [1] it has no assurance of success and [2] it would probably take a long time, if ever, to actually happen [3] most are only in their job for 2 years so only care about results they can take credit for … but I still naively believe that if you have the right client and you frame what you’re proposing as a business opportunity rather than an advertising exercise, then you might stand more chance of making it happen.

Please don’t think I am suggesting we suddenly stop caring about finding out what is going on in people’s minds and lives and become become masters of the philosophical question, far from it, in fact my view is you can’t ask a decent philosophical question if you don’t know what’s going on in people’s minds and lives … all I am saying is that if we only think our job is providing answers that reflect what’s happening today, we are undermining our potential [not to mention our colleagues & clients] to possibly influence and change what happens in the future.

Of course, the key is to actually do something with these questions being asked, as opposed to sitting there and talking about them – which is something planners love to do – and that’s why we should, ironically, look at the the people of the past for our inspiration, not just the ‘rockstars’ of the present.


UPDATE: If you’ve read this and thought it made even less sense than usual, maybe it’s worth reading this, which also doubles as my apology for wasting your time.

30 Comments so far
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what the fuck are you going on about campbell?

Comment by andy@cynic

That is a very good point, which I explain [read: apologise for] here:

Comment by Rob

youre slagging off planners so it cant be all fucking bad.

Comment by andy@cynic

and arent you the bastard that says being a futurist must be a fucking great job because you can say whatever the fuck you want and no one can tell you youre wrong till the time in the fucking future has passed?

Comment by andy@cynic

How many times have we heard him say that.

Comment by DH

It takes crystal balls to be a futurist!

Comment by Ian Gee

and doesnt this post fucking contradict yesterdays wank about not rushing ahead for the fucking next big thing? planning hypocrite.

Comment by andy@cynic

I understand why you would say that, but to George’s comment – I’m not talking about chasing after the new, new thing … I’m simply saying we should not be providing answers to where people are today, but asking questions that can help your brands or audience get to somewhere better in the [near future] … something that is relevant to their requirements [emotional and commercial] not just pie-in-the-sky concepts that might take 30 years to come to fruition and even then, might achieve nothing other than possibly demonstrate their intelligence to their peers.

Comment by Rob

but i agree with paragraphs 1, 2, 3 and whatever the last fuck is. which for you is a fucking triumph.

Comment by andy@cynic

It might make sense if you gave an example of one of these amazing questions Rob. Probably won’t, but it can’t make this post any worse.

Comment by DH

Good points Dave …

As I mention in another comment, I thought I had actually done that so I was surprised when I saw there weren’t any there.

That said, I am buggered so I can’t remember any of the examples I had, so off the top of my head …

Why can’t a sports brand be about emotional empowerment rather than selling sports equipment?

If talking about things, helps make things better … what if a clothing company helped society have conversations about social taboos?

What if you could help small business make money without needing to use a bank?

Yes … bad examples and yes, two of those examples are more ‘ad ideas’ than fundamental business ideas – but the interesting thing is that I’m pretty sure the people who came up with them [and the questions behind them] weren’t planners, which is an issue in itself.

God, this is a bad post isn’t it.

Comment by Rob

you fucking know it.

Comment by andy@cynic

I’d like to think that the excellent Aldi ads in the UK were started with the question: “Why can’t talking about price and product be made fun?”

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I think the final 2 paragraphs explain your point the best.

To drive change you cannot just mirror what is happening today. I agree with that but I also understand Andy’s point about it sounding contradictory to yesterday’s post.

I’m pretty sure I know the difference (pushing people/brands forward is different to latching on to whatever is being spoken about as the latest trend/leap ahead) but it might be worth clarifying Rob.

The Picasso quote reminds me of that Lucille Ball quote you once wrote about that stuck in my head.

“Guessing a woman’s age might be smart, but not bright”.

I know it’s a different point being made but both ultimately state that always providing answers might block what could happen before it ever has a chance to happen, which is surely the point of your post?

Comment by Pete

Are you saying you agree or disagree with what Rob is saying.

Comment by DH

fuck that, do you even understand what the fuck he is saying?

Comment by andy@cynic

Yes, that Lucille Ball quote is good – different point, yet strangely appropriate for what I was trying to say.

Emphasis on ‘trying’.

And yes, you say it better – maybe you should write all my posts?

Comment by Rob

How would this improve the reputation of planners?

Comment by John

dont fucking ask that doddsy, let them fucking walk off the cliff all by themfuckingselves.

Comment by andy@cynic

It depends on the question and how that question is embraced and executed. If done correctly, it would help planners – and advertising – be seen as a liberation business rather than simply a reflection of corporate ego communication business. But only if done correctly.

Comment by Rob

I agree with you Robert. Planners who view their role as only providing answers do impact how far ideas can be pushed, developed and explored. Where I disagree is that planners are failing to do this.
In my experience, many are asking questions, the problem is they are asking the wrong questions. It should not be about posing questions for the sake of invention, it should be about providing questions that are linked to an issue that you can help liberate from its current confines or context.
Asking questions to appear intelligent to peers is the flaw in too many planners. Our job is commercial, not philosophical.

Comment by George

Great point George – it’s similar to companies not having a block on coming up with good ideas, it’s more about having a block on how to execute those good ideas.

Thanks for making some sense out of my rambling mess.

Comment by Rob

Brilliant point George.

Comment by Bazza

Yeah … yeah … George is great, I’m a tool.

Story of my life.

Comment by Rob

As many of you know, I write the posts on this blog in advance. Often early in the morning or late at night – and, in an act that goes against the very premise of planning, I fail to check them once written.

I offer that explanation because having read this post, I realise that what I wanted it to say and what it says are completely and utterly different … hence I actually agree with all the “what the fuck are you talking about” comments.

That said, Pete comment touches on what I was hoping I was saying – but it’s a bit sad when a blog needs commentators to explain what the writer was endeavoring to communicate.

And yes Dave, a bunch of examples would help explain … and I actually thought I had given them, so it was as much as a surprise to me as it was to you.

So all in all, this blog post might be one of my lesser posts – which by my standards, is very low indeed.

Comment by Rob

at least you admit when youre a fuckwit. its why i put up with you though you might as well change the name of this blog to “sorry, i havent got a fucking clue”.

Comment by andy@cynic

You don’t check your posts!

Comment by John

Surely that shouldn’t surprise you!

Comment by Rob

This blog constantly surprises me. Well, I think that’s the word I’m looking for.

Comment by John

I understand what Picasso was saying about computers and what you are saying. People want interaction and communication, not straight answers. The banter is part of the creative process and how new ideas and concepts are developed.

Comment by Jordan

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