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

Clarity Amongst The Confusion: A[P]SOTW Assignment.
September 21, 2012, 6:15 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web

So after waaaaaaaaay too long, we finally have a new A[P]SOTW assignment.

Huge apologies for the delay, this has nothing to do with Gareth and Northern and everything to do with my slackness.

As I mentioned a while back, this assignment is about simplification.

Now, while that might sound easy, there’s a few things to remember:

+ Simplification is not the same as simple.

+ It takes a lot of hard work to simplify something while maintaining the ideas heart & energy.

+ Simplification is not an excuse to be bland, boring or generic.

So what is the actual challenge?

Well it’s something that many of us are exposed to, the RFP – short for Request For Proposal.

An RFP is a document many companies send out to agencies as part of their pitch process and are normally an absolute bloody nightmare.

The reason for this is because they’re often 70+ page documents that go into the minutest of details without ever saying anything at all.

In essence, they’ve been designed to appear informative while actually encouraging more questions than answers.

The good news is the RFP you will be using for this assignment is not 70+ pages long, mainly because I couldn’t be arsed to type up that many pages.

The bad news is it’s as contradictory and confusing as it’s longer-form versions.

So what do we want you to do?

Well, having read the RFP, we want you to:


1. Give a clear articulation of what you believe is the core objective of the RFP.

[Yes we know the RFP is full of contradictions, dead ends and goals – we’ve done it on purpose because sadly, that’s what so many of them are like which is why you have to decide what you believe is the real objective and – to a certain degree – explain why]

2. Create a strategy that achieves the objective you have identified.

[That means we need to see a definition of the audience, the insight/s driving your strategy, a clear articulation of what your strategy is and 3 examples of how it could be ‘brought to life’, outside of traditional advertising]

3. Write down the 5 key questions you wish you could ask the client.

4. Present your findings via a 10-25 page presentation OR an 10 minutes video pitch.


That’s it.

Easy eh!?


Well, to stop you freaking out [or – if you’re one of those super-confident types – help you look even more brilliant], we’ve created this assignment in partnership with those wonderful and knowledgable folk at Warc.

Warc – for those who don’t know – is a company that provides independent and authoritative global information on marketing, trends and new thinking. They’ve been around since 1985 so have shitloads of award winning, global case studies – all with in-depth analysis – so you can make decisions with greater confidence than crossing your fingers or using some random ‘factual’ charts you found on Pinterest.

Yes, I know this all sounds like some massive product placement – but it’s not – they just want to help the industry be better and perform better which is why they asked for absolutely nothing in return. The fools!

Anyway, to help with this particular assignment, Warc have kindly provided some free links to a bunch of their inspirational case studies so that you can understand and consider some of the market dynamics to enable you to forge a more informed, culturally provocative point of view.

What you use – if anything – is up to you, but it’s there to help.

However, before we get to all that, here are some things to note.

+ While in the real World, clients would answer specific questions you may have with the brief, we will not.

The purpose of this assignment is to simplify the RFP to what you believe is the key issue that needs to be addressed – and then justify your decision via your strategic response.

+ Make sure you answer the fundamentals of the RFP.

If you want to do more – or go further – that’s fine, but make sure you’ve answered the 4 key elements.

+ You should approach this as a competitive pitch, which means paying attention to how you say things as well as what you say.

+ Remember strategy is, at it’s heart, simply about getting from point A to point B.

With that in mind, any recommendation should be clearly defined and articulated. If it doesn’t make sense or is hard to understand, then you’re probably going to fail, regardless how brilliant you think your idea is.

When IBM took the unprecedented decision to sell off their hugely profitable PC business – a decision that had unbelievable implications for the business both in the present and the future – they articulated their strategy as simply ‘moving from computers to consulting’.

Obviously there was a ridiculous lot more to it than just coming up with a pithy line, but in terms of comprehension of the overall strategy … it was clear, concise and actionable.

In short, if a massive technology company can do it, then you should definitely be able to do the same.

+ You will be judged by seasoned veterans so make sure your response is interesting, exciting and challenging.

This isn’t just about coming up with something effective, it’s about being seen as the partner who can help them grow and go to places few could see, let alone deliver on.

So who are these judges?

Well there’s a few.

There’s me.

There’s Northern and Gareth.

There’s Rodi, one of my wonderful colleagues.

There’s David, International Editor at Warc.

There’s Raj, regional head of strategy at MEC.

There’s Steve, a very, very senior executive at Virgin Atlantic.

There’s Simon, a very important and experienced marketer at NIKE.

And finally, one more Steve – who is one of the senior designers at Apple.

The closing date is October 28th, so there’s plenty of time to get on with things and as usual, the submission voted ‘the best’ by the judges will receive a prize.

Should you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me and I hope that people beyond just strategy have a go. There are no wrong answers, just different ways to approach everything – and while the ultimate decision will be made by people who have lots of experience in developing great ideas for great brands – that doesn’t mean they have the monopoly on everything that works.

Most of all, just have fun – as much as RFP’s can be unbelievably painful – if you rule them rather than they rule you, great things can happen.

Good luck and here’s the mad RFP and – as mentioned previously – some links, kindly supplied by Warc, that might help you be even more brilliant.

Warc Case Study Knowledge & Inspiration

1. Paper on how Uniqlo used digital marketing to build a global brand.

2. Focus on Puma’s after-hours athlete campaign.

3. Best practice paper on brand extensions.

4. Admap column challenging received wisdom about WOM/influencers.

45 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great assignment Rob and that RFP is eerily accurate to the real thing.

Good luck to everyone.

Comment by Pete

Tough challenge Robert. Very good.
I agree with Pete, that RFP is remarkably realistic for all the wrong reasons.
Good luck to everyone. You’re going to be assessed by some of the industries finest so it is a great opportunity for some very valuable feedback.

Comment by George

too fucking right its like a real rfp, it makes no fucking sense and has about 20 different fucking objectives. good job you said you meant it to be like that or id be calling the men in the straight fucking jackets to come and wheel you away.

h&m? fucking h&m? id of preferred fucking birkenstocks, at least those bastards have some shoe credentials. and i use the words shoe and credentials very fucking likely.

good judges. wouldve been better with me, but good. im almost interested to see what people come up with because i know what id do and i certainly know what youd fucking so it will be good to compare and see if any fucker has learnt anything about doing good shit.

good fucking luck to all. with that bastard rfp youll need it.

Comment by andy@cynic

Yes Andy, I’m sure you do – but there are no right or wrong answers, just different degrees of right … so please keep schtum and let everyone else work out what their approach to all this would be.

Comment by Rob

and warc owe you a fucking fortune for that corporate toady plug. or they would if this blog was popular and any bastard of value read it. excluding me.

Comment by andy@cynic

I might just have a go at it. Seems like a pretty tough challenge.

Comment by Paul

I hope you do Paul.

Comment by Rob

I sincerely hope we never have put out an RFP like that Robert. Simplifying that mess will be worthy of more than just a prize from this competition. A very challenging brief but one that will reveal character as much as smarts. Good luck.

Comment by Lee Hill

No you didn’t Lee. That’s all I can say because anything else might wrongly influence people who want to have a go. Ha.

Comment by Rob


Comment by northern

I take it you’ve just come back from your racing car jolly – hence the late night comment? How was it? Not that I’m jealous … oh no.

Comment by Rob

I had just arrived as it happened, beer in the hotel at 2am messing around with emais etc.
Now on a train nearing home after, apart from cars, totty and stuff, the best ever italian food from Lamborghini’s caterers. Totally spoiled. It’s about time

Comment by northern

One horrendous gaffe of course.

Comment by northern

I’m proud. And jealous. Probably more jealous.

For the record, this is what my last 8 hours were:

My wife dreamt she was a transformer. (Don’t ask)

My Xbox just showed me the red rings of death after just buying 5 new games last week.

My cat has gone certifiably insane.

Hello Saturday.

Comment by Rob

Did you crash the car?

You would be my hero if you did that. Again.

Comment by Rob


Comment by northern

Just for the record, the RFP has been purposefully made to be contradictory, confusing and challenging.

This is not because I’m a bastard, but because [1] this is sadly how many RFP’s are and [2] to test your ability to identify what you believe is the core strategic goal [from all the points in the paper] and express it as one clear, concise and actionable strategy that can deliver on the objective you have distilled everything down to be.

There is no right or wrong answer – or approach – but there are definitely, from a strategic, creative and business perspective, some things we would be looking out for.

Naturally we’re not going to tell you what they are because the point of the A[P]SOTW is to give practical lessons about real life adland scenarios – regardless how good, bad or ugly they are – and this is one of those situations you will face [if you haven’t already] many, many times.

Have fun and good luck.

Comment by Rob

When you said ‘challenging’ I bet no one thought ‘bring back basketball shoes with H&M as backdrop’

Comment by Andrea

No more challenging than Ferrari whoring their brand to everything from USB’s to Segways [] or Mont Blanc deciding to go into aftershave [].

So it’s not challenging, it’s [sadly] realistic. Ha.

Comment by Rob

this is going to be fun..

Comment by Jacob

Hi Rob! Hope you’re well. Thanks for the assignment.
Quick question: how can we access the case studies on Warc’s site? Should we request a free trial? Or is the clue is the crazy grid you posted? The links take me to a page that requires log-in details. Many thanks in advance!

Comment by Clara

Hi Rob- Warc is choosy about who it lets register. Can’t blame them. But not helpful. Any suggestions?

Comment by Sid

Hi Clara – these links should be free and will be very shortly. Meantime, you can find free links on Warc’s blog, where we’ve also posted the challenge:

Comment by James (from Warc)

Thanks James for that – I’ve updated the links so now they’ll work for everyone without needing any password type thingymajig

Comment by Rob

Brilliant. Thank you so much James and Rob. Have a nice weekend.

Comment by Clara


Comment by toto

But this is huge ! “Campbell you are fuckin’genius. You fucking did it, afuckingain”.

Comment by toto

This is the first RFP that made me laugh on purpose, or so I hope.

Comment by Thomas

you havent seen enough of the real bastards then.

Comment by andy@cynic

They do this on purpose, too?

Comment by Thomas

What’s scary Thomas is this is a slightly (& I mean ever-so slightly) revised RFP that was sent out to agencies by a real client. Not a client I – or any agencies I have ever worked at – have been asked to pitch for, but a real client all the same.

And no, it’s not H&M, I picked them at random and altered a few elements of the brief to basically protect the guilty party from being recognised, even though they should be named and shamed for this sort of proposal.

Now the bigger issue is, what are you going to do with it to move forward.

Comment by Rob

Oh I hate RFP’s, and tenders.
Good assignment though.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

[…] Stumbling quite randomly on a tweet from @Robertc1970 I came across the “A[P]SOTW Assignment” which peaked my interest in so much that its a challenge to look at the whole picture of online and offline consumer interaction. The intro to the assignment is found below and the full spec can be found at Rob Campbells site.  […]

Pingback by A Personal Challenge: Ad Planning School Assignment | KevRichard

[…] really really pleased Rob has come up with a new Account Planning School of the Web assignment. It’s on H&M and to say it’s interesting and also dastardly would be an […]

Pingback by The new APSotW from Rob « wanky planner blog


Can a submission only be sent in by one person? I.e. Can I have a partner?


Comment by Lisa Hart

Hi Lisa – judging by your comment, it would appear you’re going to do the assignment. That’s great to hear.

You can approach it however you like. As I’ve written many times, I’m a big believer in planning partners – or collaboration in general – so go for it and I look forward to seeing your submission in a month or so.

Have fun.

Comment by Rob

[…] air all around us. It’s time to hear back to school. If only for a month with the team at Advertising [Planning] School On The Web. Rob Campbell is the main guy behind the […]

Pingback by Advertising [Planning] School On The Web « eat:Strategy

Hi Rob,

What is the client we are sending the RFP to?

Comment by Laura

Hi there.

Do you mean which client is the RFP from? If you do, it’s H&M. If its who do you send your entry to, you can email it to me.

Let me know if that answers your question.

Comment by Rob

yes thanks

Comment by Laura

Hey Rob,

Getting into this a bit late…

Do i have to register to enter? Also what is the email address i’m to submitt the presentation to once it’s done?


Comment by Adam

Hi Adam … great to hear you’re going to have a go.

You don’t have to register, but when you’ve done either send me the presentation or the link to the video pitch you’ve made.

My email for this is rob at cynical-world dot com.

Comment by Rob

Hi Rob,

I just have a quick question: by when do we need to send you our pitches?

The post says:
“The closing date is October 28th, so there’s plenty of time to get on with things and as usual, the submission voted ‘the best’ by the judges will receive a prize.”

…And the RFP says:
“Submission date: 25th October 2012 11:59pm Shanghai time”

…Or is this one of the contradictory and confusing things that we just have to try and figure out?


Comment by Ella Majava (@ellamajava)

it means campbells attention to detail is as good as his dress sense.

Comment by andy@cynic

May I just say what a comfort to find someone that really understands what they are talking about online. You certainly know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More and more people really need to look at this and understand this side of the story. I was surprised you aren’t more popular since you definitely possess the gift.

Comment by v bucks generator

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