Planning "in the wild" is just Planning

It’s really sad to see Ogilvy making a fuss about sending planners out to connect with the real world.

It’s even sadder that Ogilvy quote a “recent survey among planners”[1] that states “primary research informs less than 2% of creative briefs.”

I mean, what do planners do nowadays? Given that Kevin Chesters’ article[2]says 94% of briefs are informed by the internet and secondary data, clearly nothing that is particularly distinctive or special.

It’s bollocks.

When planning was a new, vibrant and exciting discipline, it was all about understanding consumers, bringing them into the advertising development process, and giving them a voice. For the BMP Stanley Pollitt model, this was the raison d’etre for planning and planners. I had always been led to believe that in its heyday BMP was the single biggest user of qualitative research in the country.

It was the unique blend of research and advertising skills that gave planning a seat at the table. An American planning friend of mine once said, that when not representing the consumer in the advertising development process, the planner was just an extra opinion in the meeting and had no reason to be there.

I was trained in some brilliant research companies, and most of my best work in advertising came from finding a genuine insight when ‘out on the road’ talking to real people then driving it, hard, into the creative development process without letting go of it. Old school.

This way of working gave me a unique authority in the creative development process. And it seems to me that the decline in planning and its unique contribution has waned as planners are less inclined or less able to go get real consumer insight by themselves.

For us at Sword & Stone, we believe our ability to research well is a huge contributor in finding new insights and new creative paths whether it is for strategic or creative development projects. We treat it as a core skill we are all trained in and it is fundamental to our work.

 So well done to Kevin and to Ogilvy. It’s a step. But, it still seems a long way from the 14 groups and individual ethnographies I did in around the turn of the century for Y&R, in conjunction with their media department. “The tooth fairy only comes on a Monday night” (because the unemployment cheque only comes on a Monday) is one of the many poignant moments from that work that has stayed with, and influenced me, ever since.  The power of that moment wouldn’t come from a trends report.

Why doesn’t every top 20 agency send their planners out every month and the agencies pool what they have found in some awesome syndicated research effort? Perhaps the APG or IPA could co-ordinate.

Why doesn’t every top 20 agency start to train their planners better in how to find insight, do good qualitative research, and know what to do with it when they’ve found it?

Why doesn’t the APG promote planners conducting primary research as part of its agenda? Perhaps work with the AQPR on it.

Why don’t ad agencies hire researchers who understand ads, brands and the creative process, like they used to?

There is a lot that could be done. But it seems that the very skill upon which our discipline was built is being neglected. In the meantime, we know clients are getting smart, improving their capability around insight and creativity: we’ve done training programmes for them. And one has to ask, what is the future for agency planner if they are playing catch up to their clients?

We get excited by good primary qualitative research. So much so we have published a booklet all about it: why do it, how to do it, what to ask. Request a copy here.

[1] No sourcing in the article, naughty Ogilvy!

[2] “Planning in the wild: How Ogilvy planners are getting out to connect with real people” Kevin Chesters, Jan 2017