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Don't drink the Kool-Aid - planners should keep their feet in the real world

No-one does back-slapping quite like the ad industry. While there's plenty in what we do that ought to be celebrated and the shiny gongs give winning agencies something to put in their reception area, advertising awards actually get in the way of what we are supposed to be doing. They get in the way of good marketing.

The other day I was reading an analysis of what makes great planning. It was probably all true, but it seemed to miss the most important bit. The bit about selling. You'd think we were part of the entertainment industry not just an extension of the sales department.

So why shouldn’t marketing have their own awards? TV and cinema have them and, just like them, we make stuff that's entertaining or amusing - so why not? Well because entertainment is not our primary function and, though its easy to think of them in that way, consumers are not an 'audience'.

Most importantly, even when awards are judged against criteria such as effectiveness, they still create a barrier between ‘them’ (the consumers) and ‘us’ (the industry luvvies) and awards just perpetuate the unhelpful idea of an industry that’s somehow separate from the people it claims to want to reach.

So, far as long as marketers aspire to observe the real world from their shiny corner offices, and, occasionally from the other side of the two-way mirror, we'll never understand what real people are looking for. We'll never experience that empathy with the customer that's so vital in telling their truth. This has always been the case, but in today’s complex and interconnected world, where the gap between brand and buyer is now pretty much permeable, there’s no place for artificial barriers. We say we want to let the customers in, but if we do, I’m sure they won’t want to see us slapping each other on the back.

The Planner’s Role

Given this scenario, the only place for a planner is on the outside. We shouldn’t live in the agency alongside the creatives or account team drinking the same Kool Aid. Once we start looking for the approval of our peers we cease to have an objective role. To my mind, one of the planner’s primary roles is to remind the rest of the industry the customer is watching. I'm not sure there's an award for that.

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