Things used to be pretty straightforward. You had a product you wanted to sell, some folks to sell it to, and some well-defined media through which to tell people about it. A planner knew what they had to do — some customer research, a focus group or two, sometimes a bit of market sizing, a little competitive analysis, some product and Brand interrogation, a little massaging, et voila – a “single minded proposition” — the core message that you wanted to get across to the customer about the product.
Write this up as part of a short “creative brief” to hand off to the “creative team” and you were more or less done. Good clients would work with a forward-thinking media agency, where a media planner would do a similar job for ad placement. Really good clients would want the creative and the media folks to get along nicely and have a chat about what they were up to.
Great clients would want you to do some follow-up research to see how successfully the ads resonated with the audience. Pioneered by Stanley Pollit and Stephen J. King in late 1960’s London, account planning took the advertising world by storm and set the marketing communications creative process more or less in stone.
Losing the Plot
Alas, the Internet was invented and rained all over the advertising industry’s parade. Media is fragmented and fluid, communications are interactive and extended over time, and, when it comes to watching advertising, audiences now have the power to fast forward through ads on the TV, or completely block them from their browser.
“Word of mouth” has been amplified to unprecedented levels, allowing anyone to become a vociferous participant in an on-going, voluble world-wide conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of various products and services. And, of course, digital lets folks buy old things in new ways, new things in new ways, and both old and new customized just the way you want it.
The usual ad agency response to such changes is to insist that they are “media-neutral” and “idea-focused”. Of course, they say, we know that digital has an impact, we’re not living in the past! — and look! – this tag line can be put in a banner! This response is just not cutting the digital mustard anymore. Not least, because under the notion of “media-neutral” lurks the old ad paradigm of “campaign” — a message pushed in fixed media over a discrete period to people who are supposed to passively lap it up and be grateful.
In a recent Financial Times article, Alan Rutherford, Global Media Director at Unilever, noted that in the ad industry at present “there is a struggle to have traditional media and digital and content and PR all brought under one roof at the agency side.” In particular, “there is a disconnect between creative thinking and communications channel management.” His solution was to create an internal team to devise integrated campaigns, most of whom are focused on digital. Jim Stengel, Global Marketing officer at P&G, has called for the account and media planning to be merged together into one role.