I'm often asked to recommend books about advertising and planning to people who are starting out in the business. I have shelves of business books at home, and an increasing number on my trusty Kindle. But I always seem to come back to the same few. And, alarmingly, I realised that these same few are exactly those that I was recommending when I still worked in an agency, fourteen years ago.
Top of the list is How to Plan Advertising which was produced by the APG. I have the second edition, published in 1997, which I guard with my life as my name's in it! So my first place to look to see if I'd missed any new releases was the APG UK Chapter.
I like the website itself - there are some great resources on there and I was amused to see one or two familiar faces who are now big shots in the world of planning. There was also a book section so I hopped over to have a look.
Maybe I was being dense, but How to Plan Advertising wasn't even there. What was there were more familiar faces of the literary variety - books on advertising, marketing and planning from the last the century and the early years of this one - the exact same books that grace my own bookshelves:
Ogilvy on Advertising Truth, lies and Advertising (Jon Steel) Eating the Big Fish (Adam Morgan)
The works of the pioneers of planning, Stephen King and Stanley Pollitt.
Most of John Grant's books.
There were one or two new books specifically on Planning - Brain Surfing by Heather Lefevre, for example but nothing resembling a 'How to?' guide.
Is it the case that what used to be published as books now simply gets lost somewhere in the ether as blog posts, or LinkedIn Articles With Lots Of Capital Letters And Numbers? Or is it easier to get a book published if it's cleverly expressed opinion, point of view, observation rather than educational and manual-like?
A little disappointed that the new Planner's bible wasn't forthcoming, I've opted to read The Anatomy of Humbugby Paul Feldwick. It's a history of thinking on how advertising works.
In the meantime, I'll continue to recommend those books from the last century.
The number of 'Ps' in marketing seems to expand each year from the original 4 that I learned - Product, Price, Place, Promotion. Place, rather like Price, never got that much discussion in advertising-related meetings, as I think that there are a lot of unwritten assumptions about 'Place' as far as brands go.
A retail brand will assume that the stores are The Place, household products will orientate themselves to The Home. But think about how both stores and homes are changing in relation to physical place. I'm not convinced that a brand necessarily has a fixed place in space.
I was interested to see a promotion from Burger King in New Zealand, 'Backyard Burger King.' The idea is that Burger King will be giving away 50 Backyard Burger King kits like the one pictured above, so that you can enjoy the flame-grilled taste in your own backyard with your mates.
And that's the clever thing. It's stressing what sets Burger King apart - not that it's a takeaway, or fast food, or a hamburger chain, but that it is a flame-grilled burger that you can enjoy anywhere.
Other examples include the Blockhouse chain of steakhouses here in Germany, who sell their products - dressings, dips, burgers, steak pepper - through the grocery trade, so you can enjoy Blockhouse food (if not the whole experience) at home. Or Pret a Manger who publish their sandwich recipes on their packaging. There is a generosity about this approach, rather than a misguided possessiveness about 'not giving any secrets away.' In fact, this all makes so much sense if you think about it, as takeaways (rather than eat-ins) lose the control of the brand the moment the customer leaves the restaurant. If they want to eat their Whopper cold two days later with added pomegranate, that has always been their prerogative.
In these days of online and offline merging, and not being two distinct states or modes of operation, it makes sense to reduce the rigidity of a brand's definition of 'Place.'
In what new or unexpected context could your brand be made available to emphasise its uniqueness?
I love looking at my collection of business books from yesteryear, especially those that have the word 'future' in the title. One such is The Future of Brands, edited by Rita Clifton and Esther Maughan, which was published in 2000 to celebrate Interbrand's 25th anniversary. It's a book that was maybe ahead of its time, as it was a collaborative, co-operative effort. Rather than the Interbrand staff pontificating about their view, the editors questioned 25 different people on their 'vision of brands in 25 years' time.'
The 25 people represented some major brands of the time, including Starbucks, BMW, P&G, Samsung, The Body Shop and Reebok. In addition, other personalities a little further away from marketing and branding were included, such as Spike Lee, Paul Smith and one Sepp Blatter.
How well has it held up? This book was conceived and written in the last century, pre 9-11, pre Web 2.0 and in the days when the Interbrand Brand Value Table was topped by Coca Cola, Microsoft, IBM, GE and Ford. Google and amazon were nowhere to be seen and Facebook hadn't been invented.
The answer is, unsurprisingly well. The brands people felt would remain classics and be successful in the future - meaning in 2025 - included Coca Cola, Disney, Ben & Jerry's, BMW, CNN and Adidas. OK, there was rather a lot of mention of Gillette, Yahoo! and Kodak, too - with maybe the strangest anomaly for a 21st century reader being the 15-year-old surfer raving about the brand Kodak - but by and large, over halfway to the future, those predictions are holding up.
What was maybe more difficult was to predict which successful brands of the late 20th century would not fare so well. The obvious answer of Marlboro has been proved right, but it was interesting to see several commentators wondering how McDonalds, Microsoft or Aldi/Lidl might fare. Looking at McDonalds' latest business results, it looks as if they certainly aren't going to go out without a fight. And those German discounters are definitely going from strength to strength.
Ten observations on Brand Futures are listed at the end of the book:
A brand with no clear vision has no clear future Values-led marketing will create stronger brand relationships Brand relationships are created for people, by people The next journey for many companies is inside It will be increasingly important to understand what makes a brand valuable Stakeholder brands for a stakeholder society Individual brands for an individual society Simplicity, simplicity If you don't plan the future you want, you get the one that shows up Brands have the power to change people's lives - and to change the world
Have these passed the test of time?
When writing a strategy, or a plan, particularly one of those that's meant to motivate and gee up a whole department of people, it's very easy to over-estimate the significance of now.This isn't surprising, perhaps, as one of the first questions you ask when developing a strategy is: Where are we now?
The inevitable consequence is that we determine 'now' to be of the utmost importance and load this arbitrary point in time with meaning. I've done it more than enough times - and here's another example, in the Manifest for Change from the new APG chair, Dom Boyd, entitled Future. Now.
I'm not against the sort of claims that 'there's never been a more exciting time to be in this industry' as a way to motivate people, but I am a little cynical about whether such statements are universally applicable.
Every generation likes to think they are part of a 'golden age.'
Another tendency that I'll own up to, which over-emphasises the here and now is the 'from - to' way of summarising what's going on in the environment. I'm very fond of the kind of transformations:
From online and offline to always on/off
From touch points to never-ending customer journey
From USP to brand purpose
From one-way messaging to engaging conversations
And this is all OK. It's a way of looking at the world and explaining what is going on. But 'going on' is the key point here. The world is in constant change.'To' is not really an endpoint. Things will continue evolving.
I wonder if over-use of the word 'journey' is to blame. I like to remind myself that 'the map is not the territory'. Using the 'journey' metaphor or the 'from - to' construction is merely taking a snapshot on the way to a future that we can't predict, however clever we are at trend-spotting.
And maybe that's what makes our job as planners exciting, whatever age we live in.
I've often wondered about reframing my - ahem - age in this young people's business as being 'vintage' or even 'retro', both of which seem all the rage these days. Vintage Planning does have quite a ring to it.
But I've decided that I'm quite happy to be a Planning Dinosaur if that's what people want to call me. A few years ago - not quite the Jurassic Age - I blogged about this very topic - The dinosaur fights back, quoting John Hegarty's comments on Big Data.
I've found another excellent blog post on the matter, this time from Richard Huntington, In Praise of Dinosaur Planning where another creative dinosaur, Dave Trott, is quoted: 'Put a dinosaur in a field of sheep, the dinosaur f***ing wins.' Being a dinosaur is no more than believing in the fundamentals of account planning, not getting carried away by the latest fad, or metric, or technological possibility.
It's about effectiveness - doing the right thing for the brand.
And it's about inspiring and nurturing great creative work that connects with people.
Maybe what we should strive to be is an adaptable dinosaur.
When I was little, I wanted to be a spy. I got off to a good start, studying Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge but somehow got side-tracked into the wonderful world of advertising and marketing.
My children's books: