Here’s a little piece I scribbled together for the Urban Lifestyle Report. Actually, it was a while back but now that I have this blog I might as well post it here too. In part because I think the ramblings that follow still hold true and in part because – hell, it’s a quick fix as good as any for my guilty conscience about not having posted here as much as I had planned to (yup, I’m a planner without a plan, shame on me).
The Seven Digital Sins of Planning
One planner’s personal take on a brave new world.
If you’re a planner and not confused these days, you must be poorly informed. That pretty much sums up the current state of planning and I think there are basically three reasons for it.
One is the fact that planning has spread its wings and taken off from its British bosom, landing in faraway places with a different ad industry heritage and culture. Although I’ve heard lately that they’re getting just as confused back in the nest as elsewhere. But that’s another story.
Another is that as planners we sometimes have a habit of confusing, or at least ”complexifying”, things. We love throwing ideas around, theorizing, asking why, digging deeper, talking, writing and discussing topics such as, for instance, the future of planning. Just look at the abundance of planner blogs. But that, too, is the subject for another article.
Then there’s the third reason and of course that reason is the internet. It is generally assumed that the net has turned everything on its head and made all things traditional obsolete. That it’s a paradigm shift, that the “old model” is broken and that digital represents the dawning of a new era in human history. And, naturally, that ought to have huge implications for planning. Right?
Or let me put it this way: the other day a fellow planner told me that one of our foremost duties as planners is to cut the crap. And there’s a lot of crap flying around in most discussions about the internet. So here we go, a very personal list of seven not quite deadly but still rather poisonous sins that any planner doing digital should keep in mind – and preach to their surroundings.
Sin 1: To treat the net as a channel
Just like there are still people who believe the world is 6,000 years old there are still people who believe that the internet is just another media channel. It’s not. It’s a world in itself. Or a city. Or whatever other metaphor you think does the job. The point is that it has most of the same properties as the “real” world: you work, play, socialize, shop, get your kicks. Since you’re reading this report you might think all this is common knowledge by now, but it’s not.
Sin 2: To see Nike+ as the rule and not the exception
From the above follows that in terms of advertising on the net, it consists of little more than the equivalents of TV spots, print, direct mail and other traditional media. This becomes painfully obvious when you consider the fact that campaign sites, banner ads and search make up the overwhelming majority of all internet advertising. In other words, the net has become just as traditional as “traditional” media. And despite all the hype truly new thinking is as rare online as it is offline.
Sin 3: To think that people want to talk about brands
So why is it that Nike+ is about the only genuinely new idea that comes to mind when thinking about the internet and advertising? Because it’s brilliant? Of course. Because it captures the social power of the net? You bet. But it could also be because it’s really not advertising. It’s product development and – even more interesting from a net point of view – a conversations starter. Too many companies are too concerned with figuring out how they can tap into existing net conversations instead of realizing that the only viable way is to create something new worth talking about (and it’s not the brand per se).
Sin 4: To assume that consumers want to be active
On the one hand the most repeated mantra in favor of the internet as a marketing environment is that it enables interaction between the brand and its audience. On the other, the 90-9-1 rule states that 90% of the people using the net just consume content, 9% sporadically add content of their own and 1% do it on a regular basis. In short, most netizens are pretty passive, which holds even more true for marketing on the net. The basic human urge to sit back and be entertained or informed without lifting a finger hasn’t suddenly gone out the window. Emotional engagement, well, that’s another story. Then again, great advertising has always engaged people emotionally.
Sin 5: To overestimate the importance of planning
If you take a look at what actually does get sent around and discussed on the net by people who are not in the communications business themselves you quickly come to two conclusions: that it’s seldom sophisticated flash sites and often good old film spots, and that what activates people is still strong ideas. Sometimes there’s a solid, insightful strategic idea lurking in the background, other times the strategy is so simple your mom could have drawn it up. So as a planner, don’t let all the talk about the complexity of the net trick you into thinking strategy work for the net has to be complex. Cases in point: Dove Evolution, Sony Balls, Cadbury Gorilla, Skoda Cake.
Sin 6: To think that the fundamentals of planning have changed
Which brings me to my next point. Planning has always been about four things: intelligence, insight, ideas and inspiration. Intelligence in terms of information as well as the sense to turn information into knowledge (“intelligent use of intelligence data”, as someone put it). Insight into brands, markets and, above all, what makes people tick. Ideas that are worth listening to. And inspiration for the creative team. The internet has made a lot of this work easier but it hasn’t changed the basic premise for it.
Sin 7: To view the world in terms of new and old instead of good and bad
Finally and most importantly, do refrain from falling for all that rubbish about ”new media” and ”old media”, ”new models” and ”old models” or ”new” and ”old” anything. The relevant scale for any human endeavour isn’t ”new or old” but ”good or bad”. Beethoven still rocks. Hitchcock still scares. And Apple’s 1984 is still a great ad that would do the job just as well in the internet era. Period.
To sum up, the ”brave new world” of the internet is neither a dystopia nor a utopia. To any good planner, at the end of the day, it’s just business as usual.
(Dan Landin is a planner at ad agency Åkestam Holst and he’s not as grumpy as he sounds. In fact, he thinks the internet is the greatest thing since chocolate ice cream.)