My first encounter with a planner

My first encounter with a planner was at BMP in the seventies. I’d just come back from New York, and they didn’t have planners there. Over there the creatives had to do the thinking for themselves.

So I’d never met a planner before. The first one I met (like every single planner I’ve ever met since) had a university degree.
He also had a beard. And glasses, roll neck jumper, corduroy trousers, and Earth Shoes (the seventies version of Birkenstocks).

In fact the whole university, intellectual look at that time. Anyway, we were working on Pepsi. The target market was 13 year old kids, and they were trying to find out more about them. So I sat behind a two-way mirror and watched this guy run the group.

They were a scruffy little bunch of 13 year olds from Poplar. The planner pointed to a large board with the names of lots of TV shows on it.

He said to the kids, “Now, do you watch any of these shows on television?”

One little kid said, “Yeah, we watch all them. Except Star Trek, UFO, and Thunderbirds. We don’t watch them.” All the other little kids agreed.

The planner stopped and said, “Would you repeat that?” The little kid said, “Yeah, we watch all them, except Star Trek, UFO, and Thunderbirds. We don’t watch them.”

The planner looked towards the mirror, which he knew we were behind, and raised an eyebrow. He turned back to the group of kids.

He said, “So, does this mean that speculation about some vague technological future has no place in your everyday lives?”

The little kid said, “No, they ain’t on no more.

  • James Mitchell

    Yes, I think it’s safe to say that all planners are stupid based upon this single encounter :)

  • John W.

    If you don’t see the monster it can’t eat you…can it?

  • Dave Trott

    What’s interesting James is that you did exactly the same as the planner in the story: made it mean something it wasn’t supposed to.

  • Gelos Grapos

    Now how many marketers can we all name who follow exactly the same path. No wonder new products/launches have a 90% failure rate.

  • John Gallen

    Ah yes, we’ve all sat through the so called research academic, or planner, at the top of the meeting room blabbling on in research geekery and self-aggrandising ‘knowledge’ of the question at hand. This knowledge may be boiled down to his or her over emphasis on quantiative statistics, the push for more ridiculous emotive style qualitative research and the heavy reliance on new web algorithims or other such nonsense really is upsetting.

    Some people “get it” while others no matter how many letters after their name or how much research they conduct just never will. Insight, empathy and eventual understanding along with the odd hoo-ha moment are gifts, not something to be pulled from a statistical software package or gleaned from a lengthy qualitative questionnaire. Advertising is losing it’s gut instinct to an over reliance of research. It has possibly already lost it.

    Some research of course is necessary. It’s the over reliance that’s sad.

  • John Gallen

    Apologies for the spelling errors

  • Tod Norman

    Superb. Reminds of the first body language course I took. The instructor looked at me and said ‘I can see that this gentleman rejects my theories because his legs are crossed.’ I replied (truthfully) ‘No mam, I just drank too much coffee this morning’.

    And James, relax – Dave doesn’t think planners are stupid, or evil, or useless: just that some planners, well, take themsleves a bit too seriously. We’re not sociologists, we’re not social psychologists ( except mayber Peter Cooper) and at times we are too interested in illustrating how clever we are rather than giving creatives crisp, clear, and inspiring briefs.

  • Kevin Gordon

    Hi Dave,

    Hmm. The first one I met got so carried away I thought he was auditioning for
    The Producers. My writer was gobsmacked. After the meeting he asked me if the planner had seen a copy of the brief. I just laughed. It was so entertaining. The writer had had difficulty getting any line approved for 6 months. His mind had crept up all the corridors, and he knew he was nearly there, then this meeting just blew all his thinking away like suddenly realising you’re in a tunnel and the light hurtling towards you is an express train twenty feet away.

    What did John Webster make of planners?

  • Dave Trott

    Webster really liked planners.
    He would use them to help him get inside the mind of the consumer.

  • Nes Sahinkaya

    I think this shows good planners know to ask the right questions, every time. Therefore their research is never something boring or conventional or something that just anyone could do. They can tackle an issue head on, backwards, sideways, on their toes and heads. And in my experience of interning next to some amazing planners, I found this out first hand. Amazing indeed, and more importantly insightful and interesting :)

  • http:// Kevin Gordon


    The combination of entertaining believable human characters and valuable consumer insights has probably been responsible for taking us where we are now. Since those days, we’ve seen product placement become TV reality shows, become a sponsored, or even a theme sponsored series.

    However, the great comedy characters seem to have been lost.

    How do you think it will all end up?
    Are we on the verge of a new golden age of TV comedy scripts?
    A brand new library of BBC Gold repeats?

    As much as I (and I’m sure many of us) adore Morecambe and Wise, Spike Milligan, Monty Python etc, even these great classics become socially irrelevant through time, yet when I look at some of the new TV comedy shows that have come out in the last few years, few break much new ground, many are not clever or even funny. As an old jamaican lady friend of mine used to say:

    ‘All skin teeth is no laugh”.

    I wonder what planners think of it all too?

    Comedy must have a great influence on their thinking now as in hard times, much of the comedy material tends to reflect or appease the mood of the nation. I mentioned to a friend the other day the ‘Overdose of food programmes” transmitted. From an outsider (a foreigner) it looks almost as if the nation is ‘bingeing out’ on food. From an insider ( indigenous citizen) he told me: “Of course! Food is the only commodity left to the majority of us that is affordable…and even that’s getting expensive now’. (and that comment was from someone who is actively working).

  • http://SULLY Jonathan Sully

    As an ex agency planner and kids marketeer I can relate to the reaction.

    Fundamentally, researching kids is an art-form rather than science. Put simply, you are often creating toys / media / product for kids that aren’t born yet and two strategies can be successfully employed:

    1. Recycle – great ideas remain great for the next generation and if you can hit the right point on the product life-cycle you are in the gravy. Yo-yo’s are my favourite.

    2. Create something – but run the risk of getting it wrong e.g. the toys and animation that none of us remember.

    But my point from experience is that children are the most challenging strategic or planning subject for the simple reason that they don’t see “grey” – an idea is either good or bad / black or white in their minds and at best they will tell you, at worst ignore you!

  • Tod Norman


    I think there are still a large number of stand up comedians who use observational humour extremely well, and serve as an inspriation for, I suspect, both planners and creatives. I have suggested to young planners that their apporach : look at something from the normal prespective, and then rotate it, reverse it, turn it inside out – is the best ‘first step’ in develoiping an insight. And fotunately, there seem to be more and more stand up shows on satellite TV, so personally, I an more inspired now than ever before.

    But they only have to show the absurdity of our attitudes or behaviours. We have to convert those observations into something that inspires a change in attitude or behaviour that benefits our clients.

    That’s the crossover bit between planning and creative that can be incredibly fun, or incredibly fraught, depending on egos.

    As a disgruntled creative said years ago, ‘ Both planners and creatives drink from the well of inspiration: but planners piss in it first.”

  • Damian O’Malley

    Wasn’t this Mike Greenlees’ story?

  • Dave Trott

    Was it Mike, Damien, or Tim Mellors?

  • Tod Norman

    I believe it is now attriubuted to that famous author ‘anon’, meaning anyone can claim it and, if its appreciated, hundreds will.

    Still not as effective as your ‘noughts and crosses’ description of how advertising works, Dave.

  • Dave Trott

    Hi Tod,
    When did you hear about noughts and crosses?
    I don’t think I’ve done that fo ages.

  • Kevin Gordon

    Hi Tod,

    Is that because you have to draw the grid before you play the game?

  • Neil Fox, TDA

    Interesting comments and topic. Thanks Dave et al. I wonder whether it’s noughts and crosses or the old three chord rule. Funny how creativity with the barest of essentials (was it only 7 original ideas? I can never remember?) makes the same sequence sound so different. Now who was it? Lennon or McCartney?

  • kevin ferry

    Yes indeed confirms my theory on planners; they’re are ones who are amazing and have an uncanny knack of uncovering insights that creatives would take an age to arrive at, if at all, and they’re others who are bloody crap, degrees in everything apart from as the kid from EC1would say; ‘the bleeding obvious, init’

  • Kevin Gordon

    Johnathan, Tod,

    What does a planner’s mind make of shows like Big Brother?

    Adults behaving like children with a 1984 parent?

  • Charles Frith

    Mark Piper never had a degree. He was ferociously clever and nobody at HHCL fucked with him or ever took his seat despite having hot desking.

    Best to the brave was his motto and he had balls of steel.

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