NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE PLANNERS

I was junior at BMP around the time planning was invented.
It started as good idea.
But, like anything else, it depends on the person doing it.

You got good planners and bad planners.
Planners who contributed and planners who held you back.
Two examples of this concerned John Webster.
John told me, just before I’d arrived at BMP they’d done a pitch for the Anti-Smoking account.
They sounded like good ads.
One featured a young woman getting ready to go out.
After she’d put her makeup on, she rubbed nicotine stain on her teeth.
Then she sprayed stale tobacco smell into her mouth.
Then she rubbed cigarette ash into her hair.
Saying “You’d never do this on purpose, but it’s exactly what you are doing if you smoke.”
The planner took the ads out to groups the night before the pitch.
Next day, he didn’t have time to give the agency a debrief first.
So he just went straight into the pitch and did the debrief to the client. He said these were the worst ads he’d ever researched.
They’d gone down really, really badly with the groups.
But that was okay because he now knew what they should do.
After the pitch, John asked the planner if he was mad.
The planner said he believed the client would give BMP the business because they’d demonstrated their integrity.
BMP lost the pitch.
That’s the kind of planner that believes planning is bigger than advertising.
A few years later John was working on a campaign for Unigate.
The brief was to get children drinking milk.
John remembered a wartime campaign he always loved as a little boy. ‘The Squander bugs’.
These were little insect-like characters with swastikas on their backs. They secretly encouraged people to waste stuff: food, electricity, coal, everything.
(Which would be bad for Britain and good for the enemy.)
Anyway, John thought he could have ugly little characters, too.
They’d have bad skin, bad teeth, and hair falling out, because they didn’t drink milk.
Jim Williams was the planner who took the work out to groups.
Jim came back and told John it was the worst campaign he’d ever researched, he’d never seen anything create such a strong feeling of aversion.
John was depressed.
Then Jim said “But the feelings were so strong that, if you could do the exact opposite, you could have a really powerful campaign on your hands.”
John’s ears pricked up.
Jim said “For instance, if you could somehow turn them from horrible creatures that hated milk, into cuddly creatures that loved milk.”
And John’s mind started working.
And by the next morning John was in his office, chuckling and drawing and writing.
And by the next day he had a totally new campaign for Unigate.
He’d invented little furry creatures that stole other people’s Unigate milk.
You never actually saw them just their straws, coming in from off-camera, as they drank it.
They were called ‘Humphreys’ and everyone had to be vigilant.
In fact there was a police campaign at the time “Watch out, there’s a thief about”.
John hijacked it for his Unigate strap line “Watch out, there’s a Humphrey about”.
Sales went through the roof.
The campaign won pretty much every award.
Stories about it were in every newspaper.
But what made John proudest was the letters he received.
Teachers telling him how their entire class was now happily drinking their milk.
Milkmen sending him photographs of how they’d decorated their milk floats.
It was a viral phenomenon before the Internet even existed.

And all because of the difference between a negative planner and a positive planner.

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  • Gordon MacMaillan

    Great post as usual Dave the idea of the ‘The Squander bugs’. A real bygone word as word.

  • Miranda Ross

    I was lucky enough to be hired as a trainee planner by Jim Williams at SJIP. That positive but honest approach was inspirational to planners too, and I’ve always been grateful to him for instilling in me exactly what you talk about – that planning isn’t bigger than advertsing

  • Dave Trott

    That’s great Miranda.
    Jim was always a favourite in the creative department for that reason.

  • Grilla Login

    Getting a Muhammad Ali involved was something special 2, Dave.

  • Dave Trott

    That’s Webster, Grilla.
    When the rest of us would sit back and relax he’d change up a gear.

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  • Rob Mortimer

    I wonder though, whether the first planner given more time would have done the same thing, turned that negative into a positive.

    I agree with the sentiment though.

  • Craig Wood

    A ‘Planner’ that puts so much faith in focus groups really should be in another job.
    Focus groups should be taken with a pinch of salt, they can give you some great insights but when it comes to testing ideas we all know that many of the best ideas fail in research, 95% of human behaviour is driven by the subconscious so asking consumers what they think of ads etc isn’t always the best way to get to good ads.

  • Kevin Gordon

    The problem with focus groups is they are permitted to discuss brands and arrive at a group decision that can ruin a great idea. How many people do you see shopping in groups of twelve? Groups form peer pressure if they have the freedom to do so, but this is a post-purchase decision. If it wasn’t for a few Skinheads in the 60′s nobody would have shaved their heads, worn braces. DM’s, Loafers, Levis and Ben Sherman would have just been another pair of jeans, boots, shoes or shirts. The groups are useful to detect the opinion leaders from opinion followers. Asked individually about products, they would come up with completely different answers because there would be no peer pressure. There was an interesting documentary (think it was C4) recently about the perfume market in Brazil for Lynx. One group bombed because the KOL was a pain. The next group were brilliant because they had no-one pressuring their attitude on the others. They dumped the other group’s findings and went ahead. The new Lynx fragrance is selling its socks off because the client trusted “The Nose” not the research.

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