Some time ago, I was going over some work with a planner.
We were due to present a campaign to the client.
We’d agreed the line and the device for the campaign.
I was showing the planner and account man the executions.
The planner said “You’ve done the device as a photograph. I preferred it as a drawing.”
I said “It’s the same device.”
She said “I know, but I think the drawing is somehow nicer.”
I said “Well, in the context of where the advertising has to run, we think the photograph will be more powerful.”
She said “No, I still like the drawing better.”
I said “This execution will stand out more from its environment.”
She said “Sorry, I think the drawing is nicer.”

In her talk on TED, the neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor shows us an actual human brain.
She demonstrates that it has two distinct halves.
We each use both halves in varying degrees in different situations.
Oversimplifying, she explains it in terms of processors.
In the right brain the processors are joined in parallel.
In the left brain they’re joined in series.
So in the right brain they all fire at once.
In the left brain they fire in sequence.
Oversimplifying again, this makes the right brain the centre of instantaneous emotional activity.
And the left brain the centre of incremental rational activity.
So the right brain is all about now.
The left brain is all about the past and future.
Consequently, the right brain will be subjective.
And the left brain objective.
Now of course, we all need both.
But we can’t do both simultaneously.
Which is why Bill Bernbach put copywriters and art directors together.
The copywriter will be more left brain, with a gradual progression towards a logical solution.
The art director will be right brain, with an instant sense of what will work, an ability to empathise emotionally.
My problem is, at the moment there is no distinction between the two.
Especially in the one place where it’s absolutely essential.
When Stephen King invented planning, he envisioned planners as grand-strategists.
They would take responsibility for the long-term view, always thinking several years ahead.
He cautioned against them becoming mere ad-fiddlers.
Getting involved with the details of each and every execution.
Because if they do this, several things happen.
They lose their objectivity, they become subjective.
They switch sides of the brain.
And to us, a single subjective opinion is no more valuable than any other single subjective opinion.
So they give up their custodianship of strategy and the long-term view, by moving away from the rational side of the brain into the emotional side.
We have art directors to make emotional decisions, right brain decisions, that’s their job.
They’re trained for it, planners aren’t.
Of course a planner will have a subjective view, so will a bricklayer, a banker, a soldier, a lollipop lady, and a jockey.
But none of them are trained to be art directors and create advertising that stands out in a crowded environment.
Therefore, their subjective opinion isn’t as important as an art director’s.
Nor is a planner’s.
What we want from a planner is an objective opinion.
We want them to be the custodian of the rational, long-term view.
To keep the overall vision on track.
To own the strategy.
We want them to make sure of the big picture.
And they can’t do the big picture while they’re doing the small picture.
And they can’t do the strategy while they’re doing the execution.
And they can’t do the rational while they’re doing the emotional.
And they can’t do the objective while they’re doing the subjective.

And, as the man who invented planning said, they can’t be grand strategists while they’re being ad-fiddlers.

  • Nelson McConnell

    Interesting. The creative using left brain to overcome the planner’s right brain. Like you were bothing fighting with one arm tied behind your back.

  • Antony Hill

    I’d pay to see that, Nelson.

  • john woods

    Art Directors trained to make emotional decisions? Instinct is distinct.

  • Dave Trott

    And the wrong arm at that, Nelson.

  • Bob Maddams

    Years ago I told my agency colleagues I would give them £10 for each time they heard me use the word “like.”  It’s a dangerous word, leads us into subjective preferences.  We’re not supposed to be mind readers of individuals in meeings, we’re professional mass communicators. So instead of “like” all future discussions became about is the work good or not in terms of answering the brief, and whatever the point of view it had to be backed up by an arument or creative rationale.  And that’s a lot more demanding than just saying you like something or not.

    • Dave Trott

      Brilliant Bob,
      That’s exactly right IMHO.

      • Juliana

        what about planners that are “creative planners”? (i never understood that… it´s so stupid…. ) i was telling someone about a job i was doing at the moment (analysing numbers/figures/market share) and he said: oh, i don´t do that. i am a creative planner. what? i too think that my job is to be a strategist. i don´t do what creatives do. i have been working in ad agencies for 15 years, and i know they have a talent that i don´t – and vice versa. it´s so good to hear YOU say that, dave. i am so tired of planners that hate numbers, and figures and market research… and are pseudo creatives… 

  • Dave Trott

    Hi Juliana,
    I absolutely agree with you, but more than that creativity should mean different things to different departments.
    Check out this planners view of what Stephen King meant:

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