Years ago my mum was worried about putting on weight.
She asked my wife what she ought to do.
Cathy said “Well for a start, what do you have for breakfast Mum?”
Mum said “Well the usual: bacon, eggs, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, and fried bread.”
Cathy said “You should try having two Weetabix for breakfast. Just have them in a bowl with some skimmed milk and a tiny little bit of sugar. That’ll help you lose weight.”
Mum said she’d give it a go.

Next time Cathy saw Mum she asked her how the diet was going.
Mum said it wasn’t working at all.
In fact she’d put on several pounds.
Cathy said she couldn’t understand it.
She asked Mum to tell her in detail exactly how she was eating her Weetabix.
Mum said “Well I have the bacon, the eggs, mushrooms, fried tomatoes and fried bread as usual.
Afterwards, I have the two Weetabix just the way you told me: in a bowl with some skimmed milk and a tiny bit of sugar.
But I haven’t lost any weight at all.”
See, Cathy had forgotten to tell Mum to have the Weetabix instead of her usual breakfast.
For Cathy that was obvious.
She didn’t even need to say it.
But for Mum it wasn’t obvious at all, because Mum didn’t know anything about Weetabix as a diet aid.
In the days when Mum grew up there was no such thing as dieting to lose weight.
All everyone had to worry about was going hungry.
Getting enough to eat was the problem.
Eating too much and being overweight was a modern phenomenon for Mum.
So she didn’t know how dieting worked.
But Cathy was from a different generation.
She grew up when everyone had enough to eat.
And in fact overeating was causing a lot of people to be obese.
For Cathy it was obvious, if you wanted to lose weight you ate less.
So obviously you ate Weetabix instead of the fry-up.
Cathy and Mum were each interpreting the facts out of their reality.
Which is all any of us can do.
If we’re in the mass communication business we can’t do that.
We can’t be subjective.
We can’t approach the communication job out of our own reality.
Everyone speaks of John Webster as the one creative who really knew how to use planning.
And it’s true.
He did advertising that was intelligent and consistently won every award there was.
But advertising that was simultaneously loved by the consumers and was always effective.
And all of John’s advertising went through several rounds of research.
He insisted on it.
So what was different about John’s relationship with planning?
Well, John didn’t expect planning to do his thinking for him.
He didn’t expect planners to present him with a proscriptive strategy which he’d then execute.
What John used planning for was an intimate knowledge of the market.
Of who he was talking to.
What they thought, what they watched, what they read, what they talked about, where they shopped, what they ate, what made them laugh.
John Steele talks about the night when John Webster put his carefully written brief aside and said “Forget that. Just talk to me. Tell me about the people we’re talking to.”
And the two sat and talked for an hour or so.
And out of that chat came another great campaign that won every award, sold masses of product, and the public loved.
Work that was light years ahead of anything being achieved in the traditional planner/creative relationship elsewhere.
See, John didn’t use planning to tell him if his ads were any good.
John used planning to get inside the consumer.

Then, unlike everyone else in our business, John did his advertising from inside the consumer.

  • john woods

    It literally is better to have one’s eye’s bigger than one’s belly.
    Could this be the old adage about eating an elephant? Literally in your mum’s situation it was about one bite at a time. The paradigm shift of a complete change in diet could possibly come later. Loss aversion is a powerful influence on people’s behaviour, so, in the first instance, a gradual change is perhaps all that can be hoped for.  Cut out the fried bread. Make it egg not eggs (after all it’s ‘Go to work on an Egg’ not eggs). Put the breakfast in context with all other meals. The reduction in size of meal at the tail end of the day is key. Slightly smaller plates is a good trick to play. As you say you need to put the consumers thinking in context. Create an opportunity for the consumer to make the final decision. Perhaps eventually the key question would be ‘Why are we eating an elephant?’ and then you not only having a willing trialist but the chance of conversion would be greater.

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