There is a story of a group of car executives who adventured across the Pacific to see a Japanese assembly line. At the end of the line, the doors were put on the hinges, the same as the visitor’s factory. But something was missing. In the visitor’s assembly line, a line worker would take a rubber mallet and tap the edges of the door to ensure that it fit perfectly. In Japan, that job didn’t seem to exist. Confused, the auto execs asked at what point they make sure the door fits perfectly. The Japanese guide looked at them and smiled, “We make sure it fits when we design it”.

This is a useful analogy to allude to the role of Planning in Advertising, but also the essential need for it to exist. When you work in advertising, things can look quite linear – the marketing manager has objectives or targets, specific requirements that the Board requests from them. The Marketing Manager then asks the Agency for their expertise and support to deliver said requirements. The Agency seeks to deliver those requirements on time, under budget and in a way that looks great. And then onto the next campaign.

The often-overlooked character in this cycle of delivery is the one the Agency and their respective Client are ultimately working for – the consumer. The consumer has fundamental needs and wants which is why businesses, and by extension, advertising agencies, exist in the first place. What is going to make their lives better? What appeals to them? Why are they going to care about what we have to say?

Finding the consumer focus for campaigns requires something we refer to as insight. Insight is the fundamental human emotion that we can tap into with our creative and media strategy. Famous examples of insight in the past include; Marmite’s “Love it or hate it” (the insight here being that by polarising opinion you provoke loathing in some but deep affection in others); Nike’s “Just do it” (the inner joy experienced through physical exercise); and even more recently, the Brexit “Take back control” campaign (our inherent desire for autonomy in our lives).

Although the campaign taglines themselves are likely seared into our unconscious memories, all of these examples are famous as they were developed around insight. Without it, you are on a road to creating something that you can only ever think will work for your audience. In short, get the rubber mallets at the ready…

Finding insights is the core of the Planning role, and it is one that takes patience, commitment and data – lots and lots of data! The sources of this data are varied. Normally it is through meeting with consumers and understanding their perceptions towards brands, but it is equally supported with research into the product or category sector. Not to mention a good understanding and genuine passion of advertising theory.

Planning is nothing new in the industry and is an increasingly business-critical critical area with constant changes in technology and their wider impact on consumer behaviour. Sometimes the role is merged into other Agency positions – account handlers who think strategically, for example (which, incidentally, is how I started out in the game).

At Ardmore, we are now structured to enable Planning to exist as a dedicated role, and one that supports and crosses over with all departments. It is our commitment to ensuring all Client work looks beyond the delivery process and consequently everything we create is linked to a consumer-facing benefit. From our perspective, providing dedicated planning for our all client’s campaigns is part of a longer-term vision that includes new agency roles that have a dedicated focus on website strategy and e-commerce.

In summary, as the Planning Director at Ardmore, I am here to help engineer campaigns around the consumer-facing outcome of what we want to achieve right from the beginning. When it works, we will all feel it – the Client will enjoy spectacular results, the Marketing Manager will have those results to take to the Board, and the Agency will have a campaign that they can be proud of. As for the consumer? Well, maybe we just made their lives a bit better.