We talked to AJF Partnership head of strategy Jacqueline Witts on asking the crucial questions of ‘why’ and ‘who’, ahead of her session at IPA Campaign Planning Melbourne.

TCC: Why is defining a problem key? Who is it essential for? How do you do it?

JW: Defining the problem accurately is about 90% of the task done – but it’s difficult to do. Agencies are usually at the end of a long chain of problem articulation; from the business problem to the marketing objective to a communications objective. Rarely are we briefed on the business problem. But Peter Field and Les Binet identified in ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ that the most effective campaigns are those where the entire team working on the campaign are focused on what precise problem the communication is meant to solve.

The simplest way to migrate your way back to the business problem is to ask “why?”. Just like a child learning about the world, ask ‘why’ often and repeatedly. There’s an old advertising maxim that leads you to this secret about our business: ‘interrogate the product until it gives up its secrets’. Asking ‘why?’ is simple, yet so few of us do it properly.

TCC: How much of an issue is identifying an audience? How hard is it to get right?

JW: So, now we’re on to the ‘who?’, one of the key defining questions to ask. The most difficult briefs are the ones where you’re asked to target everyone. The communication has to be for someone, then asking them to do something. It’s certainly true that brands often desire mass appeal (that’s how they get to be big, successful brands) but when it comes to specific campaigns, we need a sharper focus.

TCC: Can you define ‘unearthing truths’? How can agencies leverage this for brands? Can you give an example of a truth that has been the centre of a successful campaign?

JW: One of my personal favourites is Snickers “You’re not you when you’re hungry”. For decades, the brand had claimed that “Snickers really satisfies” – a product-led benefit statement. By flipping the strategy to focus on the audience, they are no longer pushing chocolate bars, but empathising with all those people who have ever felt hangry (what a great word – describes the emotion exactly). The brand now has a clear role in your life and I am far more engaged with what they’re trying to sell me because the campaign is relatable and entertaining. We love to laugh at ourselves!