J. Walter Thompson head of planning Simon McCrudden discusses how planners must combine their knowledge of campaign planning fundamentals with new information and channels to deliver fresh and unexpected strategies.

TCC: What are the fundamental building blocks of a campaign planning process?

SM: If we assume that ‘campaigns’ are still the correct thing for a brand to do in the modern age – and arguably that is an assumption that can be challenged – then the basic building blocks still apply as they always have:

  • Deep consumer knowledge and insight
  • Brand knowledge and understanding
  • Understanding about the marketplace and how the brand can be distinctive
  • A broader understanding of underlying cultural trends and behaviours that can embed the campaign as something more than just a brand ‘message’

All four of these building blocks provide rich opportunities for a brand campaign to achieve results above and beyond expectation.

The additional role for a planner is to ensure the interesting and lateral strategic solutions that are necessary for a successful campaign, are also able to be understood and bought by a client who may face questions from internal and conservative stakeholders. In many ways, this is also one of the fundamental building blocks – ensuring that the belief and commitment to a strategic direction is felt by all client stakeholders.

TCC: How have these changed in the past five years? What will never change?

SM: Two key areas have changed in the last five years – what serve as inputs to the fundamental building blocks, and what is required of the planner as outputs in terms of strategy. 

With regards to inputs, our ability to have a greater level of data and insight across all areas is better than ever before, but the challenge here is being able to see the woods for the trees. The danger with the rise of data is that it lessens the need for the planner to leave his or her desk and observe the world at large.

In terms of outputs, planners need to develop more nuanced plans and strategies for the campaign to work across the entire consumer journey. The campaigns we develop need to be more coherent than consistent.

TCC: Have technology, data and digital changed these fundamentals?

SM: They have enabled planners to gain richer insights into how campaigns can be more effective. But with the caveat that an over-reliance on data and technology, rather than liberating strategy and creative, can actually impede it, leading to more generic insights and work. The challenge for planners is how to navigate the new information and channels at our disposal to continue to deliver fresh and unexpected strategies.

TCC: Can you give a real life example of fundamentals brought to life within a campaign?

SM: The Lamb work for MLA with Sam Kekovich is a great example of how the four building blocks were used to create a long lasting platform that was able to flex and change over years to remain relevant.

Also the Nocturnal Migration campaign for Tooheys Extra Dry is a great stand alone example that combined deep consumer insight from ethnographic research, married to brand and masterbrand needs.