Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Favorite Insights

Lucy Farey-Jones at Venables once asked me about my favorite insight.  I had no answer at the time but I've continued to think about that question.  My hesitation relates to how I see the role of account planning.  A good ad agency, as Earl Cox, from The Martin Agency, once observed, is like a rugby scrum, a team pushing and pulling together in single direction.

Throughout a rugby match, different players pulse together to build their team's scrum, with a scrum-half advising players of which opponent to tackle, where the ball is, where he wants it, which way to go, which arm to bite, etc. A winning scrum is a team event.  Similarly, a winning ad agency is a team event.  Great ads are created from insights, which more often than not, are built from a team of individuals all pushing and pulling and building off each other.

However, more often than not, the starting insight is just that, a starting point.  The creative brief (where the insights are gathered and presented) is an organic document, that grows and changes through the briefing, as the creative team starts noodling with the insights, and as the team gets together to look at work-in-progress.

I conduct creative brief training and I usually ask colleagues to send me their favorite briefs and the resulting ads.  Planners usually respond by saying that they have ads and briefs, but that the brief was never updated to include the organic changes.  So the brief and the ads don't match up.

And therein lies my hesitation.  My favorite insights are slippery things that can't be captured in a short pithy statement but requires a story of the entire organic team process.

Here's one of my favorite examples:

Back in 1995, I was at Arnold in Boston when we had the opportunity to pitch the VW business.  We were clearly the underdogs.  The research we conducted during the pitch included talking to VW lovers.  A wonderful insight emerged as we talked to more and more of them:  they belonged to no single demographic.  They were young and old, male and female, single and married, urban and rural.  What they had in common was psychographic: they wanted to be in control, in the driver's seat; they loved that the car allowed them to really feel the road under their feet (most competitive brands at the time touted "luxury" features, the most prominent of which was not feeling the road).  That insight became the big idea: "On the road of life, there are passengers and drivers.  Drivers wanted."  Ron Lawner, Alan Pafenbach, Lance Jensen, Kristin Volk, Rick Britton, Fran Kelly, and many others all had a hand in pushing and pulling the insight.

Ron, Al and Lance were prime in bringing the insight to life through a brand video:

As well as through the TV spots (the spots we presented during the pitch were actually produced, a rare event):

Of course, there was lots of other work involved.  Visits to every dealership. Competitive reviews.  Lots of driving. Digging and more digging. Individuals. Teams. Pushing. Pulling. And lots of muddy scrums.

One of my favorite insights.  But one that requires a story to tell.


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