I get the occasional email from grads keen to get into planning. Rather than telling them what I think (well, I can’t resist doing a bit of that), I usually point them in the direction of the books and blogs that have had the most impact on my understanding of people, brands and advertising.
If you’re new to Planning I’d start with ‘How Brands Grow’, ‘Truth, Lies & Advertising’ and ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. If you’re not, read on and hopefully you’ll find something newish nestled alongside the Greatest Hits.
This book has had more impact on my understanding of marketing and the way I approach my job than anything else. Before you start talking about planning or advertising, you first need to understand the fundamentals of marketing and consumer behaviour and what it is that really makes brands grow. This book draws on decades of empirical data to bust many common myths about loyalty, targeting, ‘engagement’ and persuasion. Dr Byron Sharp’s cynical tone also manages to make potentially dry subjects feel quasi-revolutionary. Essential.
No, not the Stephen King that ruined clowns for a generation of children. This Stephen King was one of the founding fathers of Planning, introducing the discipline to JWT in the 1960s. An essential look back at where planning came from, outlining the fundamental principles and advice that is still as relevant today as it was. Intros from today’s heavy hitters keep things feeling contemporary.
If Stephen King laid the foundation, Jon Steel is the one who showed many aspiring Planners how these principals should be applied in a real world setting. Steel manages to make topics as seemingly dry as research, creative briefing and copy testing entertaining, using famous campaign examples such as ‘Got Milk?’. Don’t be put off by the rather dated cover. Essential.
Creative Effectiveness & How Advertising Works
An article rather than a book, the good news is this one is free to access on the Thinkbox website. This is the best analysis I’ve read of how advertising actually works, and how our understanding of advertising has evolved over the last century or so. Feldwick questions a lot of conventional wisdom on the subject, reinforcing the importance of context and emotion above rational persuasion. Famous examples like the PG Tips Chimps and Rowan Aktinson’s Barclaycard classic ads bring things to life.
Along with Paul Feldwick, Binet & Field have been very influential on my understanding of advertising effectiveness and are a must-read for anyone working in the industry. The pair analysed nearly 1,000 effectiveness case studies from the IPA databank to prove a clear link between creativity and effectiveness and the power of emotionally-driven ‘fame’ campaigns above rational, message-driven advertising. This video on the Thinkbox website offers a good taster if you don’t want to shell out a hundred-odd quid for the book.
A recent update to the IPA databank analysis found in ‘Marketing In The Era of Accountability’, this time with more of a focus on the difference between short and long term effects of advertising. A wake-up call to those obsessing over big data and ‘real-time’ marketing, this analysis shows the importance of taking a longer term view and the enduring role of ‘fame’ media like TV. I wrote more about this here. Again, if you can’t get your boss to pay for the book, check out the free Thinkbox video instead.
Approaches to Planning
An analysis of what made challengers like Avis, Absolut and Swatch successful. Not just for people working on challenger brands – rather an inspiration to think and behave differently from the competition.
The central point is that brand success has more to do with perception and cultural context than functional product innovation (what they call ‘better mousetraps’) or redefining the category (so-called ‘blue ocean strategy’). While some of the examples might feel a little post-rationalised, on the whole it’s a thought provoking book that chimes with a lot of the creative effectiveness stuff above. I wrote more about ‘Cultural Strategy’ here.
The focus here isn’t marketing or advertising, rather how to approach strategic thinking generally. Former NASA-engineer turned business strategy guru Richard Rumelt highlights some of the typical mistakes people make when trying to develop strategy and offers some good pointers and examples on how to put things right. His cutting tone and refreshing disregard for the usual business bullshit keeps things interesting.
Psychology & Behavioural Economics
Along with ‘How Brands Grow’, this provides the scientific foundation for effective advertising. Kahneman was the first psychologist to win the Nobel Prize for Economics and this book draws on a lifetime of research in behavioural economics. It explains how, while we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, in fact much of our decision making is emotionally driven and prone to relying on heuristics and bias. It might not be beach reading, but interesting from both a personal and professional point of view. Essential.
While I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas in the book (namely the suggestion that all brands need to become ‘passion brands’), the central premise at the heart of ‘Herd’ is sound. Mark Earls argues that ‘social proof’, or the people around us are the primary influence on how we behave. That might not sound like news, but the book raises some major question marks over marketers’ obsession with one-to-one marketing and data-driven personalisation.
I read this when I first moved from Sydney to Hong Kong. Tom Doctoroff has been running JWT in China for over a decade and while I’m sure some people will argue that China is too big and diverse to make these sort of generalisations, I found this a helpful introduction to doing business in the region. The observations and anecdotes are probably more interesting than the marketing recommendations though, which can seem a little prosaic.
Hope you enjoy some of the above – let me know what you think?