hitchhiker's guide to galaxy

The Future of Planning

Planners need to avoid getting shot into space on the Ark 3

Partner and chief strategy officer at Pablo draws parallels between Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and the future of planning

By Mark Sng

Planning for usefulness

There’s a bit in Douglas Adam’s wonderful ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ where, catastrophically, the virgin Earth is accidentally populated with the planet Golgafrincham’s most useless people. They were put on the spaceship ‘Ark 2’ and convinced to leave Golgafricham on the pretence of an imaginary apocalypse. Who were these useless people? Adams described them as middle managers, telephone sanitisers… and advertising executives.

When I think about the future of planning, I see a future where people actually value what we do. And in moving forwards, perhaps we’re moving backward too. Maybe my glasses are a little rose tinted. But as a kid, didn’t we all love advertising? I know I used to know every jingle on air. I used to be able to recite every topping on a Pizza Hut Super Supreme (that’s beef, pepperoni, sliced ham, olives, mushrooms and pineapple).

Nowadays? Only 25 per cent of people say they enjoy ads on TV.

Moving on from interruption

The other big difference, of course, is that nowadays people have a choice. For example, 81 per cent skip through the ads of programmes they’ve recorded.

Look, plenty of people still watch linear TV. But weekly penetration has fallen from 91 per cent to 79 per cent since 2017; and data suggests a stark polarisation in how much people consume: the bottom 45 per cent only see eight ads per day on average versus 72 for the top 55 per cent. That’s roughly 62 per cent of people who aren’t meaningfully exposed to TV ads and around 30 per cent who are so bombarded by them it’s unlikely they’re going to remember yours.

It increasingly looks like the luxury we once had of interrupting something people actually want to do, with something they don’t, are numbered.

Sometimes it takes a while for the people in power to realise they aren’t anymore

Remember the days of Napster? For those (probably the majority of you) who are younger than me, it was a file sharing platform in the early noughties that made obtaining music by piratical means much, much easier. Record companies responded by introducing DRM (digital rights management) to protect the status quo. Except they made it even less convenient to buy music the legal way. Then Spotify came along with the intention to be “better than piracy” and people flocked to it.

Power to the people, man.

Brands need to be humble. We need to recognise this power shift. We need to realise that in order to spend any time at all with our prospective customers, we need to earn it.

By offering a value exchange of some kind. By being useful. Or hilarious. Or purposeful.

Want to get more people using your tyres? Michelin created the most respected guide to restaurants the culinary world has ever seen. Want to bring an anachronistic brand asset bang up to date? Create a critically acclaimed Barbie motion picture. Want to raise awareness of the motor neuron disease ALS? Create a fun social game that people want to be seen participating in. Want to bring a new generation into your brand? Van’s Roblox activation has attracted over 100 million visitors.

What does that mean for strategists and planners?

We need to stop thinking of advertising and marketing as merely activity that tells people about our clients products and services. Instead we need to start thinking about what we do as another of those products and services. It should augment and extend what’s great about the product. How it makes them feel. How it helps them.

You don’t bring a product to market that doesn’t have any value to the people who might buy it. We need to think about our ads or apps or stunts or content in the same way.

Figure out how your clients make the lives of their customers better. In small and big ways. Then make sure we play our part in creating that same kind of value.

And maybe we can avoid getting shot into space on the Ark 3.

Mark Sng is partner and chief strategy officer at Pablo


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