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The Long and the Short of It celebrates 10 years. Are its lessons still relevant?

In another one of our most read articles of the year so far, we look at the seminal book's significance with the industry today

By Olivia Atkins

It's been ten years since the seminal book, The Long and the Short of It (TLATSOI) from Peter Field and Les Binet was first published, exploring long and short-term strategies for brands and businesses as well as providing evidence-based recommendations on how best to approach investment in advertising. But do its lessons still stand?

Upon its release, its teachings around how marketers should split their budgets between brand building and activation led many to review their strategies. Is that still pertinent today? Also what are the enduring lessons from the book, which over the years has faced criticism especially from digital performance-based marketers?

We spoke to a number of industry insiders, including Les Binet, to find out.

Les Binet, head of effectiveness at adam&eveDDB

Obviously, I’m biased, but I do think our research and the model of how advertising works that we outlined in “The Long and the Short of It” are still relevant.

Over the last 10 years, Peter Field and I have continued our research, deepening and testing our ideas. In next book, “Media in Focus”, we showed how these ideas play out in the world of digital media. Then in “Effectiveness in Context” we showed how the rules need to be adapted for different categories, different price points, different points in the product life-cycle and so on. Our most recent report, looked at how B2B marketing differs from B2C.

Meanwhile, other researchers have begun to corroborate our findings. Econometric analyses are increasingly confirming the existence of short and long term effects, and the importance of balancing them. I was particularly impressed by Meta’s recent analysis of 3,500 ad campaigns, which found a 60:40 ratio between long and short term effects. With firms like Facebook, Google and LinkedIn increasingly quoting our research, I think it’s fair to say that our ideas are still relevant today.

Josh Bullmore, CSO at Leo Burnett

In an age of permacrisis, The Long and the Short of it is more than just relevant - it is a mantra, to be repeated over and over, until thoughts of short-termism subside.

We’ve all experienced it over the last few years of crisis. Daily life changes profoundly overnight. We can’t predict tomorrow, so we behave in the interests of today.

Acting for the longer term becomes an act of counter-intuitive faith in the future. It’s a leap that requires courage when you are a CMO facing the realities of quarterly business reporting and generosity when ever shorter tenures mean that you may also be paying success forwards to your successor. You need all the practical, theoretical and moral support you can get, and Binet & Field’s work is the first place to turn.

As the Ancient Greek philosopher famously said, cultures grow great when people plant trees under which they will not sit. The Long and the Short of It proved that businesses grow great by the same principle, and showed that those who act bravely in the long term interests of a brand should be celebrated in the here and now.

So in my book, Binet and Field are nothing short of modern day sages. Their work isn’t just of timely relevance to today’s permacrisis, it’s of timeless value to adland generations to come.

Jo Arden, CSO at Ogilvy UK

The Long and Short of It is enduring foundational reading for anyone working in marketing today. It lays out principles that still hold – that we need to build brands and drive sales, that doing both in one piece of comms generally backfires, that different categories have different rules of thumb when it comes to ratios.

But I say foundational because whilst it is a good place to start, it’s not a good place to end. I wish that they’d not called the two factors ‘brand’ and ‘performance’ – even at the time of writing, that language was too loaded to be benign. For many brands, price is ‘brand’, as are promotions and payment options. It’s a distinction which takes some unpicking, especially with brands which are born social. I’ve seen the ‘step’s chart played to defend the absence of product or price (and occasionally, the name, logo or any other asset) from an ad. I don’t think that was Les and Peter’s intention. I’d encourage people to read an analysis of the book to get a rounded view of the application of the theory – this is probably the best follow up from the terrific Tom Roach.

Mostly, I’d point people to the ‘and’ in the title of the book – as with the chaps themselves, the magic is when the long and short work together.

Simon Gregory, joint CSO at BBH

The short answer: yes. The long answer, yes and… it is undoubtedly still important. I’m not sure if all the lessons stand today, or will stay erect, but the publication of the piece will always remain seminal. This is for two reasons.

Firstly, it provides a set of benchmarks. Benchmarks act as a crucial starting point in planning how we really want marketing and communications to work and keeping ourselves honest at the end of the process. Even if the numbers change, the principle doesn’t.

Secondly, it asks the right questions, and that’s what strategy is about. It forces us to think about how things work and why it works, and, in doing so, take a step towards marketing acting as a profession. Though we may choose to ignore or contradict the advice, we do so knowingly and willingly rather than hit and hope.

We should probably stop screen-grabbing the key charts for every first client presentation, but we should never stop using it to challenge our approach.

Will Grundy, head of planning at adam&eveDDB

I’m a Planner.

So necessarily, I only ever answer questions by posing questions of my own.

So before you ask whether the lessons of The Long and the Short of It are still relevant, ask yourself this:

Are your clients having to defend against increasing price sensitivity as living costs continue to bite?

Are they questioning the value of high-reach media channels, when it’s never been easier to be highly targeted and efficient?

Do they wonder whether they really need to be bothering with all that ‘brand stuff’ when every day is a street-fight for share, and surely the expedient thing to do for now is to go big on price promotion?

Are they concerned that all that talk around ‘fame’ and ‘creativity’ sounds a bit woolly and self-indulgent, especially in front of the rest of the board? Wouldn’t the smarter and more commercially minded thing be to plough as much media as possible into more responsive and seemingly measurable channels?

If the answer to any of these is yes then the long and the short of it is the lessons Les and Peter laid out a decade ago are as pertinent today as they’ve ever been.

Matt Walters, partner, strategy and John Blight, senior strategist at NCA

In the last decade The Long and Short has proven itself;

It’s demonstrated it’s effectiveness in effectiveness (I wonder how many citations there are in the IPA awards…?)

It’s helped elevate marketing from creative folly to C-suite necessity

It’s created more, better conversations between clients and agencies

It’s become the de facto blueprint for the industry

In the years since publication the authors have proven the relevance of the thinking;

Across categories

Across channels

Across audiences

But in the last few years we’ve faced;

A Brexit

A global pandemic

A huge conflict

A cost of living crisis

A recession, almost

Brands have reacted to many of these events

We’ve seen strategies change, businesses fall, pivot, rise, fall again

But perhaps the right thing to do would have been to think about the long term

A few human behaviours have changed but many of us are now moving through life as we did 3/4/5 10 years ago

We haven’t changed

And advertising probably shouldn’t have either

The long and short is just as relevant now as it was 10 years ago

But it’s lost it currency amongst many marketers and agencies

We’ve been reacting and we’ve got used it,

We’ve become fearful of doing the wrong thing

The irony being that by doing that, we are

To move forwards successfully, we need to look back to the work of Les Binet and Peter Field

3+ years is how long term business effects are defined

That’s the long and short of it.


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