Really enjoyed John Willshire’s take on what media planning is, or rather should/might be.

The analogy used here – that advertising is like fireworks, but engaging communities is like starting off small bonfires – isn’t new. But it’s very good. And it is articulated really nicely here. Well worth a look.

One of the things that’s been playing on my mind lately is implied by what John says, but I think it warrants further elaboration.

He rightly talks about media that currently targets millions of people, but only really talks to thousands. This issue has always been there, and has only really started to be properly addressed with the advent of more targeted and discrete alternative channels.

But many people, especially marketers, still cling to the certainty (if you could call it that) of the broadcast campaign. They can push the button, sit back and relax knowing they’re creating many millions of ‘opportunities to see’ – lucky us!

I think of this as the cross-tab problem.

Anyone who’s worked in a media agency will be familiar with TGI. To anyone outside a media agency you probably think it’s all we do. Ultimately it’s a database of people’s demographics, preferences and beliefs, which allows you to cross-reference different inputs to assess the potency of different opportunities. As a random illustration:

  • the volume of people who like to drink Coke and also travel to work on the tube
  • the profile of people who watch Big Brother and are more likely to buy products they’ve been able to sample first
  • the number of people who ‘like to keep up with new bands’ and ‘prefer holidays off the beaten track’ but are also recent parents
  • the proportion of people who buy our brand and are more likely to be transmitters or advocates within our category

Alright, so this last one is actually quite useful. The others are, of course, picked at random. The relevance of the two inputs to each other is probably questionable.

But this is exactly the point. As inputs they’re no more ill-matched than many I’ve seen used by clients to contrive some sort of shared territory between their brand and their desired consumer.

The inputs often are linked only by one common factor – and that’s the fact that the brand might find the juxtaposition a useful one.

Nothing wrong with this, you might say. At least this process helps establish whether there’s sufficient latent interest from the audience, and sufficient market potential for the brand.

But here’s the problem.

I don’t think that a latent interest in something (like drinking Coke, or liking non-standard holidays, or sampling products) denotes a readiness on the part of the ‘audience’ to hear from just any brand on that subject.

Do we assume that because someone reads a newspaper they will automatically be interested in all its advertising? Hell, people aren’t even interested in all the sections of their newspaper, let alone companies who have paid to shove themselves in front of the readers.

But we used to think that. Just like we used to think the tube was a perfect way to target really busy ‘ABC1s’. Yeah, because the commute is a real time for reflection and considering future purchases.

Like I say, I blame TGI.

Because data creates its own universe.

When untrained media people are comparing two inputs with each other, the comparison itself risks becoming their world. The actual relevance of the comparison to the real world gets lost, and is questioned less and less.

This what I’ve started to think of as Brand Chauvinism.

I don’t mean to say that brand owners are sexist, of course. More that those working on behalf of brands can be prone to going native. So, chauvinism in the sense, to quote the first online dictionary definition I could find, of “an extreme and unreasoning partisanship on behalf of a group to which one belongs. ”

And actually our clients need us to be objective. No to be cheerleaders, but to champion the interests and tastes of their potential consumers.

And to remind them that you can prove anything with TGI.