PLANNING FOR CHAOS
Are the new planning tools Magic or Science Fiction?
By Erwin Ephron
Chaos is what? Even all-knowing Wikipedia hedges the answer with a note “This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject.”
Well here I am.
Physicists see Chaos in the flight of a butterfly. The Greeks think of Chaos as the dark womb of the Universe. I clearly remember it as my brother’s closet.
To me Chaos is a confusing jumble of all sorts of interesting and dodgy things – and what better describes the media world today? I often think about how the modern media agency, domesticated by more than a half-century of TV, must struggle with the wild, messy, super-chaotic world of media today. Chaos isn’t for sissies.
Do Tools Really Think?
Unfortunately when things become too much and too many, we abandon science and go to metaphor and magic to survive.
We use comfort words like “engagement,” we invent “thinking tools”. We study occult texts like “agent-based system dynamics” which all promise to make planning better.
I was introduced to a media planning simulator at an ARF webcast a while ago. It made me wonder is this real, Magic or Science Fiction?
Arthur C. Clarke, one of Sci-Fi’s best is on their side. He argued that truly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. But Clarke failed to add that the roots of magic are in misdirection, so it’s not surprising that this new media magic has the gift of gab. Look at the introduction to the aforesaid planning system:
How is this different from Doug Henning’s advice to his fellow magicians: “To create good magic, we must get our audience to first suspend their disbelief."
In marketing science there should be no call to suspend disbelief. Disbelief is the North Star. To be taken seriously you show proof of value.
Back On Planet Earth
Since planning is imposing order on chaos, what is the new model for planning media now that chaos is at flood? I don’t think the answer is in agent-based simulations as swell as the words sound. That’s too easy. It lets us substitute magic for a real think-it-through.
Back on planet Earth, I think the new model is an old one: “Zero Based Budgeting.” Not exactly a gift of the gods, but a good idea from the government --- and Steve Douglas who championed it for Newsweek in the 1980’s.
With zero-basing all budgets begin at zero each year. Each spend is determined by a realistic estimate of the dollar value of what that spend is intended to achieve. The spend goals of advertising can be increased penetration, higher price, better distribution. . . but only goals that can be measured and monetized.
That’s not what we do now. Most media budgets are last year’s plan adjusted for inflation and reshaped a bit for experimentation. This keeps media weight reasonably constant (a safety belt for agency and brand manager), but it also makes two unlikely assumptions: 1) the original plan was the best one and 2) not much out there has changed.
In a year brand goals can change. Traditional media can grow weaker and new media gain strength. Zero-basing forces us to consider these things – to regroup, re-examine goals, calculate their dollar value and estimate how much can be prudently spent to achieve each. Only then are we ready to plan media.
The “reach” of television, the “believability” of magazines, the “excitement” of social networking – our favorite words give way to a mandatory estimate of each medium’s measurable contribution to the bottom line.
Today, Chaos is re-defining the ad business and the first step in planning for Chaos is changing the way we plan.
Earlier version published September 2006
- February 1, 2010 -