How Not To Plan

The one sentence summary

Much advertising planning avoids the basic spadework of establishing the true facts, uses sloppy language and vague objectives, and fails to learn from historical data.


  • This is a workbook produced by the Account Planning Group which explains 66 ways to plan advertising incorrectly or screw it up.
  • It covers setting objectives, product, price and place, brand and communication, research and analysis, talking and thinking about strategy, target audiences, budgets and media, creative work, and effectiveness and evaluation. It is impossible to summarise such a book, but here are some pieces of advice that stand out:
  • Don’t define your competition too tightly and obsess over it.
  • Brand loyalty is a vague concept that can’t really be measured. In the loyalty myth, brands can succeed with a small number of intensely loyal customers. This is appealing but false.
  • Conversion is a myth. Think nudging instead.
  • Beware the lure of price promotions. They are usually unprofitable and damaging.
  • Customers don’t have high interest in brands, and they certainly don’t want relationships with them. Weak relationships with more people is the best approach.
  • Engagement is another myth – people don’t want to engage. Online figures for large brands may look impressive, but they typically represent less than 2% of their user base.
  • Not everything has to make perfect sense. The seemingly irrelevant can work too.
  • Differentiation doesn’t really work. Don’t confuse saying something different with saying something in a different way. Brand segmentation hardly exists, if at all. Aim to get more from all parts of the market. Go for reach rather than frequency.
  • You don’t always need a message – sometimes the mood you create is enough.
  • Brands shouldn’t intrude. Brand annoyance should be analysed.
  • Beware of the false positive. This is a phenomenon in research where people say something would be good, but in reality it might not.
  • Don’t be seduced by ‘big data’ More detail doesn’t always mean more insight.
  • Words matter a lot. The best briefs, written by the best planners, choose the right words in the right order.
  • Never assume your problem is unique. Learn from others who have been there before.
  • Always look at long data on your brand or category. Don’ t get obsessed with what’s changing – ask what’s unchanging. The best brand custodians know the value of consistency.
  • Passion is the most overused word in the business lexicon. It’s trite and inappropriate, and leads to flawed thinking and strategy.
  • Avoid lazy acronyms which have a distancing effect. The same goes for bullshit such as engagement, reaching out, big data, connecting, message, sharing, deep diving, content, driving and aligning.
  • Real-time planning is an oxymoron. It should be called reacting.
  • Narrowly targeted media create the seductive illusion of cost efficiency, but trying to reduce so-called wastage can actually reduce your efficiency.


  • This is specifically for advertising and marketing people, not for generalists.