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Truth, Lies and Advertising

Truth, Lies and Advertising: The Art of Account Planning. By Jon Steel.

In this month’s B+G Book Club, Charlotte Bourke, Junior Planner, takes us through Jon Steel’s classic.

Throughout his book, Steel covers several core ideas concerning account planning, which include exploring the value of consumer research for guiding creative teams; the power held in the creative brief; the importance of working with the creative team, and the role the account planning process (and Steel) played to developing the iconic “Got Milk?” campaign.

Each of these ideas are explored through a mixture of Steel’s personal experiences, with invigorating examples of great advertising and witty anecdotes, leaving us with an engaging, easy-to-read writing style & narrative that remains consistent with Steele’s overall theories on simplicity and common sense towards advertising.

What did I think

I’ve really enjoyed reading this Adland staple and think it is a must for everyone to dip in and out of, no matter what stage you’re at in your advertising career. As someone who has only recently stepped foot into the enamouring world of advertising, and more specifically, into that of strategy and planning, this book has been somewhat a godsend.

Despite being written in the early nineties, I feel so much of what Steel discusses still rings true through to the present day – but two key topics stood out most to me.

Firstly, research. One aspect I found particularly interesting was his view on research from a planner’s perspective. Oftentimes, it feels as though research can be easily assumed to be just a numbers game – bigger data, equals greater insights, equals better outcomes, right?

By all means, data certainly can add validity to your research, but what’s more gripping is how Steel homes in on the importance of looking beyond the big numbers; he focuses on being more curious, being better at listening to people and asking the right questions – lots of them – to create a human connection.

I find this view most fascinating: in a world where we’re so digitally advanced and big data-driven, but on their own can data and algorithms truly interpret human emotion or understand human experience. There is so much to learn about people; by remaining inquisitive and constantly feeding that curiosity, a planner’s work will uncover rich insights and better interpret that data and understand those unspoken human truths that lead to thoughts that inspire great creative ideas – something which I believe big data and technology will struggle to fully accomplish.

Secondly, Steel examines the role of creativity and the importance of properly approaching the creative brief;  both elements that are  just as vital to the work of the modern-day planner as they were thirty years ago. In essence, Steel demonstrates how good planning will always support creativity and go on to incite powerful creative ideas. This book reminds you of  creativity’s amazing power. It acts as an endless means to make everything better for everyone and when deployed properly, can work in so many wonderful ways and be utilised to solve a myriad of complex problems, both for clients and consumers.

Overall, I feel this book gives a lot of itself in its some 300 pages – you’ll giggle, you’ll think, you’ll learn. It’s filled with rich knowledge, honest truths and excellent case examples that do well in capturing what it really is that a planner does and how they can bring value to the table. On a final note, the biggest takeaway from my reading of this book is as modest as it is simple, and that is: always feed your curiosities. Be interested, be intrigued, listen well; talk to everyone who crosses your path and read everything you can because great ideas can be born from anywhere.

Who should read it

  • Anyone who is starting out in their planning career (but honestly, I feel that anyone starting out in advertising should give this a once over to get a grasp of some key basics).
  • Someone looking for some logical, witty goodness with excellent campaign examples.

★★★★★