Consumer: One Hand Clapping

  • by July 20, 2006

One of my partners walked into the office the other morning carrying his usual cup of coffee (the best in town, allegedly) in its usual paper bag. On this particular morning, though, the bag was blue, with prominent Continental Airlines branding, which had the unfortunate effect of making it look like an airplane sick bag. Not the nicest imagery to attach to your morning repast.

Worse was to come, however. The cup itself was branded with a Sephora logo, and in a moment of creative inspiration, someone had decided that it would be cute to print a lipstick stain on the rim of the cup. ( it?) The impression, of course, was that the cup had been used and recycled. Frankly, I can't imagine a more unappetizing way to present what should have been a nice cup of joe.

I can't blame the media planners, I suppose. After all, our office is on Union Square, and there's a Sephora store there, too, so full marks for proximity to point-of-sale. I could even buy the argument that Sephora shoppers index off the charts on likelihood to drink large cups of coffee in the morning. But even if the media equation made sense, the overall brand impression was a poor one.

To me it was a classic example of why media planners and creative planners should work together more. When they work separately, it's like one hand clapping: The motion is correct but there's something missing. Conversely, when a good media planner gets together with a good creative planner, it's like seeing a great creative team in action, with complementary skills in words and pictures turning good ideas into great ones.

Creative planners and media planners complement each other wonderfully. Generally speaking, the media planner has a natural sense of scale, the market universe, how it moves, and how the crowd behaves. His or her tools tend to be quantitative  big syndicated databases like MRI and Simmons. The creative planner, on the other hand, tends to think about individuals: their motivations and passions, what drives them, and what moves them. The creative planner's tools tend to be qualitative: ethnographies and one-on-one interviews, for example. And that qualitative understanding is an essential complement for any media planner who's trying to have an effect on consumer behavior.

Aristotle said it best: "One who attempts to move people to thought or action must concern himself with their emotions. If he touches only their minds, he is unlikely to move them to action or to change of mind  the motivations of which lie deep in the realm of the passions."

Two thousand years before the brilliant neuroscientists of the 1990s scientifically validated him, the great Greek made it clear that we're not driven by logic and thinking but by feeling and emotion. And if we want to change the way people think or act, we have to understand their feelings.

I've never come across a quantitative study that really concerns itself with people's emotions, never mind one that can adequately explore the depths of the realm of the passions. Most of the media planning databases were developed during the mass-marketing era, and regardless of how well-crafted the questions on MRI become and how touchy-feely they may appear, they are never going to be able to give the planner a real sense of a person or the peer group he or she belongs to.

The only way to achieve that is to rely on good qualitative research, which, when combined with a sound quantitative understanding of the market, gives you a real sense of the whole  the wisdom of the crowd and the motivations of the individual.

In the Sephora example, the creative hand was not clapping. If the creative planner had worked with a media counterpart, he'd have highlighted the ritual nature of coffee drinking, the revival, the awakening (physical and spiritual). That may have led the team to forgo the lipstick gag and focus on an empowering morning message: "You look absolutely gorgeous this morning," for example, or, "Today is going to be a great hair day."

Both hands would have clapped and an appropriate message for the brand would have been delivered to the right audience right next to the point of sale. That's worth a round of applause  with both hands. More important, my poor partner Callum would have enjoyed his morning cup of coffee rather than pouring it down the drain.

Paul Parton is the brand-planning partner at The Brooklyn Brothers, a creative collective. (


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