Why neutrality doesn’t make some more equal

If a campaign is to really focus on what consumers want, then an unbiased approach to media is essential when planning the strategy, says Ivan Pollard

It seems to me that in the modern media equivalent of Jeux sans frontières, everybody longs to be Switzerland, and most claim they actually are Switzerland.

In reality, Switzerland never was neutral. It just used neutrality as a mask to make more money from more people in more ways than it could have done had it had a vested interest – a worrying parallel for marketing services today.

“Media neutrality” is worth nothing in itself. It is not what you end up with, it is simply the state from which you start out.

We are all trying to come up with the most potent way of influencing people, using the most effective means at our disposal. But this is not about the medium versus the message. It’s about both working at their optimum capacity to affect how a person thinks, feels and behaves.

Charlie Makin (MW September 19) is absolutely right when he says planning starts by understanding the customer. Every one of us bumps into brands in a myriad of ways every day. Each time we bump into one, some of the brand dust rubs off on us and affects what we think. These brand encounters happen with anything capable of delivering a message – a mobile phone, movie, mega-site, magazine, my mum, or anything else beginning with “m”.

And this is where Charlie Makin is just a little bit wrong. When customers sit down and sift through the cumulative brand dust in their heads, they can’t remember where each little bit came from. To this extent the media that made those encounters happen is neutral. Consumers don’t think about this neutrality, but we surely must.

The modern media planner starts with the customer, thinks about the business issue and then examines all of these encounters and their potential to make as much dust stick as possible. As far as media planners are concerned, at the beginning, all these encounters are equal.

The “Old World” media planners are best placed to do this because all this potential must be investigated with the same discipline and rigour that these planners would use to analyse TV schedules, press titles and ratecards with a view to determining which encounters to exploit, which to interfere with and which to create.

The trick is then unleashing this potential with more creativity than before.

Clients’ suspicion that some agencies begin planning from the premise that TV or PR or DM or whatever is “more equal” is precisely why “neutrality” is becoming more appealing to them.

The “media” solutions that we “neutral” planners come up with are highly charged, effective and practical. When we get it right, we help clients achieve much more for much less money. This is why they buy this neutrality.

We should distance ourselves from the Swiss and their self-interested version of neutrality, and be far from neutral in the defence of media neutrality. After all, it is the future of our business.

Ivan Pollard is a managing partner of Unity

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