Don’t panic. I’m not saying that insights aren’t important. I’m just saying that they’re not a prerequisite for great advertising. If you have that rectangular block in your brief labelled ‘Insights’, I would suggest you remove it forthwith. I will explain why shortly. I also suggest you remove the rectangular blocks themselves – creative should not be presented with a form that looks like an IRP5 – briefs, believe it or not, need to look inviting.


A definition

I have defined an insight quite simply as *

  1. An understanding
  2. That can be leveraged for a result
  3. In a certain dimension (time and space).

As an example, I will use my stint as a lecturer to first year marketing students who had been freshly released from school. Coming to grips with their new-found freedom, they were somewhat difficult to control. If I had something important to say (which happened from time to time), asking them to be silent for a moment would have had very little effect. So I devised this trick: I would say at the top of my voice “CONCERNING THE EXAM”. You could hear a pin drop. Why?

Relating to the above definition:

  1. I understood that they were totally averse to studying anything that wasn’t going to be in the exam. Heaven forbid.
  2. The result I got was silence.
  3. The dimension was the classroom just before exams (had I tried the same strategy after exams, it would have had little effect).

To discover more on strategy and insights, attend Sid Peimer’s course in Durban, Cape Town and Joburg this month: Essential Strategic Planning Skills for Client Service Creative and Non-Planners this month in Durban, Cape Town and Joburg.


All that the creatives need

Creatives don’t need an insight (as described above) to create great advertising. I must admit, and hopefully will escape prosecution for having reverse-engineered an insight in the past to fit in with a great concept. I guess some things are not below me.

All the creatives need is a clear description of the target market. LSM should never be in your description of the target audience in your creative brief. I’ve been in the business for 15 years and I still don’t have a clear idea of the consumer when I’m given LSM’s in the brief. Describing the consumer as LSM 10, income above R30 000, 30+ and male would include my uncle, Clint Eastwood as well as a number of very successful drug dealers. However, I did input my details into the LSM calculator and found out that I was LSM 9 due to the fact that I did not have DStv. I now have DStv.

So what best serves creatives? All they need to know is who they’re talking to. They don’t need a description of the exact person (eg Angela lives with her aunt in a middle-class neighbourhood and wants to own an iPhone); neither do they need a sweeping ‘males over 35’. There is no specific formula, but if there’s LSM in your creative brief, you might as well not be working there – you’ve added no real value to the process.

However, insights can play a crucial role; my argument is just that an insight is not a compulsory prerequisite for great advertising. Sometimes, however, a deceptively simple insight can create a beautiful strategy (yes, strategies can be beautiful). The following strategic insight by SSP3 Colombia is elegance personified. (1)


Insights against terrorism

In 2011, the FARC terrorist group in Columbia was responsible for committing a terrorist act every three days. The agency was asked to come up with a strategy to demobilise them (ie get them to go back home, as opposed to living as outlaws in the jungle). Interviewing 200 ex-guerrillas revealed a powerful insight: Christmas was a difficult time for them, as they were far removed from their homes where they could celebrate with family and friends. They were literally trapped in the jungle.

The agency came up with something extraordinary: Operation Christmas. I quote directly from the award-winning paper:

Two professional anti-guerrilla contingents, 2,000 LED lights, and 2 Black Hawk helicopters travelled into the jungle to find and cover giant trees with Christmas lights. Placed alongside the guerrillas strategic walking paths the lights would come on when they approached, with banners exhorting them to lay down their arms becoming visible too. The powerful, timely and well-located messaging encouraged 331 FARC guerrillas to demobilise and re-enter society – a 30% uplift on the previous year. In challenging circumstances, planning drew together powerful insights to create a core, successful, thought – taking the spirit of Christmas to the guerrilla strongholds.

All I can say is ‘wow’. Now that’s an insight. Simple. Beautiful.


To discover more about strategy, attend Sid Peimer’s course in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg: Essential Strategic Planning Skills for Client Service Creative and Non-Planners in October 2013.


* Diageo has a similar definition in the public domain: An insight is a penetrating observation about consumer behaviour that can be applied to unlock growth. My insight definition was developed in 2005 before I became aware of theirs this year.

Reference 1: Juan Pablo Garcia. Colombian Ministry of Defence: FARC Operation Christmas – Reaching the soft-side of hard-core guerrillas. Account Planning Group – (UK). Grand Prix; Best channel strategy; Best use of research, Creative Strategy Awards, 2011.

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