Ged Carroll

Brand proposition

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8 minutes estimated reading time

The brand proposition is what fires creative thinking in advertising and the bane of junior planners. In fact, the brand proposition is a topic of conversation for advertising planners, in the same way that the weather is for British and Irish people. It is a source of endless debate and discussion.

Firstly, let’s discuss what’s a brand?

Kit-Kat Japanese packaging

How you define brand would likely come down to two camps. Those that broadly agree with either of two statements that branding:

The second option is closer to where my viewpoint would be, but neither are completely right or wrong. Brands have various attributes including:

Product specific attributes that affect brand

JWT London’s seminal planning guide said that a brand’s appeal is built up over time by three different sorts of appeal

How does planning come into it?

What’s a brand planner?

“The account planner is that member of the agency’s team who is the expert, through background, training, experience, and attitudes, at working with information and getting it used – not just marketing research but all the information available to help solve a client’s advertising problems.” 

Stanley Pollitt

The JWT Planning Guide, which can be considered to be the stone tablets of account planning as a profession were handed down written in 1974.

The planning guide said

… any systemic approach to planning advertising has to do more than simply provide controls and disciplines. It must actively stimulate imagination and creativity too.

PLANNING GUIDE (March 1974). United Kingdom: J Walter Thompson (JWT) London.

Ok, that’s quite a big ask. But it didn’t stop there. The ideal advertising planning methods had to also fulfil four criteria

Kit-Kat Japanese packaging

Brand proposition

Realistic, pragmatic, fundamental and structured dictate the shape and form of a planner’s tools and outputs. And sometimes we lose sight of this, which is very much the case with the brand proposition.

A definition

A brand proposition could be considered to be the foundational concept that highlights the unique identifying features of your brand.

Attributes of a good brand proposition

A good brand proposition will be:

Rich nuggets, stimuli, creative brief delivery and post-brief discussion

The brand proposition is a small part of the overall account planners contribution to the creative process. You could consider it a sub-set of the insightful ‘rich nuggets’ – the behavioural observations in a creative brief, which is about a quarter of the strategists contribution. Every bit of a brief that a planner writes should have these rich nuggets in it. Examples of rich nuggets that I have had in my career as a planner

The other three quarters are:

So the amount of ‘pain’ that junior planners have on the brand proposition is out of proportion to the brand proposition’s role in the planning process.

Criticisms of the brand proposition

Perceived solutions orientation

The brand proposition puts the emphasis on a potential answer; rather than the initial problem. And I can understand how this occurs. Going back to the JWT London Planning Guide:

Advertising involves producing a long series of unique solutions. Each piece of work requires innovation. Every script, every layout, every recommendation is Ian some way different from any that has gone before. Each client operates in a different market, and each brand in a market has different needs.

I would argue that yes the brand proposition can be perceived to be solution focused, but I’d also argue innovation means reframing and looking at a problem in a different way – this is much of the success behind Eno & Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies.

Brand proposition locks the planner in to a certain perspective

The idea is that the very act of writing a brand proposition locks the planner in to a certain perspective and consequently starts making the process of developing ideas territorial and creates unhelpful barriers.

I can see where the ‘lone heroic planner’ mode might kick in. I found it happened when I was freelancing in a team made up of freelance creative talent and there wasn’t any ‘connective tissue’ in the team.

I think that a planner needs to be humble enough to recognise that:

Perceived traditional media focus

Propositions are considered by some to encourage to think in ‘traditional media’ by asking what should we say rather than

My argument against this point-of-view is that its a very literal interpretation of ‘say’. If we think about person to person communication about 70 percent is non verbal cues. And I would argue that more experiential aspects fall into what we say.

Secondly, it depends on where you are in the process. For instance in many of the assignments I worked on as a freelancer, the channel had already been defined by the client and or the media agency partner who was further upstream in the decision making process.

A brief for Unilever’s Dove specified that they wanted a 30-second TV spot and online video clip. It has to contain an end ‘pour and pack shot’ which took another 5 seconds at the end of the video. For the online video clip you had to have the brand logo up front. This is very common when you are working on creating marketing assets for international markets.

OK, why Japanese KitKats?

They have one uniform brand proposition behind them, but a whole variant of different ways of solving it from a product and packaging design perspective. And, they’re really, really tasty. Japanese KitKats have the crispness I remember from my childhood eating Irish-made KitKats from the old Rowntree-Macintosh factory that was in Kilmainham, Dublin.