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on June 16, 1999
Goodby-Berlin may well be the best advertising agency in world at this time. Jon Steele's introduction of account planning there may well be the main reason. The proven formula: original consumer insights help create more powerful ads for greater results. Steele's work has consistently produced successes like the "Got Milk?" campaign.
Steele's approach is rare in the advertising world for several reasons: it shows humility and common sense, honors listening to the consumer with imagination, acknowledges the importance of creative quality, is mercifully free of self-promotion, and states the limits of account planning (sometimes there are simply no insights to be found).
While this is not a "how-to" book, I particularly enjoyed some of the tools and tactics: asking focus group participants to go weeks without milk and report back on what they had missed; asking drivers to fill in a thought balloon when they see the driver of a particular brand of car.
When I was done reading the book I felt as if I had just had a witty and interesting conversation with an intelligent and insightful person. I have been sharing the book with my advertising partners ever since.
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on May 27, 2002
I teach advertising to MBAs at a business school, but I used to be an agency account executive. I have been looking for something for my students to read that gives them a real appreciation for the creative side of the business. Jon Steel's book is so outstanding that I am considering making it required reading in my classes.
Three parts of his message are especially valuable to "client side" (i.e. marketing) people: first, he is very articulate about the importance of doing qualitative, consumer-centered research....but not over-interpreting it.
Second, he makes a convincing argument for the use of judgment over data: clients sometimes imagine "hard numbers" will prove to them whether they are doing the right kind of advertising, but agency folks see this as a kind of cowardice. Steel will help you understand the difference between useful, diagnostic, research that inspires great creative-- and research that results in boring, average advertising.
Finally, his chapter on creative briefs - what they are for and how to write them - is superb. This is definitely going to be on the syllabus for next year.
Whether you are a client marketer, or an agency person who would like to inspire a client to more creative work, this is a must read.
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on February 29, 2000
Intrusive, obnoxious, impersonal, insincere and arrogant are all adjectives, which have been attached to the world of advertising. However, in Truth, Lies and Advertising: The Art of Account Planning author Jon Steel looks to dispel these characteristics in a unique manner. Through conversational, descriptive, humorous, and entertaining examples Steel seeks not to convince the public that advertising is undeserving of its rap, but to convince those in the biz that by focusing on building relationship with consumers the negative personality of advertising could quite possibly be changed.
In Steel's eyes, the most effective advertising involves consumers in two critical areas; one, consumers must take part in the development of communication and two, consumers must be involved in the communication itself. Simply put, creating dialogue with consumers will allow advertisers to know exactly what consumers actually want in a brand and product, and consumers should not be told what to think, but they should be given persuasive facts and allowed to make up their own minds.
As Director of Account Planning and Vice Chairman for by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, Steel has helped create several consumer-centric campaigns such as the "Got Milk" campaign for the California Fluid Milk Processors Advisory Board and the "See What Develops" campaign for the Polaroid Corporation. Steel has also planned successful campaigns for the Northern California Honda Dealers Advertising Association, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Chevy's Mexican Restaurants. Each of these advertising campaigns are described in great detail and serve as wonderful examples of how Steel's consumer focused philosophy of performing comprehensive research or even "eaves-dropping" on consumers helps breed advertising success.
Steel also makes excellent points by including the opinions of some of the most influential fathers of modern advertising. Ad pioneers such as Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, Rich Silverstein, Stanley Pollet, and Jay Chiat each appear throughout the book via quotes or clever anecdotes Although these admen's opinions may not be considered entirely precise and applicable by today's standards, Steel uses each person's suggestions to clearly illustrate points related to successful account planning.
Lastly, the four keys to what makes a successful account planner are absolutely classic. Steel's advice that great account planners should be able to provide important information necessary to make informed decisions, should be able to spend more time listening than talking, should possess a chameleonesque quality that fosters unique relationships with different types of people, and in true humorous Steel fashion he sums up the characteristics with, great account planners should simply "have something weird about them!" So even if we don't all dream of planning the next award winning ad campaign, at least we know in some "weird" way we're one-quarter of the way there.
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on September 4, 1999
"But the graphs showed... the numbers revealed..."
Quantitative research has its place in the advertising world, but all too often this (traditional) research is simply used as a way to cover your a**. One of the many, many things Jon Steel's book taught me was the importance of establishing a relationship with the consumer in order to produce effective advertising.
Steel's writing style is humorous & incredibly easy to follow; he makes you comfortable. This book will educate & entertain you at the same time.
As a recent college grad entering the advertising world, I found this book to be invaluable. (It means as much to me as "The Fountainhead" means to architects.) It will give you insight into the industry, but more importantly, it will give you confidence. Common sense is something we all possess, but are often afraid to use.
I hope there will be a sequel!
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on November 27, 1999
Although, there's no fail-safe formula for creating advertising that works, in Truth, Lies and Advertising, Jon Steel certainly gives us a dependable solution. Rather than relying on an individual's hit or miss ideas, Steel advocates a common-sense approach to creating advertising that involves consumers right from the development of the campaign and helps build lasting relationships with them. Add to this a dose of high-voltage creativity and you have the perfect formula for brand-building! With lively anecdotes and tongue-in-cheek humour, Steel presents his agency's award-winning campaigns for Polaroid, California Milk Processors and Norwegian Cruise Lines as testimonies to this formula. How does his agency (GS&P) conceive such memorable advertising campaigns? Through 'account planning', a new discipline which has now percolated into every modern advertising agency in the world. If you're in advertising, you must read this book. It's sure to change the way you view advertising today.
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on September 3, 2003
Anyone who's witnessed or participated in the generally rancorous discussions that go on between the creative people in advertising agencies and their research counterparts would do well to read this excellent book.
Mr. Steel admits that as an account planner he is very much a believer in consumer and advertising research. Yet, the agency where he practiced prior to writing this book is one of the most creatively-driven and award-winning in the business. So what gives? If creativity and research are such natural antagonists, how could he (and research) have flourished in that environment?
Well, as he patiently explains and clearly illustrates with many examples, the problem isn't with research per se. The problem is with how the research is conducted, by whom and to what purpose. Done wrong, it is, as he puts it: "the blind leading the bland". Whereas done properly, research can not only save the creative people's most unexpected and outrageous ideas, it can even make them better and more effective.
Naturally, this is a book any account planner will want to read, if for no other reason than the extraordinary chapter devoted to preparing a truly exceptional creative brief. But anyone involved in the ad agency/client loop will benefit from it because at the very least, it will help you determine if the account planning you're currently getting is real account planning or just tired, old research with a spiffy new name.
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on June 12, 1998
A Review: Truth, Lies and Advertising by Jon Steel. Wiley, 1998. Written and Submitted by Neal M. Burns, Department of Advertising University of Texas at Austin
What a book Jon Steel has written! It is lively, intelligent and in chapter after chapter it showcases his analytical ability as well as his commitment to finding the basis for some of the best advertising we have seen. Steel is the consummate planner and his writing reflects the thought processes and the workings of an agency that has claimed and kept the strategic high ground. It is the firm so many of us envy and the one our students want to join. Truth, Lies and Advertising is , in short, a wonderful book written by an Englishman about what may be -- or clearly was at one point in time -- the best agency in America. Steel uses his agency as a vehicle to describe the process and orientation of account planning and advertising. In that authorship lies both the many strengths and the occasional weakness of Truth, Lies and Advertising.
Steel understands the importance of relationships when he describes the nature of exploring the consumer, the brand and the societal framework in which it all takes place. In his discussion Steel recognizes the monumental contributions of Bill Bernbach and the influence his work had on the awareness of the consumer as an intelligent and sympathetic target. Steel suggests that the resulting humanity and sensitivity that Bernbach's work produced had a significant impact on the thought processes of British advertising agencies and, in fact, helped spawn a new discipline known as account planning.
The emphasis was clear: the advertising industry needed to gain insight into human nature so that it could create ads that spoke to their target and were perceived as being relevant. By recalling a brilliant little adage Steel reminds his readers that the way in which the target feels about the ad and interacts with it characterizes gre! at advertising: when baiting a trap with cheese always leave room for the mouse! The book itself reflects this principle and the reader will enjoy the sense of discovery and enlightenment that accompanies one's interaction with it. Steel's style and ready reference to key issues and personal experiences further enhance the advertising wisdom this book delivers.
In addition to the wonderful "got milk" case Steel's best moment in the book for this reader is the discipline and use he provides for the creative brief. For Steel the single purpose of making the advertising better -- of getting the advertising right -- is the potent driving force for the brief. It is not, Steel admonishes us, merely a series of questions that must be asked in a particular order or the submission of enough weighty evidence to justify a doctoral dissertation. Rather, the brief is the synthesis of the planner's works and thoughts represented in a solid fashion that -- ideally -- becomes the doorway for the creative process.
Steel's appreciation of research may appear mysterious to those less familiar with the rather doctrinaire approach of many British planners to quantitative methodology. There is even Steel's assertion that the better thought out the research plan the less valuable it's results will probably be! His reference to the Heisenberg principle is much less shocking than I believe he expects; few researchers or planners today are so unthinking as to fail to recognize that their intervention -- in a physics lab or in a focus group -- somehow alters the results in ways we may not understand.
Steel is generally hard on the usefulness of statistical measures -- and on the intellectual abilities of those who shepherd such activities. Yet he is pleased to report research results he likes --for example, when discussing the successful attainment of specific objectives in the "Got Milk?" Campaign. To the extent that Steel's views are similar to the widely held belief that advertising research fr! equently killed good creative and drove a long lasting -- if not permanent -- wedge between the researcher and the creative departments, the point is important to make from an historical perspective.
Yet, the issues we are trying to resolve call for all our resources, including personal and subjective points of view, so that we can -- as Jon Steel would have us do -- get the advertising right. There is as little room in this competitive profession for bad research as there is for bad planning. Account planning is, as Steel asserts, most likely to work best when it is a combination of many points of view. Then, the insertion of a brilliantly straight forward notion that transcends the data and takes us to a new place (e.g."got milk?", or "see what develops") is really what account planning is all about.
Steel's book is, as he says, more than a description of account planning. Yet, it is the best description of the way in which the process works that the profession has so far. In addition, the book is a wonderful tale of a time in an agency's life when the right juxtaposition of talent, brains, raw energy and empowering clients came together. The feeling the reader receives is that the pages open before them have been written by someone who loves advertising. Those who know Steel -- or have even briefly met him or heard him speak -- know that to be true.
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on December 1, 2003
Another Outsource Marketing firm favorite!
A great book about communication planning written by Jon Steel, the Brit who heads account planning for Goodby Silverstein & Partners. Steel and his agency are best known for developing the "got milk?" campaign.
Truth, Lies & Advertising describes the process of gathering consumer insights and turning them into potent communications.
It offers great advice about developing advertising objectives, using consumer research, and working with creative people.
Steel writes with enthusiasm and sympathy for the creative process, but he's also savvy about business realities and committed to results.
If you've ever struggled to reconcile the art of creative with the science of business, this book should interest you.
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on April 29, 1999
As a strategic consultant to global consumer products companies, I was encouraged to review Steel's book. After reading it, I came to this conclusion: Any advertising firm that does not offer account planning is missing the boat. If you do not get deep into the heart and soul of the targeted consumer - how they live, their goals and aspirations, how they interact with the brand, how they interact with the brand's category, etc. - how could you possibly produce good creative? While good advertising is still sometimes produced without it (by those incredible intuitive thinkers out there), instilling account planning into all research will certainly help reduce risk and provide more confidence that you're doing the right thing.
I think all senior executives should read it, if for only this reason: A couple of years back, I consulted to a Fortune 100 consumer products company. When talk of advertising strategy arose, someone mentioned that it should take on a Seinfeld like approach. Without blinking, the President of this $billion division said, "what's Seinfeld?" Since this person had final approval on all creative, it became clear to me how out of touch some executives are with their consumers.
Steel's book is an easy and worthwhile read and I recommmend it to anyone who has any influence on advertising strategy.
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on January 6, 2005
Without a doubt, this is the difinitive book on the art of account planning. Having been an account planner myself, I can assure you that no other book comes close in terms of providing 1) an overview of the discipline 2) a realistic account of how planning functions in everday situations within the agency 3) is done in an extremely readable and clear format unlike many other advertising strategy/research books which are more strategic textbook. Steel's book reads like a biography which is a testiment to his skill as a writer and as a planner.

However, I do have a few issues with this book in that it places too much emphasis on the power of the consumer in the planning process. I have known many non-planners who have read this book and come away with the idea that everything the consumer says and does is the word of God and planning is nothing more than a glorified consumer tape recorder. This in turn makes the planner's job more difficult in some respects as they in turn must justify all of their work with,"the consumer said this." Often, agency personal new to planning desperately want to strictly classify this multi-faceted discipline and often put it in in a smaller box (consumer) than it is suited for (incidentally, this often says something about the quality or lack thereof of those who you are working with).

The reality (for me anyway) is that account planning encompases many different skills and functions of which listening and interpreting what the consumer says is just one. Consumers are only a rear view mirror in that they can tell you what happened in the past but cannot predict the future. They are also extremely literal and what they say is not always what they mean or feel which is why instinct (a dirty word in many advertising circles) is so essential. Many great brands and briefs utliize a strong point of view rather than direct and literal consumer insight which is counter to the case studies that Steel uses to explain the 'planning process.'

Overall, this is an excellent 'introduction' into account planning. In a sense, the dilema that this book creates though, is also why planning is such a wonderful discipline. A planner's job cannot be easily classified in a sentence because there are so many diverse skills required of a first-rate planner.
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