The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Stop Thinking Like Engineers …

This is a topic that I’ve been bothered by for a very long time.

I touched on it last week in the post about my recent webinar for WARC.

It also formed part of the presentation I did with the amazing Martin Weigel at Cannes in 2019 … also for WARC.

Frankly, I’m seeing far too much work that is literal.

Literal in the problem.
Literal in the strategy.
Literal in the execution.

It’s like all the work is repackaging the client brief and just adding some fancy words, a bit of a gloss and that’s it.

No real understanding of the culture around the category.
No real distinctive expression of the brand behind the work.
No real lateral leaps in the creativity to make people give a shit.

It’s dot-to-dot communication based on lowest common denominator logic … and while I get it will pass research processes and client stakeholders without much pushback … what’s it actually doing for anyone?

Few will remember it.
Even fewer will respond to it.
And no one feels good at the end of it.

Don’t get me wrong, we have to make work that makes a difference for our clients.

I get that.

But that means finding out the real problem we need to solve rather than the solution we want to sell. Means finding out what how the subculture really uses the category in their life versus how the client would like them to use it. Means allowing the creatives to solve the problem we’ve identified rather than dictating the answer. Means being resonant, not relevant. Means having a point of view. Means dreaming of what it could be rather than what it already is. And – most of all – means letting people feel rather than just be told.

It’s why you remember Dancing Pony over that Vodafone spot.

Because while I’m sure both overcame all manner of research obstacles and client stakeholders requirements, there is one thing one campaign remembered, and it’s what Martin once said:

“You can be as relevant as hell and still be boring as fuck”.

23 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Another day, another excellent post. You are on an excellent run at the moment. I agree with everything you’re saying. The image you used for this post is wonderful though I feel the whole post could be summed up with Martin’s quote and this.

”It’s why you remember Dancing Pony over that Vodafone spot.“

Comment by George

It’s Rob of 2007 all over again. Colenso should be very happy and a little scared. ; )

Comment by Pete

happy? that means we have a recession, a terrorist attack and a pandemic to go through again. fuck you.

Comment by andy@cynic

I am pretty sure Robert was not responsible for any of those events.

Comment by George

Your edit nails the crux of Rob’s point.

Comment by Pete

Martin and dancing pony for the win.

Comment by Bazza

So the bits that have little to do with me. Typical. Ha.

Comment by Rob

I agree George. He is especially good at present.

Comment by Lee Hill

fucking low starting line.

Comment by andy@cynic

Love this Rob. It’s not a new theme, especially for you, but there is a new energy and fight in what you’re saying that is infectious. At the end of the day, strategy should be judged by the output and the impact. Not one or the other, but both. I hope more people read this. Not just strategists but clients, so they see what they should be getting and demanding.

Comment by Pete

Well said Pete. I see so much strategy being justified by detailing increases in performance of some kind. We all know those figures can be achieved and manipulated without strategic input or change. This is why output is such an important component to evaluate the overall success of strategy. If the work is more of the same, then the strategy is impotent or simply does not exist. The opposite is also true. If strategy is just about the work and has no purposeful goal, it is not strategy. Why is this so hard?

Comment by George

The part I liked most in your grenade post last week was when you said “thinking strategically doesn’t mean you’re a strategist.” The stories I could tell.

Comment by Bazza

Oh yes. ‘Everyone’ thinks they’re a strategist.

What they don’t realise is most of them are bad ones … only seeing the way forward through their own, myopic world and lens. And that’s if they’re better than some of the others out there, who just ignore it all and just say what they think should happen based on nothing but the belief their opinion matters most.

Comment by Rob


Comment by Bazza

The title of this post is unfair. Engineers tend to make sure they analyse and fully understand the problems they’re addresing. I think what your guest blogger really means is to stop thinking like you’re writing a university essay.

Comment by John

I know what you’re saying and it’s fair. My point is the majority of engineers work to specific outcomes and so all their work is focused on achieving that goal. That is not a criticism, I want planes to consistently stay in the air but creativity is not engineering.

We don’t have the same set rules … and so while we should always be wanting to do things that move things further, we have the flexibility to allow more in. To explore more possibilities. To talk to people … but it appears the discipline feels that is not positive … that systematic approach to strategy is the only valid strategy and it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong, systematic thinking is am important part of the process … but if you only follow that path – or don’t open yourself up to allow broader input into your thought process … you will never get to somewhere new.

Comment by Rob

I know what you’re saying and it’s fair-ish. I wasn’t suggesting that the engineering route is the way to go, but that the prevailing approach you rightly criticise is neither properly systematic nor flexible.

Comment by John

Fairish? And I even corrected your typo for you. Ha.

Comment by Rob

And I even agreed with you.

Comment by John

Are you ill John?

Comment by Bazza

you know the squiggle shit on the picture on this post look like sperm. if its from a planner, it will end up missing the target and then theyll write a fucking paper on it.

Comment by andy@cynic

Andrew. You do know this isn’t a Rorschach inkblot test?

Comment by George


Comment by andy@cynic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: