The Warc Blog

The Warc Blog

Say No to propositions...
Simon Law, Executive Planning Director, True Worldwide
Simon Law

It's time to upgrade from propositions as our holy grail of strategy and briefs.

I know you want to keep them, because they're familiar, pithy, sometimes single-minded (at least, the good ones are), they form the central part of the strategic brief and you're probably quite brilliant at finding the right one. Also, frankly, a well-crafted proposition is the strategists showpiece - an opportunity to encapsulate your strategy in a soundbite worthy of Oscar Wilde (or maybe Edward Bulwer-Lytton if you really know your stuff).

The problem is, propositions belong in a world where marketers and advertisers find messages. Things to say to people. Brilliant things that will change hearts and minds, but messages nonetheless.

Yet the world of brands has changed. The most effective brands are finding ways to share beliefs with their audience, to involve them, to engage them. And, although that can involve telling the audience something, it often doesn't.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm not trying to say that we should abandon traditional media, which seems more obviously geared to deliver a message. Absolutely not - all media can be effective beyond simply delivering a 'message'. Nor am I suggesting that the communications world has gone digital, leaving 'messages' behind. It has, but not to the absolute demise of everything else.

I believe we should be looking for "thoughts" - organising principles that can gather together the stuff that a brand does, shares and tells the audience. We should be digging for experiences, stories, beliefs, opportunities, utility, and so on - things that people can relate to, pass on, use, get involved in, or simply enjoy. These thoughts can still be expressed with the same single-minded, pithy, quotable brilliance, but they're not propositions - and they don't propose 'messages' we will broadcast to our 'target consumers'.

I'm challenging the assumption that we're looking for messages to give to people - and, therefore, that a proposition is the strategic goal. Because a proposition demands a message - at the very least, you could argue that it demands action, which is still too restrictive.

I'm suggesting we ditch the search for a proposition and start looking for what a brand does with/for an audience, not just what it says.

What do you think?

Subjects: Marketing

21 January 2010 12:39

There are 2 comments on this blog

Nice thinking. I guess it depends on whether you view a proposition as a single minded thought (the 'first step of the creative process', as some say), a 'goal' (as you say), or a reason for people to want to get involved. I try - not always successfully - to structure them along the lines of the last definition. I don't think that this precludes an ongoing series of interactions, and it certainly shouldn't prevent a brand from offering utility in some sense. But it should make it clear why anyone should bother with the brand. What's in it for them - either as the recipient of a brand's short-term, one-way message, or as an invitation to share experiences in a longer-term, more collaborative way. Most of us are inherently forgetful creatures, and even if a brand's offering is multifarious and finely grained, it still helps align our creative and strategic thinking under one proposition - even if this is at the expense of an ego-swelling epigram ;-)
Matthew H. 15 November 2010 at 11:37am
I guess this line of thinking leads to the transmedia planning model. If you accept that a consumer's brand perception is shaped by successive encounters with the brand and its communication, then the essence of planning is to devise a coherent and meaningful narrative that unfolds across those successive encounters, not to repeatedly parrot a single message regardless of context or moment. PS Hi Simon!
Will C. 30 November 2010 at 10:16am
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