Get a demo Do I subscribe? News sign-up

Say No to propositions...

Opinion, 21 January 2010

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?

About the author

Prior to joining True Worldwide, Simon’s worked at agencies on both sides of the Atlantic; most recently as Head of Planning at TBWA\London, but previously Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Saatchi & Saatchi, kirshenbaum bond, Sapient Nitro and WCRS.

In this time he’s worked on most categories and across most audience segments, for major brands like HP, Toyota, EA, Mars, Sky TV, Puma, Foot Locker, P&G, Cisco, 118 118, 3 Mobile, Barclays Bank, alongside COI appointments with RAF, Royal Navy and Royal Marines.

Along the way, he’s been lucky enough to pick up a US Gold Effie, a Euro-Effie and a Marketing Society Finalist paper. He writes for  WARC , sporadically maintains a blog and tries to make it out to New York every year to judge the Effies.

He lives with his lovely wife and troublesome golden retriever in sunny Marlow.