The 4G Ideas Matrix For Planners

In 2016, 43,101 entries were submitted at one of the most coveted advertising awards arena – the Cannes Lions 2016, and out of the submissions, which were an increase of sevenper cent from the previous year, 1,888 actually won something. This figure represents just fourper cent of the entries, an alarming figure indeed. But does this mean the remaining 96 per cent that were not recognised were bad ideas?

Today, in a world where brands are fighting for the attention of consumers, ideas are the ones that make or break businesses. The reality is that ideas are not hard to come by, but many die, making good ideas rare and great ideas even rarer.

In advertising, we constantly chase for good ideas that depart from the status quo, in order to help the brands we work for stand out, meaningfully. Ideas that are interesting and fresh, that have never been executed before. Ideas that are innovative and yet pulls at the heart strings of our audiences.

Despite this oft-stated hunger for creativity, how can we make sure our ideas are actually viable, especially when it is not fully sketched out in the initial stages? Is there a formula to derive good ideas? And is the term “there are no bad ideas” really true when we are brainstorming? There are many articles online sharing best practices on how best to conduct a brainstorm session, but this is not about brainstorming, rather, we need to know what to do with the ideas derived from brainstorms.

A good brainstorm session will get us loads of ideas, but the difficult part is separating the wheat from the chaff. I’ve been to numerous brainstorm sessions and have seen first-hand, the ugly side of people defending their ideas and egos being hurt in the process.

As advertising is notorious for its long hours, I’ve developed a simple yet efficient way to group ideas up and move forward quickly – in hopes that this process can benefit teams everywhere in our industry.

All we need to do is plot two simple axis. One on how interesting the idea is and another on how insightful the idea is.

How Interesting – When something has been done too many times, it’s no longer fresh and can get boring. From Drones, to Vending Machines, and the recent viral Mannequin Challenge, jumping on a trend 6 months later can get way too late. Fresh ideas capture our audiences’ imagination and they want to know more beyond the latest obsession and be entertained.

How Insightful – If an idea lacks insight, it will just be an idea that does not re-examine any existing conventions and thereby fail to deliver any value. As marketers, we always need to ensure that our ideas are founded on powerful human truth so that we will pull at the heartstrings of our audiences and hit their raw nerve.

So with these two axis, we get four quadrants where we can then start bucking our list of ideas.

Out of these two axis we get the 4G quadrants:

Garbage Ideas – Firstly, let’s be brutally honest and call out the garbage ideas. These are uninteresting ideas that most likely have been done to death or are simply outright boring. To make it worse, they are based off absolutely no insight. Toss them out right away.

Gimmicky Ideas – Sometimes an interesting technology comes along and provides new ways to powering our communication objectives. Radio, Television, Internet, Virtual Reality, Bots – the evolution continues. However, if like garbage ideas, they have no real insight, then it’s just purely a gimmicky idea. The temptation to be the first to execute something, or utilise new technology in a fresh way is very real, but usually they get a spike in attention and can’t contribute to long term brand value as people start to forget once the novelty wears off.

Good Ideas – Good ideas are based on powerful human truths, and will be relatable to our audience. They may not speak to everyone, but at least our intended audience will respond positively to it. Even if the idea is not ground-breaking or have been done before in other categories, it is still good business to have an idea that our audience relates to well.

Great Ideas – Now great ideas are what propels businesses and also win awards. These ideas are based on powerful insights and go the extra mile to communicate with audiences in a fresh, new, creative ways. Not only are they very relatable to our audience, they also intrigue those beyond our target audience and become a viral sensation.

So as a planner, being the consumer advocate, whether it is devising campaigns to encourage progressive behaviour, to drive behavioural change, or to champion a social cause, the age old principle of uncovering powerful insight while marrying creativity and technology is what I believe truly brings us great ideas.

Contributed article by Nick Pan originally published onDigital Marketing Asia.


Building Confidence In Your Craft


The advertising agency sector is facing a talent crisis.A joint report by LinkedIn and 4A’sshowed that when compared against competitive industries, the rate of talent turnover at agencies increased 10 per cent year over year, and that there was a 25% net talent loss at ad agencies.

To add to the challenge, ad agencies today operate in a complex advertising landscape, faced with an expanding number of marketing channels. As a result, brands are on the lookout for multiple specialised agencies to help them demystify these complexities – and yet every other agency claims to be full-service, integrated–that they can do it all.

If you are a young executive from an ad agency, are you confident to stand in front of your clients and be the one they can trust, having all the answers to their questions? I’ve seen many young executives in meetings with senior clients and they struggle. They feel they are too junior; they feel intimidated by senior clients. They feel they lack the gravitas. What if they are asked a difficult question and don’t have the answer for it? What if clients don’t believe what they say? What if they are not a good representation of the company? These are just a handful of common apprehensions.

All these fears are very real, and can be crippling for an individual’s professional growth. As marketing folks, we don’t just need to be good at what we do, we also need to be confident in our craft and we need our teams to be confident, too.

We need to be the ones leading the client-agency relationship. After all, clients hired agencies to help solve their challenges. Clients know what they would like to achieve, but rely on their agencies to develop the strategies and guide them into achieving their goals – failing which, the business will be taken to other agencies that will.

We need to be confident in front of our clients if we want to lead the relationship and be a valuable partner. So here are a few things that we can encourage our teams to do to be confident in our craft:

1. Know your stuff

Unsure of something? Read up, Google it, ask around. There is no excuse in not knowing your stuff. If you know your stuff, you can be questioned in anyway and you know you will have the answers.

Do this:

  • Create a learning plan. List out the things you feel you need to learn in three, six, nine, twelve months.
  • Have the discipline to learn at least one thing every week.
  • Ask your seniors out for coffee and learn from them. Ask them any questions you may have within their domain of expertise.

2. Be passionate in your craft

Passion is a loosely used word. For the majority of those who say they have passion for their craft, most of the time they are saying it because it is the right thing to say. At interviews, when questioned, some candidates really have nothing to show for their passions and are only paying lip service.If we say we are passionate about our craft, let’s make sure we have something to show for it. If you are passionate, do what it takes and the enthusiasm will speak for itself. This gives your clients confidence in what you say.

Do this:

  • Register a domain and build a small website of anything you like. It can be a blog, a cause you believe in, or simply a portfolio site.
  • Create a Facebook page, LinkedIn group of anything you are interested in and try to get at least 1000 people on it. It can be a hobby, a sport, anything.
  • Download the latest trendy app and work towards being good at it. It can be Snapchat, or BIGO Live.

3. Don’t think you can’t

Sometimes we lack confidence because we think “I can’t overcome this challenge, it’s just too great.” Instead of harboring second thoughts, focus your energies on thinking of “How can I?” That is a lot more productive and sets you on a path to overcome your challenges, so don’t think “I can’t.”, think “How can I?”

Do this:

  • List out your top career challenge and think of 3 ways of how you can overcome it, then do it. Once you have overcome your top challenge, start working on your next one.

4. Everyone is your age once

Senior clients can be intimidating, but most of the time the only reason they are more senior then you is simply because they were born earlier. They were once your age too. So make sure you are above par when compared with your peers. If you are behind, start becoming better now. Tell yourself that you will be much better than them when at their age. And don’t just think it, do it.

Do this:

  • For each client whom you find intimidating, search their profile on LinkedIn and then make a comparison with what they were doing when they were your age.

In short, we need more driven individuals.People who strive to better understand the client’s business. People who want to try out the latest app that everyone seems to be talking about. People who constantly go out of their comfort zone to learn more about how things work. People who are working towards bringing their client’s brands to meet their stated brand purpose.

In advertising, our people are our greatest asset. Just imagine what a few confident and driven people can do.

Contributed article by Nick Pan originally published on Digital Marketing Asia.

The Agency Reviewed in Advertising


Being in the advertising industry it’s quite common to have a less than positive attitude towards the clients we serve and dedicate our waking hours to. Phrases like “the client is dumb” have been heard in the halls of advertising for as long as advertising was around.

It’s common to be aghast when clients spew vague oxymoronic wisdom and expect the agency to continue the discussion and explore their direction of thinking without first going to the bathroom for a puke, the bar to get drunk and home to our mothers to spill out our hearts and tell her how we hate our lives. I’ve seen quite a few junior executives go through this phase and when their superiors cast the first stone, their uninhibited inner thoughts from their subconscious comes out and torches the client like a mindless dragon that just escaped from a dungeon seeking revenge.

Then after a year the agency gets reviewed and the whole account goes into a toss.

When we, the people from the agency side put in the hard work and long hours and not seen success, it’s understandable to be frustrated, it’s also understandable to lash out at our clients who are supposedly the ones who brings us much pain and suffering. In this highly emotional industry, It is understandable, but it’s also unhealthy and career limiting.

Have we thought about the conversations happening on the other side, the client side? What do they say about their agency? Let’s simplify the agency review into a scale of five stars and see what they could possibly mean.

Disclaimer: Ive never been on the client side. The following are purely from my imagination and of my own opinion. Any resemblance to real events, real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

1 Star

How did my predecessors decide to engage this agency? Im perfectly fine that they are late on their deliverables, but avoiding me on calls and not replying my emails only later to tell me that the deadline had to be pushed because of some vague unfathomable reason when the deadline had already passed is just unbelievable.

Not only do they not seem to have basic common sense, they also dont seem to understand the words coming out of my mouth. I rather do the work myself than to pay them another cent to make my life even more miserable than it already is. My blood starts to boil when my phone rings and I see the agencys number on caller id.

2 Stars

I believe my briefs are clear, but why do they always come back with all this super lame my-grandmother-can-have-a-better-idea type idea. Im really curious how our brief was translated to the rest of the extended agency. Seriously copying epic split and old spice was not the brief, I wonder if they even have any insights at all. Do they even know what my marketing objectives are?!

They can execute, I give them that and I can even forgive them for that once in a while mistake or delay, but I seriously think Im paying too much for just this kind of execution. There is simply no leadership, we need to tell them what to do along the way. They still have the cheek to pressure me to sign new quotes whenever we meet. Im looking forward to work with a new agency.

3 Stars

My agency is ok and I think agencies are generally all the same. They work hard at times, they slack at times, they deliver most of the time according to plan, but they do miss some deadlines as well. Sometimes they give us all their attention, but sometimes they also seem to be busy with other business, so thats not so nice.

The senior strategic people seems to be appearing less, leaving all these junior executives to take care of our business.

But when we do get the good senior strategic people in, things move along fairly well, but when they dont get so involved things either become less strategic and becomes more executional. At times I give them some briefs just to keep them on their toes and challenge their ideas.

4 Stars

I love my agency. They get me. They know what is important and I can genuinely feel that they care for our brand and our business while having a good grasp of the market and our consumers. At times when we are not too sure of the way forward, they will workshop with us, make us focus on the more important things and collaboratively we work something out. The outcome tend to be good and sometimes simply brilliant.

The awards we have won because of this partnership is evidence that it’s a great relationship that’s working well. I understand that such agency reviews are necessary but honesty lets just extend their contract already.

5 Stars

My agency is a unicorn. Their employees are all supermodels and available 24/7. Every meeting is like a date and my heart will always skip a beat during these meetings and they are the absolute highlight of my day.

They send me their proposals before I send them the brief and the best part is we don’t need emails as everything is done almost telepathically. Not only do we win all possible awards we enter for, my agency charge me only a nominal fee and most of the time the work is pro-bono.

They take all my verbal abuse when I’m bored and just need to shout at someone. They counsel me when I’m sad, throw me parties, run my errands and collect my laundry too.

I love my agency. I love them more than I love myself.


Of course the last bit is an exaggeration because supermodels need their beauty sleep so its not possible to be available 24/7 and telepathy have not been invented yet.

Ok ok ok, in all seriousness, If you are working in Advertising and have read thus far, I urge all of us to not think that “the client is dumb”, instead look at ourselves and ask ourselves if we are proud being paid by our clients for what we have done for them?

What value have we brought into the relationship? What leadership have we shown? How much time have we invested in knowing our clients business and understanding the things that are keeping them up at night? Is it just a client-vendor relationship or is it more of a partnership? The list goes on…

We are in the business of communication. We have the power to shape minds and change perceptions. We have the power to build brands and start movements. We have the ability to create art filled with science. We have the ability to be a catalyst of good and to influence this generation and the generations to come.

So, in the grand scheme of things, the stars our client gives us dont matter, what matters is how we approach our craft which results in the quality of the work which then results in the stars our client gives us. So care for your clients business and do good work and Im sure you and your agency will be stars.