Insights are a load of crap

Paul Hindle is sick of the advertising industry's penchant for labelling every scrap of information as a 'killer insight'.

Yes, I agree, my headline is click-bait.

What I really mean is, most of what passes for insights is a load of crap.

Much of the advertising industry-at-large – and often the media discipline that I work in – appears to have drunk the Kool-Aid that states no worthwhile communications plan can be achieved without an insight. A ‘killer insight’ even, as I occasionally see it breathlessly referred to.

In theory, that all sounds great. Who doesn’t love a killer insight? However, in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, while in practice there is.

In practice what I see are mostly observations of the obvious. Some years back, I read a winning USA Media Plan of the Year write-up of a national campaign micro-targeting multiple ethnic groups.

It was a credible piece of work that clearly took considerable effort and some level of skill. And, per the write-up, it all sprang forth from the ‘insight’ that ethnic groups prefer to receive communications in their native language.

Well I never, gracious me Sherlock! Whatever next? Mothers want the best for their children? Teenagers like video games and music? Oh, the insight! Maybe too much insight.

Why is the industry still in this state of affairs? In my opinion, blame the ‘look-I’m-adding-value’ huffery and puffery that’s become associated with all the briefing boxes and planning process stages. If it’s marked ‘insight’, gotta fill it. Fill it with an obvious observation. Or a statistic, or a fact about the consumer, or some brand wish marketing-speak nonsense.

The irony is that data and observations are incredibly useful to campaign creation and planning, as they suggest a course of action a la that Media Plan of the Year. I do not subscribe to the view that every effective approach must stem from a genuine insight. But I do believe it strains the credibility of the presenter if data and observations are offered up as such.

Larry Light, the formidable American marketing sage, has a test to determine, in his words, relevant and actionable insights. He judges them by two criteria:

1. Were you surprised by what you learned? YES or NO

2. Because of what you learned, will you change what you recommend? YES or NO

Only a YES on both counts qualifies as a relevant and actionable insight.

I’d nominate ‘insight’ as the most debased, misunderstood and misapplied term in all of advertising – and that’s saying something. Relevant and actionable insights are rare and take effort to find. They should be celebrated when we do find them. And they shine brighter when we don’t surround them with crap.

Paul Hindle is head of strategy at OMD WA. This post first appeared on his LinkedIn here.


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