The re-birth of communications planning in advertising…

In a way, my experience as a communications planner draws a lot of parallels from my experience as a Wexford hurling fan – there used to be a lot of us, we felt we were important for a while in the last century, and there might be a glimmer of hope that we’ll return in the future.

It wasn’t always this way (for comms planning at least!).

Coined as a term within the BMP agency in the 60s, the discipline evolved organically – media planners and buyers were given office space next to creatives and were encouraged to think “creatively” about comms problems. This marriage of creativity and message understanding seemed to work well, and the unit subsequently evolved into PHD’s sister Omnicom agency OMD.

It was a simpler time, there were less media channels, lead times were longer and TV, though growing, didn’t dominate to the same extent that it does now.

And then, like the dinosaurs, all the comms planners became extinct. TV became the dominant medium, media companies began to break away and creative thinking was either owned by creatives or outsourced.

The role’s value to clients waned as more upstream brand planning became critical.

But advertising is a strangely circular business. It looks like trends have converged to make the comms planner role increasingly critical.

People’s rapidly declining attention spans mean tolerance for advertising in its traditional form is low. To make things even more complicated, media consumption has mushroomed and fragmented. The average American now consumes 31 hours of media every day for example. And no that’s not a typo, multi tasking means we consume more hours than there are available.

So despite all the talk of ‘big data’, sophisticated econometric modelling and personalisation, the old apocryphal quote about ‘half my marketing spend is wasted, I just don’t know which half’ has never been more apt.

It’s because of the challenges of a multi-device, second-screen savvy world that the communications planner is rising again.

The value of integrated creativity

Ever noticed the amount of long winded un-engaging brand Facebook posts, confusing print ads, TV ads shoehorned into YouTube pre-roll, and how much money is wasted on awful ‘content’ that’s both off message and irritating?

In an time when distribution, experience, platform choice and channel planning are crucial, complicated areas and media budgets are being cut, shaping the most effective execution of a campaign is as important as ever.

And yet, most marketers are ignoring all of this.

An incredible 30% of brands are still only advertising on one platform, while 62% of campaigns are not integrated across channels or creating channel specific executions.

That’s why we need more comms planners in Irish agency land.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Because there’s plenty of data to back up the value of reprising this role.

Starting with the seminal advertising research by Binet and Field in 2007, a succession of weighty adland data has supported the need for multi channel campaigns. That particular paper measured years of IPA winning case studies and found that adding an online response element to a TV advert boosts the efficiency of TV by a factor of 4x, amongst other nuggets.

Elsewhere, it’s been proven that multi-channel campaigns actually make the same budgetwork harder in and more efficiently, that advertising across platforms delivers a higher ROI, and that integrated campaigns build better brand associations and more brand equity.


Still not convinced? Well if logic won’t sway you, how about a shiny gold lion?

According to research, the best, most awarded campaigns at Cannes, in Warc awards and in IPA/ADFX tend to be those that use a variety of media to communicate their message.

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Even Facebook, a company that’s inherently biased away from traditional advertising because of its business model, agrees that integration is best. According to recent research from Nielsen, a 19% increase in targeted reach was instigated when TV and Facebook ads were combined versus TV alone.

So what role does comms planning play?

A comms planner is a rare, valuable, often handsome beast (of course I’m highly biased here!) usually found sitting either within a creatively led media agency or a media savvy creative agency. The role of this discipline was born out of the need to think strategically about the integration of a campaign and to marry great creative with smart implementation.

It’s essentially about acting as a choreographer (normally with more spandex). Working closely with media buyers and creatives, a good comms planner exists to provide rigour to the implementation of an idea, and create the best rendition of a campaign rollout. They’ll use insights from data and observing behaviour to optimise and edit messaging helping it fit credibly within channels. Comms planners are responsible for the mechanics of the campaign, and for identifying and overcoming communication barriers for brands.

Sounds complicated right?

It’s not really.

If brand planners are about uncovering consumer insights and synthesising knowledge, and creatives are about communicating ideas, the comms planner is focused on helping bring those ideas to life. To do that, he/she must understand how advertising works but also be an expert in every channel. There’s also a lot of collaboration involved, so a positive, ego less and humorous attitude also helps. I’m working on that bit.

In a landscape that’s defined by multi agency accounts and plenty of agency skill set overlaps, it’s also about making sure that agencies bring forward an integrated campaign with the right message in the right channel.

Adland forgets its history

I’ve seen Irish advertising legend John Fanning speak on numerous occasions, and one of his most salient points is that modern adland seems to forget its history. While technology is changing what we do, it doesn’t make what’s gone before irrelevant. Brands have faced similar challenges for decades, and and the truth is we ignore the learnings of yore.

Often, adland’s future can be taken from its history. And thus, I’m expecting to see the rebirth of the communications planning role in the Irish market in the next few years.

By my research, at Target McConnells we’re one of only two agencies in Ireland that employ dedicated comms/connection planners. In our case, that’s in tandem with an interactive team that specialises in optimal creative and technical execution. Our model certainly isn’t perfect yet, nor am I, but it’s getting there and integration and collaboration are areas that we’re investing heavily in. With award winning, creatively recognised campaigns like An Post 1916, Vodafone Centre Stage and Topaz Play or Park in our back pocket, this seems to be bearing fruit.

Just like the mighty men in purple and gold, the discipline will rise again.

Popping the filter bubble


Even in sunny Dublin, the morning of #Brexit felt strange. Perhaps it was me projecting my emotions onto others, but everyone I spoke to that Friday seemed to be thinking along similar lines.
“Nobody really saw this coming”
“How could this happen?”
“Who are these people that voted to leave?”

Shortly after, the farce began, with resignations, regret (#Bregret) and most hilariously, immediate U turns.

The shock in the media I consume and in my Twitter and Facebook feeds was palpable. Smart, well educated people that I respect were left confused and aghast as their neighbourhoods and counties voted overwhelmingly to leave.

And therein lies the problem.

The echo chambers that we’ve created for ourself, knowingly or otherwise, are hardening the divides in society.


At a base level, we exist in a time when there’s never been more polarised discourse. Black v white, Muslim v Western, gun lobby versus anti gun lobby, repeal versus pro life, disenfranchised versus middle and upper class. Literally everywhere you look, across every political spectrum there’s increasing hardening of views.

And the way we increasingly consume our media is only making that worse. Social media is polarising our discourse more painfully than before. Facebook and Twitter are both set up to constantly confirm and harden our existing biases. Algorithms give us more of what we like in our feeds and push us to follow similar media.

But we’re also actively self selecting, because we choose to like and follow people we agree with.

That’s the filter bubble, a term coined by Eli Pariser in 2011, at play.

To make things worse, according to academic insight into what makes videos go ‘viral’ by Jonah Berger, we like to share things that elicit high power emotions (joy, empathy, anger), and thus, our feeds are bloated with the extreme.

Oh, and to compound that, the current news model actively incentivises media companies to chase clicks for ad impressions, so they’re also biased towards creating extreme ‘clickbait’ style puffed up content.

It’s a complicated, tangled web of problems that’s leading to unhealthy societal repercussions and norms.

In a time where we increasingly consume news directly through social media (and this behaviour is only going to increase), it’s not overplaying it to say this is a major societal issue.

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It’s a circular problem too. This constant barrage of reinforcement and lack of diverse thinking is further hardening our stances. Look at Twitter, Reddit or any comment section – the default mode of argument on the internet is aggression and opposition, rather empathy or a desire to see another point of view.

Things are either black or white online. But in real life, everything is very much grey.

We’re losing our capacity for empathy, diplomacy and positive, mutually beneficial discourse.

And even if you actively look to break out of the constraints of the bubble, it’s tough to do.

The Wall Street Journal visualised what the filter bubble actually looks like from both sides through an excellent piece of interactive journalism recently, and it’s eye opening stuff.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald was once quoted as saying that

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideasin mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”

Yet too often we look at the world through our own eyes and fail to acknowledge the eyes of others.

The quick reaction our brains have to people who disagree with us is often that they are idiots. They shouldn’t be allowed to talk or have a platform. They should lose.

But as JK Rowling said recently, “intolerance of alternative viewpoints is spreading to places that make me, a moderate and a liberal, most uncomfortable.”

Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter et al are the de facto organisers of much of the information we receive and discuss. It’s obviously convenient that we can get all our news in one place. But that power also comes with responsibility. These social channels can sway opinion and a diet of biased media is not good for anyone.

The biggest problem facing the western world is how to re-connect with the masses of groups we’ve alienated, both within our countries and externally.

But the filter bubble has sucked us all in. And it’s going to take one massive conscious effort by everyone to overturn.



Further reading:
How technology disrupted the truth
The Shallows – Nicholas Carr
Eli Pariser Filter Bubble Ted Talk


A 7 step guide to creating Facebook Video that’s thumbstopping


Unless you’re a marketer that’s been living under a rock, you’ll understand that natively uploaded Facebook video is a pretty big deal.

In fact, it’s a competitor to TV with billions of daily views. 

That’s big.

Facebook’s core mission is to get you to spend more time on their platform, and by prioritising video in the newsfeed, they’ve created another attention magnet.

Over 100 million hours of video content is watched on Facebook every day.
That’s around 8 billion total daily views.
500 million people watch Facebook video every day.

And with brands and publishers getting to grips with it, that’s only set to grow.

For media brands, the source for a lot of Facebook’s most read content, video is becoming an increasingly critical play, meaning an explosion in content and a huge inflection point.

Via NewsWhip

Of course all of this is in Facebook’s interest – more Facebook video consumption means more Facebook video advertising. And video ads are usually more expensive (around 4$ CPM), which means more revenue for Facebook.


Along with being massive in size, Facebook video is also quite unique. Unlike on YouTube, where most videos are sought out by the user through search or other means, on Facebook video views are generally stumbled upon in the feed and slightly less engaged.

Facebook video views are more ‘drive by’. They auto play in a user’s feed and there’s also been plenty of comment over how Facebook measures a ‘view’, with the 3 second threshold seen as very low. But whatever your opinion on the ‘viewability’ debate, there’s no doubting the importance of native Facebook in every marketing plan.

With all of this in mind, what creative, content and production tips can we take from the best Facebook video brands? What are the common themes that make great Facebook video?

And how can you create content that’s ‘thumbstopping’ and pays off for your brand?

Here’s my guide to creating Facebook video

1| Shoot for no sound

There’s a reason that highly visual clips of food and cute animals (sometimes together!) are the most popular types of videos on Facebook. For most video viewers, the picture has to tell the story, because 85% of Facebook video is watched with sound off. This is a huge trend that most publishers understand, but some brands don’t. Think about it, when you’re on the bus commuting into work scrolling through your newsfeed and you see an interesting video play, you often don’t want to click in and let the sound kick in. Like it or not, Facebook has built a video ecosystem that does not require users to turn the volume up and brands have to get used to this.

As Facebook itself says, ‘consumption on our platform is fast, frequent and often sound-free.’ It’s perhaps the most important nuance of Facebook video compared to other platforms like YouTube.

The easiest way to facilitate this behaviour is to create video that’s highly visual, simple to understand and, most importantly, uses text subtitles to repeat the narration. Basically, the intent is to make it easy for people to consume the information presented in the videos without needing to turn the sound on.Another important consideration is when sound is off, how does my brand come across? Many brands get past this either via an intro/outro sting, by using a sustained visual cue in the form of a logo on the periphery of the screen, or by pulsing the brand logo or colours in and out of the visual in a very noticeable way.

Here’s a great example from Buzzfeed of titles:

And here’s a look at how ‘Now This News’ use brand pulsing:

2| Keep it short

Considering the paucity of our attention spans, the constant blast of information and the fierce battle for eyeballs within Facebook’s newsfeed, keeping video content short, snackable and to the point is a no brainer. Think of the start of the video as a ‘three second audition’, after which, a user chooses to either stay engaged or flip on to the next juicy tidbit in their feed.

While the average view length on YouTube or new sites can often be over two minutes because of dwell time, in the newsfeed our default behaviour is to flip on if something is boring or too drawn out. Again, using data from the excellent NewsWhip, it’s easy to see why short is sweet for Facebook video.

Via NewsWhip

3| Make it for mobile

Because the majority of Facebook usage now comes on mobile (more than 500 million people only use Facebook through mobile!), the majority of  your video views will be coming from mobile. I’ve seen multiple brands make the mistake of using pop-up annotations that look fine in the editing process on desktop, but can’t be seen clearly on mobile at all. Shooting in HD and being very visual with creative should be priorities.

Video content needs to be approached with the consumption screen in mind. People have a unique interaction with mobile feed, and marketers should keep in mind the sound environment and quickness of mobile feed when developing creative.

Where possible, video should be also shot for vertical viewing. Again, this is all about understanding user context, and just like on Snapchat, viewers often don’t want to have to tap into full screen and rotate their phone just to watch a video that’s just a few seconds long.

A large majority (80%+) of the most shared videos over a month in Facebook are square in format.


4| End with a CTA

The engagement shouldn’t just end with a video view. If you really want to win the battle of the newsfeed and capture some precious exponential attention for your brand on Facebook, you need to be smarter.

The best brands will always use a call to action to entice users either to their site or to view another of their videos. Just like on YouTube where viewers are asked to subscribe, on Facebook, a verbal or visual/text call to action can have a positive impact, and creates an ancillary action beyond just a video view.

You can also customise the call to action that appears at the end of the clip itself.

There are a number of options you can choose here, including ‘Sign Up’, ‘Learn More’ and ‘Download’ (see below). Here, you can choose to send viewers to your site, to re-watch, or otherwise.

Watch this AJ+ video for an example, you’ll see a CTA within the video to share, and also a CTA when it ends to ‘Sign Up’

5| Set it up for sharing

While shares and ‘virality’ might not always be your KPI, often, the ask for marketers is to get a video seen by as many people as possible for as little cost as possible.

A tough challenge right?

As you’ll probably know by now, the science of sharing is an inexact one, but there are multiple considerations that you can take into account prior to shooting that will help the video stand out and get shared. Facebook users are a predictable bunch, and you’ll generally see the same type of feel good, food or fun and helpful content at the top of the Facebook video charts.

One great model to follow when you’re trying to infuse a piece of video with some magic dust is Jonah Berger’s STEPPS model that outlined six drivers of viral content as follows:

  • Social currency: what you talk about makes you look to others.
  • Triggers: stimuli that reminds people to think/talk about certain things.
  • Emotion: content that makes people feel something.
  • Public: showing that other people are using a product.
  • Practical Information: crafting content that is useful to the viewer.
  • Stories: integrating your message into a narrative.


In particular, the social currency aspect is critically important. This plays into the fact that on social, but particularly on Facebook, we create a veneer for our lives, an artificial avatar based upon our photos, likes, shares and commentary. That’s part of the reason why half the world changed their Facebook profile photo to show solidarity for France last year. Research has shown that the most shared Facebook posts are posts that would make the sharer “look good” or look intelligent”. 

For example, I might be more likely share a video of a Syrian refugee camp with a message of disgust at the whole crisis, or a video making fun of Donald Trump’s latest epic fail, because it makes me look smart in front of my friends.

Also, videos that create ‘high value emotions’ – emotions like anger, happiness, humour, excitement (those on the polar sides of the emotional spectrum) are far more likely to be shared. Think of Dove’s ‘Beauty Sketches’ or almost any funny/evocative viral video. The only exception to the rule - sadness isn’t a viral emotion, so don’t tug at the heart strings. Strong storytelling is also critical, and the likes of AJ+ have gotten hit upon a nice recipe for this.

Videos that are incredibly useful are always great for gaining shares too. That’s why food videos with tasty, easy to create recipes, or videos that offer cool ‘lifehacks’ get such enormous view counts – it’s news you can use. Here’s an excellent study looking at the reasons for social sharing.

So when you’re thinking about Facebook video, think about being brand relevant, something that will
- create valuable social currency for sharers
- evoke emotion
- is useful
- contains a story.

Ideally, all of the above would be a nice sweet spot to hit!

6| T.L.R. (Test, Learn, Refine)


Measurement is the seemingly easy part that’s all too often forgotten by brands who create Facebook video campaigns. There’s no point doing anything digital unless you’ve got strong KPIs, you measure and you use the data derived to change your strategy around next time.

For example, are you looking for shares of content or are you placing spend being this video piece and so not relying on organic interaction? Do you want people to watch the whole thing, or is three seconds enough to get the message? Where does your CTA go and is it needed? If you’re creating a multi video campaign, can you track viewers of the first video so you can serve them up subsequent videos?

All of these things can be variables, but luckily Facbeook’s advertising platform makes it incredibly easy to optimise for certain things.

T.L.R. is a bit of a cliche, and has been taken on by startupland too, but an iterative approach to Facebook video is vital if you want to get the most bang for your buck.

7| Don’t use it in isolation

Consumers are becoming default second screeners. We value the flexibility to access content whenever and wherever we want and we use Facebook in tandem with other tools throughout the day. When was the last time you sat in front of the T.V. and didn’t feel some urge to check what’s happening on your feed? According to Google, Irish consumers have an average of 3.1 connected devices and we are rated 6th (out of 46 countries globally) in terms of frequency of multi-screening.

That’s both a hindrance (divided attention), but also an opportunity for smart marketers. A lot of strong research shows that digital video plays an especially effective role when it’s partnered with T.V. (for example, the seminal Binet & Field paper that looks at over 30 years of IPA Effectiveness Awards covering 700 brands).

This makes sense – when you see something in your Facebook newsfeed (even if it’s a fleeting glance) and then you encounter it again on T.V., that’s two engagements with a campaign. Preceding an ad exposure on one platform with an ad exposure on another platform is powerful, so if you’re running above the line creative, be sure to use Facebook video to prime, remind and elongate it.

According to Binet and Field, an online response element to a TV advert boosts the efficiency of TV by a factor of 4x.

Therefore, any question of T.V. versus Facebook is actually a misnomer, it’s the overlap of both mediums that actually creates the best brand effects.
From a repetition, cost effectiveness and efficiency standpoint, integration is vital.

Indeed, Facebook’s own research (in tandem with an independent body) has found that by priming TV ads through viewing Facebook video creative first, brands can expect a 19% lift in memory encoding than if a user had seen the T.V. spot twice. Basically, participants primed with brand ads on Facebook in Day 1 were more likely to make purchase decisions once they saw the TV ad on Day 2, and higher levels of brain activity were reported among participants who saw ads on Facebook first and then watched TV ads the next day.

By complementing TV campaigns with Facebook video ads, it can help to extend reach, efficiency, and effectiveness — in other words, more people see it, click to watch, and convert to actual sales.

That’s huge and a great way to make the case for split digital/above the line budgets.


So there you have it. While nothing can be certain when it comes to creative video, there are some things that you can embed into your content to give it the best chance of success. By using these seven factors, you’re creating the bedrock for a strong campaign, and given the relative cheapness and viral factor of Facebook, a good video can travel a long way and have large brand effects.

If you liked this post, please share it with others, and here’s some further reading and inspiration on Facebook video best practices: