This website will contain a lot of materials covering the topic of “consumer insight”. It is because a lot of planners, research or marketing people have their own perspectives on insights. “Insightment” is a term I first heard about when reading an Admap article by Anthony Tasgal called “Insightment: Where Art Meets Science”. Although it is a pretty short article, it is one of the best articles I saw so far about “insights”. Anthony Tasgal worked as an account planner for over 18 years at agencies like SJIP/BBDO, DMB&B and Euro RSCG. In 1998, he has started his own consultancy – POV Marketing and Research, where he applies thinking from outside traditional marketing (cultural and film theory, new scientific thinking). This is an interview with Anthony Tasgal where you can dig for more about the term “insightment”.

There are almost forty years since the first account planning departments were created in advertising agencies. What do you think about account planning these days? What is the most important thing about it?

I think it has matured, but it is still evolving. The discipline has spread to other marketing communication areas. The most important thing is it to remain both the “conscience of the consumer”, especially in these Naomi Klein-influenced times; but also to champion originality and risk.

You’ve been an account planner for many years. Is planning more about making good use of research or about helping creative teams to make better work?

The easy answer is “both”. Research is still a necessary fuel for development. But it’s also a very powerful weapon in the “effectiveness wars” that rage between Clients and agencies. So Planners have to understand all the terms of warfare. (Sorry about all the military terms, but if you look at words like campaign, strategy, tactics and targeting you can see how deeply embedded military metaphors are).

In your articles you often refer to the relation between art and science in both marketing and advertising. Do you think that account planning suggests that “advertising is such a complex process that it defies researching” or that “everything is capable of quantification”?

I think we have to be pragmatic (sometimes Planners are accused of being Utopian.) I do believe that we have to be very careful about using terms like “test” and “prove” particularly with creative work, and especially when saliency and difference are increasingly the keys to success. Did Picasso have to “prove” his work was revolutionary? But also we are becoming obsessed with the McKinsey mantra of measuring everything. As I said in the 2003 paper, I worry that we are turning into an “arithmocracy” where numbers are the new gods. Marketing people now have more data/numbers/statistics than they can usefully manage. Has that made marketing any more innovative or original? Has it led to more distinctive, effective ads. I know what I think.

“Insight” is a term that is so often used with different meanings by researchers, marketers and advertising professionals. What is your definition of ‘insight’ and what do you think about campaigns with no insight? Can this kind of campaigns achieve their objectives?

Ah, the “I” word.

I use my term “Insightment” a combination of two English words and ideas: to “incite” means to provoke, suggest and create waves. I like that aspect. Also it contains a reference to “excitement”, which is what we should feel when we get the genuine “eureka” moment associated with insights. Too often people assume it means an “observation”. True insights emerge from re-arranging what may already be known, or by seeing new combinations. The reason why most NPD fails is that it lacks this perspective on insight. I have a whole Training workshop and an Admap article on it, so there’s a lot more where that came from.

How does freelance planning differ from being part of a big, multinational agency? What does your experience tell you?

I’m not sure it’s “either/or”. I’ve freelanced at some of the big multi-nationals like Ogilvy and Wunderman. Freelancing has been a very eye-opening and enabling experience for me. It’s helped work across lots of different disciplines and with a freedom to “think differently”. I find it quite liberating, as people expect more unexpected ideas from you as an Outsider (consultant, freelance whatever) sometimes it can be very satisfying not having to do all the day-to-day tedious stuff too.

As I understood, at POV you are trying to apply the same strategic principles across all marketing disciplines and embrace thinking outside of traditional marketing. What advantage does, for example, a post-modern view bring to advertising?

One of my problems with advertising and marketing in general as professions is that they still have too narrow a focus in terms of creating novelty or innovation. What I firmly believe is that we need to absorb influences and ideas form other areas to create both the new ideas that we need but also to benefit from new thinking in those areas. (Neuroscience is one example where the whole brandscape has been affected). Post-modernism shouldn’t be something we need to consciously examine, but too many Clients (and some agency people) still refuse to accept some of its beliefs (if they are beliefs): that relativism is much deeper than we would like to think; that rationalism is not all; that irony and form are (almost?) as important as content; that meaning is constructed etc. Semiotics has been the way avenue for smuggling in po-mo, but there is a lot more…

A lot of Romanian advertising agencies don’t have planning departments. What would you advise agency managers: create those planning departments or not? What would be the best argument in favour of your advice?

Absolutely in favour, of course. But there has sometimes been a resistance. Not just those who resist change per se, but because some (account managers?) feel that they will be losing out. Either in terms of their jobs, or their power (or both). The best argument is straightforward: deeper understanding, better thinking, better ideas, better discipline, greater effectiveness.

As I said, account planning is still in its early years in Romania. What would you recommend to young planners?

Read as much as you can. The classic Planning texts of the 70s and 80s. Absorb new ideas. Think and read about creativity. Badger the big agencies to let you find out, go to conferences, come to London!