Planners need to say less and do more, says Yum! Brands' chief strategy officer

At 4A's Strat Fest, Ken Muench offers the industry's strategists some tough love.

NEW YORK: If you’re an agency planner who feels constantly undervalued, proofreading ad copy instead of using that behavioral economics knowledge you spent years acquiring, Yum! Brands chief marketing strategy officer Ken Muench feels you. In fact, he conducted a study in conjunction with Siftly and Warc to prove that you're not alone. At 4A's Strat Fest, Muench dropped some stats.

Only 16% of agency planners believe planning has a huge impact on the business on a regular basis, compared to 44% on the client-side, he said. Just 32% of agency planners are happy with the impact they’re having on the business, compared to 82% on the client-side. And 77% of all planners (agency and client combined) think they can have a greater impact as a consultant on the client-side.

Basically, planners go to work every morning feeling like they can be more effective elsewhere, particularly if they work at an agency.

"This morning, I saw a Porsche 911 Carerra on the street," he said. "It’s a 375-horsepower, $100,000 race car on the streets of Manhattan, and it dawned on me. It’s sort of what planning is like at an agency. You’ve got this incredibly brilliant, creative mind that knows craploads about how humans behave, and then you’re asking them to tweak copy."

Muench demonstrated a solution to this planning problem via a Yum! Brands case study. In recent years, Taco Bell tried three times to introduce breakfast on its menu, at $10 to $15 million per attempt. At first, the brand demonstrated how American its breakfast was through collaborations with iconic brands like Johnsonville. It only generated 2% of the sales mix. The next iteration centered on the FirstMeal concept with its target audience as the drunk, late-night eater who thought breakfast was for "corporate dweebs." This registered 3% of sales. Finally, Deutsch, the brand’s creative AOR, produced the Ronald McDonald spot below, which increased sales by 300% over its initial try.

The lesson? Years of Taco Bell breakfast strategy — of planning — were bested by a simple creative idea.

"Why are these things failing if they’re so strategic and so sound?" Muench asked. "That’s because there’s a different dimension, and that different dimension is distinctiveness. Distinctiveness is really changing the game. Your strategy doesn’t have to be as defined as we planners would love to think [it does]. What your campaign has to be is truly, truly distinctive. Relevance is losing to distinctiveness."

Does that mean planners are, in Muench’s words, "screwed?" He doesn’t think so. Planners just need to reinvent the way they work. They need to "do" and not "say."

"Is advertising the best way to create relevance, to convince you that this water is good for your soul? No, because advertising is mostly saying," Muench said. "Advertising is saying that we have fast delivery. Doing, on the other hand, is when we change the product."

He then revealed the "secret sauce," his biggest learning to date: Brands are desperate to connect with emerging culture. Muench believes that’s where planning is going because "nobody can out-culture an agency."

And if agencies don’t invite their planners to the innovation table? Muench presented his last slide: a photo of a sunny Los Angeles beach in January with the words "We’re hiring."

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