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„Find out what the real problem is, understand why that’s the real problem“

Rob Campbell

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Solving Problems: The Indication And The Cause

Posted by in Advertising, Communication, Strategy

In a recent interview, Rob Campbell, Head of Strategy at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai, was asked how he tackles a brief or a challenge. Despite working for one of the fanciest agencies in the world, his answers was pretty straightforward:

„Find out what the real problem is, understand why that’s the real problem and understand how solving it will help the client in their short and long term ambitions.“

What sounded standard and almost boring first has got me thinking later. Could it be that sometimes we just don’t spend enough time figuring out why the identified problem is the real problem? (I think we don’t.)

Too many times we jump the gun and rather occupy ourselves with the myriad of possible „solutions“ to the symptoms we see (and read in a client brief).

Consequently, we end up developing ideas that fix the indication rather than the cause. Ideas that might look good, use all the latest technology, and help the client – or not.

I sometimes realize it with my own work: I willingly accept the symptom as the „real problem“ because of the data at hand and quickly jump to conclusions because I have a hunch of a solution. Not a big surprise, considering that it is easier to fix the symptom instead of the cause. Then I have to force myself to go back and take another thorough look at what’s in front of me. And what lies behind that.

It seems easier to get excited about fancy stories than puzzling problems. But we are problem solvers in the first place, not storytellers.

(picture by Quinn Dombrowski)
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3 Comments

  1. Seems like this is applicable not only for advertising strategies, but generally true

  2. I’m glad you liked what I said. I did say in the interview that my approach was nothing fancy … just designed to get to the real truth rather than what people would like the solution to be. Sometimes, basic is more powerful than we give it credit.

    • The problem with accepting „basic“ as being so powerful is that we seem to be wired to favor the complex approach. Complex = complicated = hard = valuable. Versus: basic = easy = simple = cheap. Nevertheless, I come to believe that we should always favor simple and basic to complex and complicated.

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