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Media Planning With Dragons Thrown In by Justin Boulmay

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A creative marketing campaign won't go very far if no one is around to see it, but choosing who will see it, where they'll interact with it, and how often they'll see it, are questions that media planners do their best to answer. The following post explores what makes a good media plan based on the successful launches of companies who have done so.

Choosing Media and Vehicles

According to AdMedia, there are four steps to devising a campaign: 1.) setting media objectives in light of what you want to accomplish through marketing; 2.) developing a strategy for achieving those objectives; 3.) developing media tactics; and 4.) figuring out how to evaluate the effectiveness of your plan. To develop the strategy for your media plan, you need to figure out which demographics, psychographics, and generational cohorts are going to be targeted. You need to know what media vehicles they are most likely to use, how they are most likely to use those vehicles, and how skilled or passionate they are about them. You need to know how they use the brand and how loyal they are to it. When these questions are answered, then you also need to determine how often you want to expose your message to that group—and what budgetary constraints you might have while doing so.

You can’t have a successful media plan without creativity, and you can’t develop a creative campaign that isn’t also strategic. Media plans and creativity need each other. You need to ensure that your message is going to people who actually care about it or to whom your previously unknown message will appeal. In a 2012 article on media planners and creative teams, Antony Young said that a member of the creative team asked him for the media plan. “He said the relative importance of different media would help him judge the potential campaign concepts better,” Young wrote. “Knowing whether out-of -home or print or TV advertising was going to be the principal channel would help him decide which idea to back” (Young, 2012). Even if you’re the creative type who doesn’t like planning, are you really going to enjoy your innovative campaign is no one is around to appreciate it?

The U.S. Navy understands the importance of knowing the principal channel and, just as importantly, what type of audience is at the other end of it. They advertised during episodes of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” to appeal to the 18-24-year-old male demographic that they were trying to recruit, and the result was a success (AdWeek, 2013). If the Navy had run such a campaign during a show that doesn’t have such a heavy male viewership, then it likely wouldn’t have gotten the responses that it needed to meet its goals. (I’m assuming in this analogy that all of the Navy’s other marketing efforts weren’t going to get the job done.)

Why Be Creative? Why Not?

The role of creativity is that it is essential toward a good marketing campaign. (Please note that “creative” is not always the same as “humorous.”) Media planners need something that makes their ad stand out, especially in a market in which people see thousands of ads each year. AdMedia, citing a study, stated that only 68 percent of households actually watch the commercials that accompany a program they like. Archana Kumar, one of the jurors for AdWeek’s 2014 contest for best media plan, noted that there are 200 markets in the United States (AdWeek, 2014). You also have to consider the number of ads to which the average person is exposed each year. In 2013, the average child saw 253 ads from McDonald’s—alone (Feloni, 2013). That’s only one out of several restaurant chains and only one in several industries, all of whom are vying for customers’ attention and our loyalty.

If you want your commercial or campaign to be one of the precious few that people not only remember but also want to talk about, then you’re going to have to do something that actually makes them want to remember you. (Just because a person remembers your brand doesn’t mean they remember it fondly.)

We tend to think of TV shows as 43 minutes of entertainment, broken up by intervals of commercials that we probably don’t want to see. Successful media campaigns, on the other hand, add to that entertainment value; they don’t make their viewers feel like they’ve put the good part of the night on pause. Car insurance companies may understand this better than anyone, because State Farm, Allstate, Geico and Progressive have all gone through great pains over the years to develop funny, long-standing characters to sell something that people need. Talk about insurance, and most people will get bored. Have the Geico pig squeal while playing with pinwheels, on the other hand, and you’ve got something people will remember.

What Makes Them Successful

There are three things I’ve noticed about the top-10 media plans recognized by AdWeek:

They’re unusual. I love George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” books as much as anyone (and the proof is in that I didn’t call them the “Game of Thrones” books, but I digress). I love the idea of casting dragon shadows on top of different websites and other media as a way to promote the third season of the HBO show (AdWeek, 2013). See below for an example of this (and here’s the source for the photo). Not only was it unique—how many shows have actually done this?—but it also managed to tease one of the best parts of that show: dragons. The media planners knew how to leave their audiences wanting more. Successful campaigns understand what their audience wants and figures out a creative way to tease them with it.


They made friends. On behalf of Activision, OMD partnered with a sports franchise—the New York Giants—as part of its campaign to launch the latest Call of Duty game. As noted by AdWeek, partnering with sports agencies is a critical part of the company’s playbook for marketing the game (2013). In this case, both ESPN and Activision were helped by helping each other. They worked together to promote a common product, and both companies prospered at the end—Activision through increased sales, ESPN through increased viewership. In the same way, MediaCom ran a commercial with a shark-cage version of a Volkswagen Beetle during the 2012 Shark Week to drive up interest in the brand among men, who had not traditionally been interested in buying Beetles (AdWeek, 2013). These successful campaigns required partnerships between different agencies, both of whom had something to profit from a successful media push.

They don’t take their friendships for granted. GMMB, working on behalf of the Obama for America 2012 Campaign, used micro-targeting in an effort to not only appeal to voters who would probably support the sitting president but also to spread a message that would appeal to them. As AdWeek noted, GMMB chose its messages based on what a particular household was likely concerned about, because the company realized that a person who voted for Obama in 2008 might not be willing to do so in 2012 (2013). Four years changes a lot for people, and I think a key message here is that you have to continue to appeal to your audience and not take them for granted. Just like in a friendship, you can’t develop a relationship with a person, not speak with them for four years, and then pick up the phone, call them, and act like there wasn’t a deafening silence between this latest conversation in the last one. Relationships have to be maintained; that’s part of what it means to build brand equity. 

Three Things I Took Away

Here are three lessons I took away from this assignment.

First, if you want to remain competitive, then you’re going to have to constantly push yourself. What worked for you once before isn’t likely to work again, especially since your second try will obviously copy your first. Creativity is required in all campaigns, not just the first good one you developed.

Second, a creative media outreach won’t go very far if you don’t have smart people planning the strategy. For instance, you may have a fantastic concept and even a wide budget to implement it, but if you don’t target the right audience, then you wasted both your budget and your creativity. Jim Meskauskas, in an article about the six mistakes that doom media plans, wrote, “… if you don't go through at least some of this before your planning (or concurrent with it), you won’t learn what you wanted to know because you didn't articulate what it was that you wanted to learn, and you did not adequately prepare for the collection of the kind of data that will help you to learn it. Spending the time upfront will save you from wasting your money later” (Meskauskas, 2009). If I may add to that: it’s better to be bored before a campaign goes live than to be unemployed after it flops.

Third, you don’t need to feel limited just because your budget is. As amazing as it would be to have millions of dollars at your disposal to develop a media plan that allows your message to capture audiences everywhere, the truth is that you’re always going to work with a finite amount of resources—both in money and manpower. However, Candice Puzak, writing for, noted that your budget can be adjusted to better reach your audience. “If mass-reaching, but expensive media like television and radio have been the cornerstone of your campaigns, consider reducing those budgets slightly to add a mobile co-viewing component, such as Shazam, to open up new and lengthier engagement opportunities” (2014). Not only does that advice keep you in budget, but it also calls for prolonged, and hopefully more effective, outreach to your audience. It will force you to cut the fat out of your campaign and think about what you really need to get the job done.


AdMedia. Advertising Media Planning: A Primer. Retrieved from:

AdWeek (2014). How to Craft a Media Plan: 5 Key Considerations for the U.S. vs. Other Markets. Retrieved from:

AdWeek. (2013). The 10 Winners of AdWeek’s 2013 Media Plan of the Year. Retrieved from:

Feloni, Richard. (2013). Here’s How Many Fast Food Ads American Kids See Each Year. Business Insider. Retrieved from:

Meskauskas, Jim. (2009). 6 Stupid Media Planning Mistakes. iMediaConnection. Retrieved from:

Puzak, Candice. (2014). Using Every Color in the Crayon Box: Creative Media Planning is Not an Oxymoron. Retrieved from:

Young, Antony. (2012). Six Reasons Media Strategy Should Come Before Creative. Retrieved from:

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Tracy Tuten

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on Nov 19, 14