Understand the rules, then break them.

webb-ellisDSC_2046Last week I was videoed answering a set of questions aimed at giving advice to this year’s delegates at The Media Business Course.

Who know what will survive the edit? In case of harsh editing I will say here that I mentioned the need to follow the money through the planning process in answer to several questions ie never lose sight of the fact that the very point of the plan is to deliver sales for the brand (or of course behaviour change).   Challenged to explain how to find a good consumer insight in a few words it was quicker to explain what a bad one was for example, don’t bother with the revelation that teenagers like music or that men like football.

I didn’t give the most powerful advice for winning at this kind of course. No question quite prompted it, or I have only thought of it after filming, so I’ll give it here: Break the rules.

You have to know what the rules are of course in order to break them.  But if you do, and you can find a way to break them, then you’ll power ahead.  What if the target market is to date only teenage boys? That was true of gaming until Nintendo developed the wonderfully successful Wii Fit.  What if underwear advertising only ever runs in women’s magazines? That didn’t stop Wonderbra stopping traffic and step changing the brand with poster advertising.

We’re enjoying an event invented by an outrageous rule breaker.

An event that the Sunday Times has predicted “if it all goes to plan will be the most commercially successful event in the sport’s history”.

The Rugby World Cup.

By some accounts in 1823 a sixteen year old school boy at Rugby School, William Webb Ellis, was meant to be playing football but instead, as a commemorative stone states: “with a fine disregard for the rules of football…first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the rugby game.”   As one source adds “Lucky he didn’t go to a Comprehensive – he’d have got the shoeing of his life.”

Though many people contradict this story, it’s made the name of Webb Ellis last for over a century.

Look for the rules of the category you’re planning in and think about how you could break them.  That might be by changing target audience, broadening a niche by attracting a bigger cohort of buyers.  It might be by using a medium that no-one else in the category does.  It might be by advertising all year round in a seasonal competitive market.

You might break the rules by breaking the rules of the competition.  I won a course of this nature by a ruthless disregard of the rules the judges had set.  (Note to anyone attending the course: This is high risk.  One of our judges wanted to disqualify us, but we talked our way into the win.)

So Media Business Course candidates, look for the rules and then subvert them.  Most of your judges will probably have broken a rule or two in their time, and the stories that they could tell of those times would be good to entice out of them at any question time.

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