The story of the 50th Superbowl – at least in media and advertising circles – dominated most of February.
The Six Nations rugby has just wrapped up for this year.
And analysts have used the same word with monotonous regularity – ‘playbook’.
‘Playbook’, a set of instructions and organised moves or ‘plays’ that any team can make at any time.
Offensive plays designed to score points. Defensive plays to protect your territory. Special plays to create breakthrough moments.
The idea of a ‘playbook’ has crept into the marketing lexicon in the past few years – social media playbooks, market playbooks, influencer playbooks are landing on desks by the week.
And as structured and prepared as a playbook can make you, I can’t help but think they run the risk of managing out the magic.
When Barbarians out half Gareth Edwards scored probably the greatest try in rugby history against New Zealand in 1973 he wasn’t adhering to a playbook.
Nor were any of his team mates.
They were playing ‘heads up’ rugby.
Seeing what was in front of them, identifying space and spotting opportunities.
And it was utterly captivating.
There’s no doubt that the carefully planned moves of supremely tuned athletes are the bedrock of modern day sport.
There’s also no doubt that this careful planning, when it works, is admirable to behold.
But, in truth, the offensive play of one team is frequently negated by the defensive play of another. More often than not, stalemate is the end result.
We might admire and respect the defensive pattern of a modern day rugby team but we’re unlikely to remember it.
It’s the exceptional we remember.
It’s the heads up game that gets us off our seat.
That’s why the mercurial talents of a Gareth Edwards, Jason Robinson or Jonah Lomu will live long in the mind.
These guys didn’t simply adhere to set ‘plays’, they played smart, read the situation in front of them and responded with instinctive brilliance.
That’s why the flashes of footballing brilliance that we see from a Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar or Aguero bring a smile to our face.
They cut through a morass of meticulously planned indifference and create memories.
And that kind of cut through is exactly what we’re looking for if we want a campaign to make any kind of difference.
In their own right, rigorously controlled marketing playbooks are unlikely to produce the truly memorable campaigns of today and tomorrow.
They’ll be thorough. Well thought out. Carefully considered. Robust. Designed to negate the opposition.
Nothing wrong with any of these things in themselves.
But if we’re just executing ‘plays’ then truly magical, genuinely cut through campaigns will be the exception rather than the expectation.
Unfortunately most playbooks are really about control, about playing safe, not about seizing the moment.
Of course we need to make sure that everyone is broadly on the same page and of course a team should be set up to do the basics well.
But we cannot and should not plan instinct, creativity and bravery out of the equation. We need to retain a love for freedom of expression and, when the moment’s right, give ourselves permission to unleash wonderful, adrenalin-rushing, memory-making brilliance…
…you’ll find that on page 42 of your playbook.
Global Strategy Director