Alexa, who ran the first TV ad in the US?

Wikipedia ended up answering this, unfortunately, not Alexa (yet): The first television ad was broadcast in the United States on July 1, 1941 over New York station WNBT before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. The announcement for Bulova watches, for which the company paid somewhere between $4.00 to $9.00 (reports vary), displayed a WNBT test pattern modified to look like a clock with the hands showing the time. The Bulova logo, with the phrase “Bulova Watch Time”, was shown in the lower right-hand quadrant of the test pattern while the second hand swept around the dial for one minute.

75 years later, the world looks a whole lot different and for marketing, the discipline is almost no longer recognizable. What’s more, for many marketers we have lost sight of our most precious resource: Time.

In the early days of mass media, a marketer’s job was largely defined by McCarthy’s 4P’s (Product, Price, Promotion, Placement) and most marketing work could be planned out a year in advance. The discipline started to get more complex and dynamic as computing matured (more channels), the internet gained broad adoption (more people), and software became the backbone of the global enterprise (more transparency). With all this has come a serious change to the timescale with which a marketer must operate. Today’s marketer must move with the same speed as the world around them.

Moving from the 4P’s and a limited marketing mix to managing an infinite numbers of digital channels, an ever-growing and always-on customer base, and a global organization, created a seemingly exponential amount of new work and data points for modern marketers to contend with. All the while, as the complexity grew, so too did the demand for efficiency as software drove transparency across the broader organization.

While it’s true that marketing has secured more budget, the CMO is still the most turnover-prone member of the C-suite and the brand/agency relationship is shorter than ever. As if those weren’t enough of a challenge, we have also seen the corporate raiders coming into companies with their sights set directly on the marketer. Zero Based Budgeting (ZBB) is a term that now lives in a marketer’s core vernacular alongside acronyms like CPM and GRP. In a world of ZBB, every dollar is under a microscope, leading to some serious questions around ‘non-working’ costs (the dollars you spend to actually make the marketing, rather than buying the media space). Since every marketing effectiveness model is aimed at the media spend, justifying (and even explaining) ‘non-working’ costs can be a real challenge and our first-party research shows that ‘non-working’ costs are increasing and there’s no end in sight.

All of this setup is to say there is one area that I see that rips marketing apart more than anything else. I’ve come up with a term for it and I want to try it here for the first time:

Unplanned Marketing.

As I see it, Unplanned Marketing is any marketing activity that takes up time but doesn’t add value.

A longer definition would be any work that doesn’t ladder up to a campaign, process, KPI, or positioning that was agreed upon in advance. And while modern marketing now requires reactive creative, always-on customer service, and continuous planning, Unplanned Marketing arises when activities are disconnected from this set strategy and there isn’t a process to better deal with them.

Unplanned marketing is:

  • Dealing with an approvals workflow that cascades across countries and timezones while still being a largely manual, different process each time.
  • Trying to explain to the customer service team that there is a Twitter fire that they can’t see.
  • When there’s a new logo that not every market has, and you are praying that this will somehow resolve itself.
  • The TVs in your marketing room that have endless streams of data that have nothing to do with the agreed upon KPIs
  • Asking your team or agency to provide a .ppt of the work they have already done this week/month/quarter/year.


Any interruption from core work creates Unplanned Marketing, creating new non-working costs and potential degradation of the brand, culture and continuous planning process.

Now this isn’t a new term, it comes from the world of enterprise IT where they call it unplanned work:

Any activity in an IT organization that cannot be mapped to an authorized project, procedure, or change request. Any service interruption, failed change, emergency change, or patch or security incident creates unplanned work, which can come as a high expense for any organization.

Unplanned Marketing creates slumped shoulders and political infighting. It reallocates budgets away from Working Dollars. And more than anything, it distracts us from our core job as marketers: To introduce and position the brand at the intersection of cultural relevance and what the brand stands for, with the ultimate end goal being to grow market share for the organization and retain the most talented employees.

Before this gets too depressing, let’s talk about how to fix it. Sometimes the answers to tough questions are right down the hall and, in this case, I was recently inspired by The Phoenix Project, a book about, of all things, IT, DevOps, and supply chain management.

Now I know what you might be thinking, IT/DevOps is nothing like marketing and, while that is true, when you break it down, all work has a few core components. This is the main message at the center of The Phoenix Project, which uses manufacturing as the ‘supply chain’ example to help the managers of IT get their process under control — a valuable message for marketers as well. The process in the book is a set of principles known as The Three Ways, I’ve included them below:

Systems thinking

The outcome of systems thinking is: never passing a known defect to downstream work centers, never allowing local optimization to create global degradation, always seeking to increase flow, and always seeking to achieve profound understanding of the system.

Feedback Loops

The outcome of feedback loops is: understanding and responding to all customers, internal and external, shortening and amplifying all feedback loops, and embedding knowledge where we need it.

Culture of Continual Learning and Experimentation

The outcome of this culture is: allocating time for the improvement of daily work, creating rituals that reward the team for taking risks, and introducing faults into the system to increase resilience.

In the new world of marketing we now live in, the goal is define The Three Ways for your marketing organization in order to manage continuous planning in a way that allows you to avoid Unplanned Marketing:

Systems Thinking

What is your system? Are you driving at visibility, transparency, and context with all your teams and workflows? Is any work being done that is outside of planned/approved projects? Where are their gaps in the process and how could you automate lower variant/routine work that frees the mind for more creative work?

Feedback Loops

How are you creating a continuous planning framework? Do you have feedback loops in your planning process? Does everyone know what happened around the world? Is anyone operating on an island and away from your core strategy?

Culture of Continual Learning and Experimentation

Is the culture rewarded for experimentation, blameless post-mortems and rapid learning? What happens when something goes wrong and how it is documented? Can you audit the full supply chain of everyone that touched a piece of work?

All of this meant to show you that while marketing is more complex than ever, there is also more systems, documentation, and culture built around dealing with this complexity already built into the enterprise — it’s at the heart of what we are doing here at Percolate. Marketing isn’t alone in this; all functions are going through these challenges and, as the we move further into the Information Age, there are solutions rapidly coming to market and transforming the enterprise.

Ideally, your Three Ways allow you to buy back your time while still finding that gem of a creative moment to create the next series of great Bulova ads.