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Long live gonzo – five things planners can learn from Hunter S. Thompson

By Maria Kivimaa | Culture brand strategist



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February 23, 2017 | 4 min read

Gonzo planning, or planning by intuition, has a notorious reputation among many old-school practitioners and most all of your clients: they deem it as emotional, lazy and erratic – everything that the traditional view on strategic planning resents.

However, with the most current information of human decision-making – that it’s emotional, lazy and erratic – I argue there’s a more desperate need for intuition-led, adventurous beat planners than ever. Not just to shake things up at the agency Christmas party (although, this will be a welcome byproduct), but to steer brands towards more interesting places.

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A graphic of Hunter S. Thompson

Gonzo journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson.

To quote the undeniable father of the mid-century gonzo movement, Hunter S. Thompson: "the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours."

So, what are you waiting for? Buy the ticket and take the ride. Here's how.

1. Get out there, take to the road. Forget YouGov, Powerpoint, focus groups and even Google for a while. Observe people, smell the air, pick up a hitchhiker, listen to pirate radio, touch things, expand your mind. Immerse yourself in the world with every cell in your body and with all of your six senses. Life doesn’t happen on an Excel sheet nor is it shaped like a pie chart.

2. Be shamelessly subjective. Thompson always wrote in the first person. We are in the business of empathy, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't follow your gut – on the contrary. Your intuition is more than just a random hunch: it’s data in disguise, which you’ve subconsciously gathered and processed on those mind-expanding road trips. More importantly, it's data that no one else has. It makes you invaluable.

3. Break them rules. The only fact-checker sweating more than Donald Trump's was that of Thompson's. And for a journalist, Thompson exercised a rather liberal grammar strategy. But the truth is, we all like rebellious people and mischievous brands. They keep life interesting for us when we are too busy doing other things. So, a brief without a single-minded proposition? I dare you. A deck without a Venn diagram? You'll get in trouble – but it’ll feel damn good.

4. Sell it. What about selling this shambolic carnage to the client, I hear you ask? Surely, they’ll see right through your suspicious attempts to mask whiskey-fuelled benders as billable ‘research’? Thompson used to send his stories to the editor-in-chief just in time for them to make it to the press, but too late for anyone to edit them. Make of this what you wish.

5. Have fun. As Thompson famously stated, life is not about arriving at the grave – or the proposition – in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow!" If this doesn't win you the pitch, it was never worth it.

Maria Kivimaa is a culture brand strategist at Iris

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You won’t catch us or our clients playing it safe. Iris. For the forward.

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