The planning, creative and broader marketing community uses insights or an insight to get to ideas that will solve their marketing or business problems. This is a brief exploration into the definition of the insight.
I’m Umar, a Strategist from Toronto.
I always wanted to know how the planning and creative community deﬁnes an insight.
I found some answers online and also asked some of the smartest people for their
What follows are all the deﬁnitions. Some have been paraphrased, others are direct
There are no predictions and nothing is going to die.
The capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something:
The dictionary deﬁnition
Nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature…what compulsions drive a man,
what instincts dominate his action…if you know these things about a man you can touch
him at the core of his being.
Why is a good insight like a refrigerator? "
Because the moment you look into it, a light comes on.
An insight is an astonishing disclosure about people, the category or the wider world.
Director of Planning
Saatchi & Saatchi London
For me an insight is simply deﬁned as understanding ‘why’ rather than the what. Why do
people think the way they think or do the things they do…as opposed to what they
actually end up doing. That said, I also don’t believe there is such a thing as one single
insight – they can come from anywhere-but despite that, It's still about the why rather
than the what.
Head of Planning
Weiden + Kennedy Shanghai
The best way I can describe "insight" is to give you an example of the difference between
a fact, an observation and an insight.
FACT: People tend to feed their pets twice a day.
OBSERVATION: They tend to feed them at breakfast and dinner time.
INSIGHT: People feel guilty eating in front of their pets.
Kevin Drew Davis
Chief Creative Ofﬁcer
Not a fact or observation
There are many kinds of insights in our business but the kind that gets me most
excited is those that inform creative ideas. They can be observations about behaviours,
pearls of wisdom on the human condition, or simply universal truths that help deﬁne
people, culture, and human race. The danger is trying to pick just one. Great work is full
of insight. In order to be insightful you must ask a lot of questions. Especially the
question "why?". For example, once you identify the trend or behaviour, ask "why?".
Once you understand the motivation, ask "why?". Riff the creative on that, and you will
Global Account Lead
OMD Worldwide New York
Why & Observations
For context, my advertising philosophy is “Simply, tell the truth”. Therefore, an insight, is
a truth. Perhaps unknown. Undiscovered. Or perhaps known but not levered. For me it
has to be something more than an observation, it has to be actionable. It has to cause
the audience to think about the brand or category differently than they have thought
before, or ever.
Known but not levered
I hate that word [insight], actually. It should be a good word, but it has been bastardised
and rendered impotent (some wit once described it as something which is blatantly
obvious to the man on the street but news to the marketing department). My take now is
that, as a planner, my primary responsibility (my client, if you like) is to the truth. The truth
about the product, about the audience, about the company, about the task at hand. Not
myths, conventions, insights or wishful thinking, but the truth. In an age where "just ads"
don't work, the truth sets us free. It gives us relevance and salience. We have two jobs:
deﬁne the real business problem and to ﬁnd the relevant truths which will assist us in
solving it. That's what needs to be on a brief (like the old get/to/by).
Executive Planning Director
Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney
If insight refers to a moment of illumination, it is a transitory experience. A new way of
thinking about a problem is only new for a short term. Today's Aha! moment, if it is any
use, is tomorrow's received wisdom. This should tell us that insight is not an important
goal in itself, but a means to an end. All insight is provisional, anyway. One moment of it
leads to another, and they should lead to visions, decisions and actions.
Former Worldwide Planning Director DDB
Means to an end
Other than ‘strategy’, ‘insight’ is one of the most over and mis-used words in agency
world. There’s a difference between ‘I’ve found some stuff’ and ‘I’ve found an insight’.
Insights are unspoken human truths, truths the subconscious recognises when it sees
them. One of the best ways to ﬁnd them? Start with something that seems obvious and
keep asking ‘Why?’ and ‘What if?’.
VP Brand Strategy
Big Spaceship New York
An insight is less to do with revelation more to do with realization. Insight happens at a
slower speed, it’s like thinking in slow motion, when you notice something. When you
notice that you are noticing something. It’s the noticing that you are noticing, that is the
insight, more of a realization than a revelation. An insight is something that is weird-
normal. Unlocking creativity through weird-normal.
Chief Strategy Ofﬁcer
An insight on its own is merely a human truth that someone internally identiﬁes with and
connects to. An actionable insight for marketers is when that human truth is melded with
some kind of undeﬁned creative expression or act that -- when done successfully --
somehow serves to elevate a brand. Why does this happen? Simply because the insight
and the creative expression coming together have contributed to something 'smart.'
Consumers recognize this 'smart truth' and then instinctively think that the people at the
company behind the brand are smart. And then the consumer gives them money.
Must lead to smart
It’s thinking in slow motion.
Ratling Stick London
When it comes to how I think about insight, I love the Arthur Schopenhauer quote: "
"The task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet
has thought about that which everybody sees.” "
So often, we use insights to frame up our presentations: insight #1, insight #2. And
often, these are nothing more than observations. There are slides out there with
statements like: "Mom sometimes likes to do things other than wash the dishes." Painful.
An insight is an "aha" moment. The "I never thought of it like that" expression that turns
data into possibilities. More often though, the job is a matter of being insightful
throughout the process rather than providing some perfectly packaged pearl of wisdom.
Group Planning Director
Crispin Porter + Bogusky Miami
Being insightful throughout
Insight is the advice of an expert ﬁsherman: instead of trolling the bottom of the river and
dredging up garbage, insight tells you which bait to use to hook the right ﬁsh directly to
Publicis Modem Toronto
The right bait
Insight is a quality possessed by people. You want to hire planners who are insightful. But
they will not ‘uncover’ or ‘land on’ or ‘ﬁnd’ insights for you, because that is not possible.
The best they can be, is insightful on your behalf.
The Difference Engine New York
As Farrah has pointed out, there's no such thing as AN INSIGHT - a reiﬁed object of
insightfulness: [Remember - there's no such thing as an insight - they are a kind of
reiﬁed strategic currency we use as an industry, no doubt useful but not technically that
kind of noun, there's no THING called an insight, insight describes a quality or process
of developing a deep and intuitive understanding of something.] "
But to deﬁne them in a useful way for our purposes you often end up with that unspoken
human truth idea, which is ﬁne. "
To round that out I would say an insight is a deep penetrating observation or
interpretation thereof that unlocks growth and provides inputs into strategy and a launch
pad for ideas. A good insight is fresh, deep, focused, and directional.
Genius Steals New York
A key discovery that could yield tangible, marketable and meaningful opportunity if
Laurie Dillon Schalk
Strategic Planning Director, Digital
To me an insight reveals or uncovers itself when we seek to understand the true nature of something.
It could be a situation, a person, a product, a brand and therefore there can be many varied insights. "
What I believe is important when we ﬁnd one is that it be "surprising" and when I say surprising I
mean you kinda smack yourself in the head when you ﬁnd it but it's not intuitively obvious at ﬁrst so
you need to probe enough or ﬁnd ways to uncover or reveal the true nature of something etc. "
Often I've seen insights which aren't truly insights but are so often facts...if it's that obvious and easy
to ﬁnd than to me it's usually an observation or a fact but rarely an interesting insight. There are many
types of insights as I've expressed above so to me it's choosing which insight e.g. product? brand?
human? etc. can be the most impactful or valuable given the problem we're trying to solve for.
SVP, Group Digital Planning Director
Energy BBDO Chicago
I think of an "insight" as a truth that hasn't really been told before. Louis CK is good at stripping away
the BS and telling the truth. I guess that makes him "insightful." Or just awesome. Seems to me, the
best folks in this business tend to search for the truth as well. Because they know truth makes the
most powerful communications. It's what connects with people. And they also know that advertising
is only noticed if it's different. So they hold themselves to expose the truth in provocative ways. All of
this leads to insight. The process is not always pretty, but when it works you get to a great message.
When it doesn't, you get predictable, shitty advertising. Where I'm going with this is that creative
briefs don't need some kind of amazing, jaw-dropping "what's the insight?" section. Briefs just need to
start a team down the path toward exposing the truth. "
That means giving them a juicy problem to solve. The planner should focus on deﬁning what that
problem honestly is, that way the creatives can focus on answering it as honestly as possible. "
Problem: People think Detroit is dead and gone. Insight: Imported from Detroit
Head of Planning
It’s about the problem
A big discovery that changes market conversation.
3 types of insight:
New News – something you had never seen before.
New Perspectives on something the client thought they knew reframing/re-expression.
Recalibration of the clients world view with the customers worldview.
Planning Above and Beyond London
Changes market conversation
A fresh observation that unlocks creativity.
An insight is not obvious, ﬁction, ad copy, a strategy statement, occupied territory or
I’m sort of obsessed by the everyday, everything has to be grounded in the everyday, and
ﬁnding the truth in any mission, ﬁnding the truth in any strategy as a motivation and as a
place where we can actually go to and get people to do something.
Comes from the everyday
To me an insight is any piece of information or knowledge that reshapes how we see a
situation. To be useful, it has to reshape our perception so that we can see opportunities
that weren’t visible before.
Zeus Jones Minneapolis
When you don't have to sell it, because they want it.
It isn't. It's insight.
Founder Kohn SAMI
Former CCO henderson bas kohn
No selling required
It ignites intuition.
It is relevant, distinctive and immersive.
President & Chief Creative Ofﬁcer
An insight is something that you didn’t know before."
Something that may change the way you think about the problem."
The Gate London
Didn’t know before
Truth that hasn’t been revealed in a way you want it.
Chief Creative Ofﬁcer
Red Lion Publicis
An Insight is a penetrating vision into the heart of things. It reaches beneath the surface
and outside of conventional boundaries to grasp the essence of what must be done. It
isn’t advertising’s “Big Idea”. Rather it is that ‘aha!’ moment when you can state, simply
and succinctly, what a brand needs. Without insight it is impossible to move forward. It
is a combination of creative thinking and analysis, intensity, intuition, knowledge, data
Chief Strategy Ofﬁcer
Insight is a feeling, you kinda know it when you feel it.
It’s a disturbance in discourse – An insight creates a new way of thinking that was
impossible before, allowing us to express what was previously inexpressible.
Truth is usually boring. Truth is too late. If something is so well established to be
understood as true then chances are your competitor has already nicked it. Insights
don’t need to be deep, don’t go deep, go across. Don’t be monolithic.
Head of UK Practice
Disturbance in discourse
A revelation. Something that makes you go, 'fuck me, I never thought of it that way’ -
A good insight is like a cocoon, lots of butterﬂies can come out of it.
Executive Creative Director
Let’s reclaim insight as a way of looking and thinking, and take it off its pedestal of
unhealthy attention and worship. If our efforts are to be relevant, we of course need an
understanding of the outside world to be brought to bear upon the creative process.
However, our measure of its value should not be whether this input is an Insight or not.
But whether it is a) true and b) useful.
Head of Planning
Weiden + Kennedy Amsterdam
A way of looking & thinking
The thing that tells us why we’re doing what we’re doing or did what we did.
Head of Planning
Insights are illuminating; they exist in a prenatural state waiting for the right context to
reveal their preternatural value.
Senior Planning Director
Waiting to be revealed
An insight is not simply an obvious piece of information. "
It needs to feel like a revelation, something that genuinely sheds new light on your business issue.. "
It is not just a 'consumer insight' although it could still be (People eat breakfast cereal as a late
afternoon snack), it could be something you uncover about the brand (Stella was originally made for
Christmas), about how people shop (men's shower gel tends to be bought for them by women),
media (new parents talk to each other in the early hours on Google Hangouts to feel less isolated) or
even culture (young people are responding to austerity with contradiction - hard work ethic and
greater irreverence). "
But an insight isn't enough, it needs to be actionable, something a business can utilize - that means
rich hooks that unlock great creative work, great NPD, great media and, most importantly, a real
marketing problem, a role for communications that will directly affect a business problem, not just