If you're anything like me, you may have sometimes wondered, "Why can't I just get a robot to do this planning work?". If you're even more like me, your co-workers have also asked this question. I haven't yet found a planning robot (and why isn't there software that can scan a document and enter snarky parenthetical asides at appropriate points like this?) but I have found a few engines, small devices that do a little bit of the mental lifting for me.
One of my first engines was the Nike Brief-O-Matic. It's a set of brand-relevant concepts (e.g. play, war, teamwork, injury) arranged in a 2x2 chart. Each cell represents the equation of two concepts (e.g. play is war, play is teamwork). That equation could then be the focus of a communications brief. It is a testament to the complex coherence of the Nike brand that so many of the cells immediately suggest recognizably Nike campaigns, both existing and potential. But you could also use such an engine to help develop a brand into something more interesting, something usefully coherent without being boringly consistent. A largely mechanical process like this one can throw up a ton of rich, generative, striking and unexpected possibilities within a bounded idea space.
And where did I get the original concepts? Many of them came from another engine, one of my favorites, the indispensable Lexical FreeNet. It's like a thesaurus on steroids, completely based on word relations as they exist on the Web. So again, "thoughtless" crashing together of data produce a lot of interesting noise. Try it out the next time you're struggling to find a new way to connect Product A with Brand Value B. Read the fascinating technical notes. Lexical FreeNet is an engine's engine: an interesting thing that makes more interesting things.
I'd be very interested in hearing of any planning engines you may have found or invented.