On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 21 May 2010 12:00AM

Q: I left advertising in the last down-turn and became a fisherman off the Southern Irish coast. Incredibly therapeutic. Totally isolated. I now fancy getting back into the game. What's been going on?

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

A: How long have you got?

In the past ten years, the game has changed more than in any other ten years of the past 50 years but not as much as people thought it had five years ago. Clear so far? Good.

Are you familiar with the word digital? I ask because there may not be much call for things digital off the Southern Irish coast. That's probably one reason why you've found it so incredibly therapeutic.

For 300 years, from the middle of the 17th century, digital meant "of or relating to fingers or toes". Today, it doesn't relate to toes at all and not much to fingers either. Today, the word digital has been kidnapped; it stands, inaccurately and misleadingly, for stuff on the internet, for all things cool, for all things not analog (or analogue) that are all irredeemably not cool.

The digital revolution has rattled a great many people. There has been great nervousness. Instead of working out what internet advertising was good at and what it wasn't so good at, we've either blustered that it was all cooked up by nerds and geeks; or, for fear of seeming analogue, have pretended to believe that digital would take over the world. (That's one thing about the game that hasn't changed since you've been away; we all still hate to seem analogue.) This was to have been the first digital election - and it wasn't. It was just one exposure on one analogue medium that catapulted one politician from national obscurity to the deputy premiership - all within four weeks. (As a digital sceptic remarked: "He could never have Tweeted himself to Downing Street.")

People still talk as if all advertising has the same aim. It doesn't, of course. There's always an intermediary stage between any given advertisement and its desired result. The nature of those stages differs widely. The most helpful guide I can suggest can be found on page 124 of A Master Class In Brand Planning: The Timeless Works Of Stephen King*.

Here, King introduces what he calls A Scale of Immediacy. As the name suggests, the scale ranks the intermediary stages that advertisements attempt to establish in order of immediacy. So at the top of the scale is what we call direct response: do something now; pick up the phone, cut the coupon. At the bottom of the scale comes "Reinforce attitudes" - that all-important role for advertising that builds and sustains brand values. It's very indirect indeed.

And as King points out, the lower down the scale you go, the harder it becomes to measure effectiveness.

On the evidence so far, internet advertising is at its brilliant best at the direct end of this scale. Stephen was writing before the advent of the net, otherwise the one-click purchase would certainly have earned top slot: see it, like it, buy it - all within five seconds. It's no surprise that internet advertising has challenged classified ad- vertising so successfully. But the further down the scale you go - the closer you get to the need to reinforce attitudes and add value to brands - the harder it gets to demonstrate the competitive value of online advertising. As people are increasingly brave enough to ask: can you name me three non-internet brands that have been built online?

So there's the start of an answer to your question. Quite a lot has happened since you sloped off to Ireland. And you'll find it extremely hard to return to a decent job - but here's a tip. When you're accused of having too little recent experience, you should say: "Exactly! There are very, very few executives of my age who have been totally uncontaminated by digital fever. Let me help lead you back to reality."

Worth a try, anyway.

Q: I work at a COI roster agency and the account has kept much of the business afloat in the past year. With it now certain the Conservatives will drastically cut adspend this year, should I vote for Labour in the next General Election?

A: So sorry I didn't get around to this question a week or two ago. But I doubt if your solitary vote would have significantly affected the election result. And I'm afraid it may be at least two years before a beleaguered coalition needs to spend the electorate's millions reminding the electorate of its achievements. You need to broaden your account portfolio.

*Edited by Judie Lannon and Merry Baskin (John Wiley & Sons)

"Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4919

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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