On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 08 March 2012 08:00AM

Q: My business partners all live in West London and, before we got together, we worked in various agencies in W1. However, for our new agency start-up, East London was the choice because it was trendy, cheap and in the digital space.

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

It's a bit less fashionable now, and nearer par on price, but the commute hasn't changed - an hour each way on a good day, plus two-hour return trips to key clients in the centre. We justify the travel time to ourselves by saying it's handy for doing e-mail, but it's beginning to get to us. If we up sticks and move to Soho/Covent Garden, will that be seen as old- fashioned? Or should we work nearer where we live? Perhaps being nearer Campaign's offices might help our profile?

A: With all due respect to this respected publication, an agency's propinquity to Campaign isn't going to make a blind bit of difference to its profile, its reputation, its new-business record or its ability to attract hot talent. Campaign staff might mildly regret not having a better excuse to leave the office well behind; but being principled journalists, they wouldn't let that count against you much.

Stop fretting about fashion. In the 70s, a well-known agency moved to Paddington and, nervous about its uncreative connotations, applied to the local authority to have the area rechristened The New West End. The local authority very properly declined and the agency looked silly. Boase Massimi Pollitt opened up in Paddington, performed brilliantly, and nobody thought badly of Paddington again.

If you had enough confidence in your own agency, you'd be prepared to lead, not lamely follow.

Q: I manage a financial services brand and our brand mascot, a fat singing walrus, annoys people so much that he is always getting attacked at our marketing events. We're currently holding a pitch to appoint a new ad agency and all the competing agencies are telling us to drop him. I would argue that at least that walrus gets us instant brand recognition, which is not easy in a crowded market. Should I change tack, or stick to a mascot that has at least made an impact?

A: One of the reasons that so much advertising is so bland is that almost all advertising is trying to say nice things about things. And people saying nice things about things are seldom interesting or entertaining. The most-read critics are those who can shred a play, a film, a television programme or a restaurant in the course of a single paragraph. Only the most talented of critics can praise as enjoyably as they can destroy. If talent-show judges confined themselves to praising contestants, talent-show audiences would shrivel: audiences enjoy seeing contestants humiliated.

If advertisements could find a way of humiliating their own products without damaging their sales potential, advertising approval ratings would soar - but research suggests that deliberately setting out to diminish your own product is seldom the best route to improved market share. Except in US election advertising, setting out to diminish your competitors is either discouraged or illegal. So advertising creative people, unlike any other branch of creative people, are limited to the use of positive palettes; and positive words and positive pictures, relatively speaking, have far less impact than negative ones.

A sort of halfway stage is advertising, like yours, apparently, that makes itself known by daring to irritate. And, yes, it can be rewarding - at least in the short term. But do beware: it will not last. Sooner or later, the irritation will spread from the brand spokesman to envelop the brand itself; and it may take years to decontaminate.

If I were one of the agencies pitching for your business, I'd show you how your fat, singing walrus could become a fat, singing, lovable walrus. And if I were you, that's the agency I'd appoint.

Q: I've been in a big new job for six months and had a bit of trouble filling some senior roles - should I take it personally?

A: You can take it in one of two ways - both personal.

Either the most lustrous candidates for these senior roles are so in awe of your own towering intellect and charismatic personality that they fear seeming mere pygmies in comparison. They'd rather work somewhere where the competition is a lot less fierce; where they can strut and dominate and be the Unchallenged Force.

Or word has got around that you're not much good.

Why not ask your fellow directors which of these explanations seems to be the more probable?

"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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