On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 17 May 2012 08:00AM

Q: Why do you think so many people are writing books about advertising at the moment? I'm thinking of doing the same and wondered if you think there is a growing interest among the public for such titles?

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

A: The great James Webb Young used to write book reviews under the subhead: "The best books about advertising are not about advertising." He also wrote: "No limits can be placed on the kinds of knowledge that are useful to the Advertising Man. Indeed, it can be safely said that the broader his education, and the better stocked his mental pantry, the better at his job he is likely to be. Every really good creative person in advertising whom I have known has always had two noticeable characteristics. First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields."

Good agencies contribute more to clients than efficient communications. They also act as a gateway to many other worlds. Good agencies need to have a pretty shrewd idea of what is happening in the worlds of music, cinema, sport, art, behavioural economics, neuroscience, research, fashion, politics, cyberspace, media, medicine, showbiz and education - and will know that none of these subjects is a discrete, neatly labelled island, but all are part of some great moving, muddly mass of stuff, all of which is going to have some influence on those to whom their clients hope to appeal. That's what Jim Young meant when he said that the best books about advertising aren't about advertising.

Oddly, most of the recent books about advertising aren't about advertising either. They are mainly about advertisements and advertising people and advertising agencies from times past and, but for the Mad Men phenomenon, might never have found a mainstream publisher.

I don't see why the general reader should ever want to buy a book about advertising that is actually about advertising. Even the bestselling advertising book ever, David Ogilvy's Confessions Of An Advertising Man, is more of an adventure story than a book about advertising. The title was a typical Ogilvy come-on. When my own book was about to be published, it was DO who recommended it be called Behind The Scenes In Advertising because, he said, "it suggests skulduggery and sex". Alas, it didn't. Millions rejected the opportunity to buy it; which is just as well because they would only have been deeply disappointed.

So I wonder what makes you think you might have something to say about advertising that would appeal to the general reader? Unless, of course, you've got access to unlimited quantities of legally cleared and detailed evidence of skulduggery and sex ...

Q: Given that countries are, by and large, pretty much unchanging, why do tourism authorities change their advertising agencies and their campaigns so often?

A: You imply that advertisers change agencies mainly when their product changes. They don't. Clients change agencies mainly when their marketing director changes. Agencies are unanimous in their contempt for this custom. When they lose a treasured piece of business on the whim of an incoming marketing director, they see it as clear evidence of a scandalous neglect of professional responsibility; the wilful exposure of valued brands to turbulent repositioning when, as any senior marketer knows, the most valuable attribute a strong brand can possess is consistency. Agencies are agreed: marketing directors whose first decision on joining a company is to change agencies are personally insecure, overdependent on cronies and bring the noble profession of marketing into disrepute.

Agencies are also agreed that when, on the whim of an incoming marketing director, they win a treasured piece of new business, it's clear evidence of the incoming marketer's astute commercial judgment.

Given the unstable political nature of many tourist destinations, I imagine they change marketing directors quite often.

Q: I am dreading going to Cannes this year. Last year, I spent all my time mainlining rose with some of our dullest clients (the last people I'd want to spend a sunny afternoon on the Croisette with). I wished I was very far away. Is it just me?

A: Interestingly, my spellcheck has just queried "Croisette" and offered "creosote" instead. In a flash, I was prompted to see you back home in Esher, in your Fair Isle jumper, contentedly weatherproofing your garden shed in good time for winter.

When you opted for advertising as a career, did you have a second choice? And do you think it might be time to reconsider it?

"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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