On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 24 May 2012 08:00AM

Q. I'm a senior marketer at an airline. An ad from one of our rivals, which ran three months ago, has now been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority. The ad has long since been replaced by a new campaign, so what use is this belated ruling to me and my rule-abiding colleagues?

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

A. Like prison sentences, ASA rulings serve two purposes: retribution and deterrence. And deterrence can only work if preceded by retribution.

If you find this unsatisfactory, you should muster your fellow marketers and lobby the Government to introduce mandatory pre-publication clearance of all ads in all media. That should put a stop to your rival's knavish tricks, eh?

Q. Do handwritten thank-you cards still have a part to play in a digital world?

A. Clinton Cards has gone into administration at exactly the time when a great card resurgence must be imminent.

Pre-digital, the thank-you card was all you had. If you wanted to be thought caring and sensitive and altogether lovely, you had to take time-consuming care in the choice of the card itself and then craft an empathetic message of poetic nuance for an audience of one.

Thanks to e-mail and texting and unsocial media, no such niceties are now required. Any old card, any old scrawl will stand out proudly. "Look, darling! Hilary's sent us a thank-you card! Through the post! With a stamp on! And real writing! And a picture on the front! In colour! That's just so thoughtful!"

All you need do is remember how to write with a pen and where you get stamps from.

Q. My agency is developing a major campaign for an energy drink. We've secured the services of a world-famous athlete but he's recently appeared in a couple of other campaigns. Should this put us off or should we take the view that this is a sign that he's such hot property that we have to use him?

A. More than almost any other product, a successful energy drink needs a very, very powerful, very, very distinctive brand personality. People have got to believe in it. If they believe in it, it will work. If they don't, it won't. Nothing sinister about this: it's how things are. To make the stuff work, the chemists who put the stuff in the cans need what you can add at least as much as you need the chemists. Your agency is expected to create blind, optimistic faith in what this brand stands for and what it does. If they do, it will give great pleasure and satisfaction to millions. If they don't, it won't.

From what you tell me, I'm not reassured. Signing up a world-famous athlete, at huge expense, is about as unimaginative an action as it's possible to imagine. Anybody could have thought of it - and what's more, several others already have. There are certain desperate occasions when money has to compensate for a total absence of inventiveness, but you seem to have given in without a fight.

Of course you don't "have to use him". He's already on the way to becoming an all-purpose endorser, an advertising tart. I can think of few quicker ways of raising doubts about the integrity of this brand than paying for it to be touted about by a man whose first allegiance is clearly to his own bank balance. Agencies talk a lot about their ability to add value to brands. And so indeed they can. They can also, at great cost, subtract value. Don't let them.

Q. I am looking for an innovative, technologically minded creative agency that also does brilliant traditional advertising. If I don't want to go through an intermediary, how do I find one?

A. Spend a day or so cruising through the websites of IPA agencies. You'll be pleased and surprised by just how many technologically minded creative agencies there are that can also do brilliant traditional advertising. And there's also a gratifying number of agencies that do brilliant traditional advertising while being equally recognised for their innovative technological work. So finding one isn't your problem; it's picking one.

Try word of mouth. Quiz everyone you know who knows an agency. Read the trade press. Nitpick your way through Campaign's School Reports (16 March). But don't let it be known that you're looking or you'll be buried alive.

You may still end up with an intermediary - but they do have one unchallengeable advantage. You have someone to blame if it all goes horribly wrong.

"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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