On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

We're shooting a new ad but our client, who is a notorious pain in the arse, wants to get involved in all aspects of the...

Some resourceful production companies employ escorts. Their job is to escort clients – though rarely to the extent that other escorts escort other clients. They flatter, encourage and entertain; they never leave the client’s side. Above all, they distract. They tell the client that the director really, really values the client’s perfect eye for detail: "Xavier simply can’t believe that you don’t have an artistic background, Brian! He says you’ve got a truly profound sense of creative integrity! He thinks you really ought to have an official credit!" Brian’s suggestions are so widely and rapturously applauded that he’s soon convinced he actually made them.

Such escorts can be expensive, of course; but even Brian agrees that it’s money well spent. And since it’s Brian’s money, who’s to disagree?

Do you think that people who say that they’re "running" continents (such as "oh, Tim’s now running Europe"), when all they are doing is working across a continent, make the advertising industry look pompous? I only ask because all my friends laugh at me when I say it.

Unless you enjoy being laughed at by your friends (in which case, you need therapy), I wonder why you go on saying it. It doesn’t make the advertising business seem pompous: it makes it seem vacuous, vainglorious and devoid of humour.

But it needn’t. Two advertising people, from competing agencies, meet in an airport executive lounge.

"Hi, Tim. What are you up to these days?"

Tim (with an almost imperceptible lift of the eyes): "I’m running Europe."

Same three words; but thanks to that minuscule inflexion, the communication is rich with meaning. Tim’s business card may read "CEO, Europe", but Tim’s advertising acquaintance knows exactly what that means. What it means would take a thousand words from a master wordsmith to convey: but they don’t have to.

That’s one of the reasons that advertising people take such pleasure in the company of other advertising people: there’s just so much that doesn’t need to be said. So in the hope that I’m read mainly by advertising people, I won’t say it here.

But it still puzzles me why you should want to tell your non-advertising friends, with an absolutely straight face, that you’re running Europe. Perhaps you think you are?

Banks appear to be advertising again like the crash never happened, and are even banging on about mortgages. Is there a formula for working out how long the silence should be between a scandal and resuming normal marketing messages?

There’s certainly not a formula but there is, perhaps, a sort of rule of thumb. Media companies might be best placed to advise on this matter since the rule of thumb in question has much in common with a rule of thumb often applied to media schedules: one of the hoariest of all media debates, drip versus burst.

Another way of looking at the same thing is the "hot-on-the-heels-of" school of journalism.

In media terms, when a bank suffers a single high-profile scandal, it’s a burst. And will probably be widely remembered for about as long as last year’s winner of Britain’s Got The X Factor. Unless, of course – just as the dust is beginning to settle – the bank suffers another: leading to a slew of media stories all beginning: "Hot on the heels of…" The burst is now taking on decidedly drip-like properties.

The memory of even a big bang fades surprisingly quickly: but only so long as it’s not refreshed.

I’ve no idea what the ratio is: but I’d guess that three different but linked scandals within the same memory-span will be at least ten times as toxic as the original bang in isolation – and will linger in the public mind for at least ten times as long. It is precisely how strong brands are built; although in this case, unfortunately, the process is not only inverted but accelerated.

"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

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