On the Campaign couch

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 18 July 2013 08:00AM

I see that a large tobacco company is looking for an ad agency to help it launch its e-cigarette. Due to my strong principles, I've previously been opposed to pitching for tobacco business but feel that I may need to adopt a more nuanced approach now that these companies are embracing products that are less harmful to people's health. Do you feel that this is a justifiable shift in stance?

On the Campaign couch

I’m all in favour of principles. I’m just not in favour of people who go on about them.

For people like you, picking a few principles and holding to them is not what it’s about. Indeed, the specific nature of your principles is entirely irrelevant. The real value of principles to you is that, by publicly upholding them, you can be seen to be a principled person. To believe in a principle, and fiercely adhere to it, but to do so secretly would give you no satisfaction whatsoever. You need to be widely known to be doing so: it’s a critical factor in your own consciously created personal brand construct. So your question isn’t really what it pretends to be at all.

You’re not asking about the ethics of working for a large tobacco company now that it is launching an e-cigarette. If that were your question, you’d be looking at all the evidence for and against. You’d want to know whether, by helping to wean people off traditional smoking, it would do more for the common good than any harm it might do in the protraction of the smoking habit or the restoration of smoking as being socially acceptable.

You wouldn’t find definitive answers; I don’t suppose there are any. But you’re not even asking. In other words, you’re not in the least concerned about the truth of the matter. You’re concerned only about your own carefully nurtured self-image. "If I express interest in working for such a brand, will I instantly be seen as someone who, in the naked pursuit of money, has abandoned all principle?" And the damage to your self-esteem, of course, will be totally unrelated to the tobacco industry or even, surprisingly, to the matter of principle. You’ll be seen to have been a phony all along.

"Nuanced" is a fine, weaselly word much employed by people slithering around the truth. It can imply a difference so infinitesimal that it barely counts as a difference at all, while at the same time being significant enough to make a 180-degree change of direction seem positively noble.

So if I were you, I’d go ahead with your nuanced approach. And if, in future, you also adopt a more nuanced approach to your whole approach to principles in general, you’ll find yourself far less open to mockery from quizzical colleagues. And you’ll be no less principled.

Am I right in saying that the key difference between the ‘chatterati’ and the ‘commentariat’ is that the latter are more left-wing? It’s important to know as we are trying to network our new electric car through the right channels.

Just occasionally, I meet a real reader. And, just occasionally, the real reader asks me how I decide which readers’ enquiries to answer and which to  ignore. And so, given the nation’s current preoccupation with transparency, I’d like to take this opportunity to make my long-established practice known to all. It’s not a complicated process: I don’t answer questions I don’t understand.

That’s why I’m not answering this.

Our planning director, Alice, is a big fan of the movie Clueless in which Alicia Silverstone used the expression ‘As if’ – as in if a guy tells her he knows she’s in love with him (but she thinks he’s a total loser), then she says to him ‘AS IF!’ Our Alice seems to be channelling Alicia and keeps saying ‘As if!’ in client meetings; for example, when research reveals a consumer preference for their brand. So far, these clients have laughed along, probably because they’re too young to have seen the film, but I’m worried they will twig. How to deal with this?

And then there are questions that I do understand but wish I didn’t; questions that prompt deep misgivings about the professional seriousness of Campaign’s readers. And that’s why I’m not answering this one.

With these thoughts in mind, please keep them coming.

"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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