On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Can you think of any great ads that start with a question? And are they more effective than ones that start with an answer?

One example is enough: "Ever wondered how the man who drives the snowplough… drives to the snowplough?"

David Ogilvy is sometimes reported as having banned questions from headlines. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the evidence but, if he did, he was wrong to do so. As Volkswagen perfectly demonstrates, a question can inveigle the beholder into getting involved, contributing, taking part; and when you’ve been the part-author of a communication, it’s quite hard not to find it curiously persuasive.

There is a version of the snowplough commercial that doesn’t start with that intriguing question; it plunges straight in to tell us that the snowplough driver is driving to his snowplough in a Volkswagen – a fact that’s already clearly evident from the visual. As a result, we’re denied any opportunity to participate.

This version has a German voiceover. Could it be that the Germans didn’t trust their fellow countrymen to come to the right conclusion? Almost racist, if you ask me.

None of the above means there is a rule that decrees all ads that start with a question are good and all ads that supply an answer are bad. The only advertising rule I know that remains an indisputable rule is this one: any advertisement that fails to make apparent the name of that which is being advertised is a bad advertisement.

Of all advertising judgments, this is by far the easiest one to make. So why, I wonder distractedly, do some clients still agree to pay for them?

What’s a ‘foundation myth’ and does my agency need one?

The story of Romulus and Remus is a foundation myth. Sired by either Mars or Hercules – take your pick – the twins were abandoned at birth in the Tiber. Carried to safety by the current, they were suckled by a she-wolf and later decided to found a city. After Remus was killed, Romulus named the city after himself; otherwise, Rome might have been called Reme.

Foundation myths, whether for cities or brands, can be worth a fortune. People still flock to Rome to see the she-wolf. Long after their deaths, Jack Daniel and Arthur Guinness continue to work hard for their descendants. Foundation myths, whether fact or fiction, add romance, narrative, individuality, authenticity and real value to otherwise impersonal offerings.

Service companies, despite being commonly named after their founders, seem strangely reluctant to play the foundation myth card. I expect they want to be thought hip and cool. Leo Burnett is one of the few exceptions; he has served them very well.

You don’t actually need one; but it might be fun to dream one up.

My old mum loves jingles. I love jingles too. Why doesn’t my agency’s creative director?

Your mum is a real person. Your creative director isn’t. Your mum is unaffected by fleeting fashion. Your creative director isn’t. Your mum remembers Murray Mints, while your creative director remembers Shake n’ Vac. And, finally, your creative director badly wants to win a Cannes Lion, while your mum isn’t that bothered.

It’s the word jingle that has killed the jingle more or less stone dead; and that’s a huge pity. Jingles were powerful and popular advertising devices from the earliest days of American radio. These days, agencies and their clients go to huge lengths to encourage their messages to go viral. A good jingle goes viral like spontaneous combustion – and stays viral for decades. Altogether now: "We are the Ovaltineys, little girls and boys. At games and sports, we’re more than keen. No merrier children could be seen, because we all drink Ovaltine. We’re happy girls and boys!"

For a country as good as Britain at both advertising and music, it’s more than slightly shaming that simple cultural snobbery scares us off from employing such an engaging and effective trick of the trade.

But it must surely be nearly time for the jingle’s return; and the first agency brave enough to mount the first big comeback will almost certainly open the floodgates. But I bet they won’t call it a jingle in the press release.

"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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