On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I work in the creative department of a marketing services company. My boss is great but just a little bit dull. I suspect that I am far more creative than him. How can I make our output more creative in spite of his lacklustre judgments?

It’s possible, I suppose, that your department’s output is less creative than it could be simply because your boss sits there looking a little bit dull. Just as importing jukeboxes and multicoloured beanbags was once supposed to stimulate creativity, so having a dull-looking boss can presumably stifle it. But it’s more likely that he’s inhibiting creativity by turning down your more inventive ideas.

If that’s the case, you’re probably making the fundamental mistake of presenting your ideas as being your ideas. From now on, present your work to him in the following manner.

"I came away from our last meeting, Eric, feeling really fired up. That inspired throwaway thought of yours about bullfighting really got me and the team motoring. Early days, obviously, and more to be done – but what do you think?"

Nobody in the long history of ideas has ever denied being the inspiration behind one. Within minutes, Eric will have clearly remembered his throwaway bullfighting reference and certainly won’t need to be persuaded of its merits. To clinch the sale, simply leave one fairly obvious element out – so that Eric can say: "Just a thought, but couldn’t the crowd roar their approval at the end?"

So that you can say: "Oh, gosh, Eric – you’ve done it again."

Dear Jeremy, My agency wants to make a YouTube video where we all sing and dance to show the world what a fun bunch we are. Is there a polite way to tell them that I’d rather drown in a pit of sand?

Since reading your question, I’ve experienced an interesting swing of emotions. (At least I found it interesting.) My first reaction echoed yours. What a crass suggestion! Quite an achievement to display insecurity, banality and insensitivity in just one cringe-making proposal. Such a video, almost certainly not cheap, would attract instant derision to the agency and all who worked in it. Nobody of reputation would ever want to join it and no grown-up marketing director would contemplate including it even on a longlist.

Don’t bother being polite, I was going to advise you: just tell them that there may be more effective ways to commit corporate suicide but, for the life of you, you can’t think of one.

And then I stopped to think. And I realised I was doing exactly what you had done: which is to make one of the more serious mistakes of judgment that people can make and one that, for people in our trade, is particularly shaming. We are, or should be, professional optimists. That’s not to say that we should be mindlessly upbeat. Just that we should always use our brains and our imaginations to see if the same set of facts, the same basic proposal, at first glance deeply unpromising, if seen from a different angle, if looked at through a different lens, could be transformed from potentially negative into winningly positive.

That’s one of the skills that companies come to us for. Doyle Dane Bernbach built a lasting empire on its enviable ability to do exactly that: "think small", "lemon", "we try harder".

But what you did was the opposite; and so initially did I. We instantly imagined that song-and-dance video; and what we imagined was perfectly, embarrassingly horrible. So what we condemned was not the idea; we condemned our own mental interpretation of that idea. And that’s very lazy and unprofessional indeed.

If you’d been any good at advertising, you’d have taken that bleak brief and, instead of dumping on it instantly, you’d have set about thinking how to make it work. It wouldn’t be easy; doing original things isn’t. But I refuse to believe that an excellent agency, using wit, self-deprecation, sly references and superb production skills, couldn’t produce a YouTube video that had its competitors wailing: "Why couldn’t we do something like that?"

So why can’t you?

Was EST a good thing for adland?

All I know of EST is that it once rid Robin Wight of a wart. I suppose that was a good thing.

‘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, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE

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