On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I’m a brand marketer for a fast-food brand and I’ve been invited on to a platform to debate the ethics of advertising fast food to young people. It sounds like a hiding to nothing, but I’m worried I’ll seem guilty if I dodge the invitation. What should I do?

Why exactly are you worried? Is it because you doubt your ability to put a good case well enough to win the argument? Or is it because you don’t think there’s a good enough case to put? It would be entirely understandable if you’ve chosen not to ask yourself these questions before. We’ve probably all got little awkwardnesses parked out of sight at the back of our minds. With no immediate need to resolve them, we leave them there indefinitely.

Maybe the real reason you resent this invitation is that it’s forcing you to think seriously about something you’d much rather leave in your long-term thought park; so maybe it’s about time you opened it up. If you’re content to earn your living promoting fast food to young people, shouldn’t you have thought the implications through already? I say this not for any high-minded reasons of abstract morality but because you should have seen it as a necessary part of the job.

So please think it through now.

If you reach the conclusion that, on balance, promoting fast food to young people leads to harmful physical and social consequences; and that introducing voluntary or statutory modifications to promotional behaviour could ameliorate those consequences while leading to no equivalent undesirable consequences of their own; then I suspect you’ll be happy only when you stop being paid for doing it. And you should certainly decline this platform invitation.

If, on the other hand, as I hope and believe you would, you think about choice and the freedom of the individual and the difficulties of demarcation and the risks inherent in most forms of prohibition, I suspect you’ll conclude that what you do for a living is perfectly respectable. And, if that’s the case, you should certainly accept this platform invitation, since putting your case will be excellent practice for you. What’s more, it would be downright spineless to duck it.

My agency has made some brilliant ads over the past year but our procurement people are putting lots of pressure on me to review the ad market. Can I do this without upsetting my existing partners? Do such things always have to lead to a full pitch?

Sounds as if it’s high noon time down on your particular ranch. And if it isn’t, it should be. Just be certain that the shoot-out follows your rules and nobody else’s. This is what under no circumstances whatsoever you should be tempted to do:

• Tell your procurement people that of course you’re prepared to review the ad market – indeed, you were thinking exactly the same thing yourself – and, what’s more, you plan to do it comprehensively, objectively and, indeed, ruthlessly.

• Tell your agency that, as a sop to your procurement philistines, you’ve had to agree to a review but – strictly between yourselves – it will be a sham, a farce, a charade, a confection of a review, with the agency having absolutely nothing to fear.

Your procurement people, to whom you lied, will believe you. Your agency, to whom you told the truth, won’t. Within days, you’ll have totally lost control. Intermediaries will become overexcited, RFPs will be scattered around indiscriminately – and, nine months later, during which time your existing excellent agency will have contracted creative paralysis, the selection committee insisted on by your procurement people will formally appoint a perfectly ordinary agency that had come up with quite a nice slogan and would do it for cost.

Instead, confront your chief executive. Tell him you refuse to jeopardise the company’s future profits by destabilising your existing agency. Dump on his desk every bit of evidence that you, the IPA and the Advertising Association can find about the value of agencies and the real worth of long-term relationships. Finally (having prudently confirmed that he’s a patron of private education), ask your CEO whether he would take his daughter away from a brilliant school because he’d found a much cheaper one.

‘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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