On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I saw somewhere that really annoying ads have a much better recall rate among consumers and were ultimately more successful. Do you think this is an acceptable trade-off? Annoying people into remembering a brand?

I sometimes think that if those who kindly send me questions paused for a moment before sending them and then asked themselves the very same questions, more often than not they’d find they got extremely good answers. Try this one on yourself: you are, after all, also a consumer – so you should be professionally interested in your own response to things.

I suspect your chain of thought would go something like this: "It all depends on what’s being advertised.

If it’s something that I buy infrequently, or perhaps only once, the fact that the ad annoyed me wouldn’t matter very much: I’d remember the product, buy it and try it, and forget the ad that brought it to my attention. But if it’s something that I buy regularly, or am expected to buy regularly – what analysts call a staple – then consistently annoying advertising will quite soon transfer its values to the brand itself: because that’s how brand advertising works. So while I’ll be reminded that the brand exists (which was totally unnecessary because it’s as familiar to me as my dog), I’ll begin to find the brand itself a much less attractive object to have about the house."

There, you see? You answered your own question very intelligently indeed, simply by being your own one-person focus group. You didn’t need me at all. You know that all generalities about advertising are open to challenge because advertising is called upon to do a wide variety of different things and is therefore expected to work in many different ways.

Since you clearly understand all this already, you may think you won’t need to read Paul Feldwick’s new book* – but you do. Most books about how advertising works leave seasoned practitioners in a state of internal turmoil: "No, no!" we scream silently. "That’s just theory! If that were true in real life… if that were true for absolutely everything… then how do you explain the success of…" And here we reel off the names of five of the world’s most rigorously validated advertising success stories, not one of which would have seen the light of day had they been forced into the straitjacket of the latest acronym.

As you read the Feldwick book, sanity returns. You learn why you were right to feel strongly about certain things and why you were right to feel uneasy about certain things. He will help you help others to see that your instincts are more than instincts and have a respectable heritage. He writes about advertising not as somebody somewhere thinks it ought to be but as it actually is, in all its diverse and unapologetic showmanship. We’ve waited a long time for this book.

* The Anatomy Of Humbug: How To Think Differently About Advertising by Paul Feldwick. Matador, 2015.

I hate the product I am trying to create an ad for. What shall I do?

Forget most of what I’ve just told you (though not about the book). Distrust and discard your own subjective feelings about this product.

See this as a golden opportunity to become one of those rare advertising people who can practise empathy; and I don’t mean soppy, supersized sympathy, I mean real empathy: the ability to see things through the eyes of people totally unlike your good self.

If this product deserves to exist, not everyone will hate it. Some will like it very much. I am not asking you to like the people who like this product; just to get inside their skins.

When you master this trick, it works rather like an optical illusion. One minute you’re seeing the product through your own eyes – and hating it. Then, as if at the flick of a switch, as if an optician had just dropped a new lens into the frame on your nose, you’re seeing it through a different pair of eyes; and you no longer hate it. In fact, you quite like it – and you even know why.

It’s relatively easy to create ads for a brand when you’re plumb in the middle of the target group yourself.

The highest praise should be reserved for those who are equally able to pitch disposable diapers to single mothers and private jets to oligarchs. You could be one of them.

‘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

Topics