A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Why are all ads for tourist destinations so universally bad?

I’m perfectly happy that real people, who know nothing whatsoever about advertising, should have confident personal views about particular advertisements. In fact, I long ago came to believe that the less you know about advertising, the more confident you can be in your advertising judgment. And once you’ve accepted that, it’s a small step to a more important corollary: the more you know about advertising, the more difficult it becomes to be certain of your immediate judgment.

But before I continue with this heavy-handed analysis, let me return to your question.

Since you’re a Campaign reader, I assume you work in advertising. And you say, without caveat or qualification, that all ads for tourist destinations are universally bad. (Were I in a pedantic mood, I’d be tempted to point out the tautology: "all" and "universal" make the same point. You don’t need both.) But

I’m much more interested to know what you mean by "bad". And I’m pretty sure you mean: "I find nothing original or enviable about this advertisement. It’s unlikely to find favour with awards juries. It won’t win anything." And if that’s what you mean by "bad", you’re entirely entitled to such an instinctive and sweeping opinion. You might even be right.

But surely you’ve been in advertising long enough to know that the people who pay for advertisements, the people who are totally reliant on their advertisements to keep them in profitable business, don’t see things in quite the same way. They’ll probably be pleased if their advertisements win things; and they’ve probably read that there’s often a reassuring correlation between ads that win things and ads that improve their profitability; but an advertisement can win a hundred prizes and still not return its cost, let alone a surplus. And that is a bad ad.

I think it extremely unlikely that, of the thousands of tourist-destination ads, not one has paid its way in terms of incremental trade. I bet several have surpassed their sponsors’ hopes. If they were all bad – in the only sense of bad that matters – tourist destinations would have given up on advertising many years ago. And as someone who should know a bit about advertising, you really should have known that.

A final thought; and a challenge to our trade. From all the many rigorous analyses that have been done about the relationship of creativity to market effectiveness, one important piece of information is suspiciously missing. If you accept that, say, nine out of ten award-winning campaigns are disproportionately successful – and I do – why, I wonder, do we know absolutely nothing about the one in ten that wasn’t? We all know they exist; it would be hugely helpful to know which they were and why and how they failed.

The reticence of those in the know is perhaps understandable. You’re the chief marketing officer of a famous marketing company. One of your commercials has been showered with praise and heavy metal. You’ve been personally profiled in the Financial Times. You were runner-up in the Marketing Director of the Year Awards at Grosvenor House. In every instance, your nomination has been directly linked to your courage in approving the garlanded commercial.

Yet you know with a hideous certainty that the garlanded commercial did nothing whatsoever to improve the cause of the product it featured. More than 40 per cent of respondents, while absolutely loving the ad, failed to remember what it was promoting.

What do you do?

You have a meeting with your agency. Your agency has already won two substantial pieces of new business and been shortlisted for three more – all on the strength of its authorship of the garlanded commercial. Your agency assumes its most responsible facial expression and drafts a statement for you to agree. "It’s long been our company’s policy never to disclose precise sales figures. Although this exceptional commercial has been acclaimed by marketing professionals around the world, we see no good reason to depart from this custom as it would entail the disclosure of unusually sensitive market information. We can, however, confirm that we have been absolutely delighted by the commercial’s reception." Job done.

Now the challenge. If you have hard evidence of a famously awarded advertisement that totally failed to do its job, please contact the IPA. In the interests of us all, we need to know.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE