CLOSE-UP: ON THE CAMPAIGN COUCH ... WITH JB
By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 30 January 2004 12:00AM
Q: Dear JB, the clients at my ostensibly integrated agency will happily approve TV and posters on the basis that the creative work is challenging, intelligent, original and on-brief. But when the direct people present equally challenging, intelligent, etc work to the same client for the same product and the same audience, the clients always maintain that "no one will get it" and demand an "at last!" kind of headline. Is there really some chemical/neurological alteration that takes place when people are exposed to direct marketing which makes them incapable of understanding anything fresh and original?
A: Let's have a beady look at this word direct. If direct marketing is distinguished by being direct, what's all that TV and poster stuff supposed to be? Indirect? Tangential? Elliptical? Allusive? Incomprehensible?
It's true that a great deal of TV and poster stuff is all these things.
But (and herein lies its greatest strength) nobody can ever actually prove it! Because no immediate response has been overtly sought, the absence of such a response cannot be used as evidence of failure. So a client approving a challenging, intelligent, original creative idea for television is insured against boardroom derision.
He can go on muttering about long-term brand-building and low involvement processing until his next agency review rescues him.
The client approving a challenging, intelligent, original direct recommendation has no such protection. A response is sought. If that response is achieved, the work was good and the client a hero. If no such response is achieved, the work was bad and the client an idiot. No debate is necessary.
Think of television advertising as a preacher and direct advertising as a comedian. Both seek to elicit a response from their respective audiences: the preacher, compassion; the comedian, laughter. The preacher may leave his pulpit and retire to his lodgings - and never, never know with certainty whether he has moved a single member of his congregation to compassion. The comedian, however, is both blessed and cursed. The response he seeks is both instant and audible. The audience either laughs - or it doesn't laugh.
Like the direct marketer, he has nowhere to hide.
It is this splendid, immediate, unarguable accountability of direct that makes its users so exposed, defenceless - and understandably timorous.
But as you know, these very same qualities also make experiments in content relatively simple. So if you really believe your cautious clients are denying themselves supercharged creative work, suggest they invest in whatever split runs are called these days. That's if you're prepared to take the risk, of course.
Q: Where do you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable in the giving and receiving of gifts? The difference in cost between the case of Champagne my agency gave me for Christmas and the car they want to loan me for my summer holiday is enormous. Is there a measurable difference in principle too?
A: No. The principle is constant. Only the consequences vary. So make a habit of listing on your personal website every gift you're offered and by whom. Make this habit known to your agency, your management and the trade press. You'll find that the difference between the acceptable and the unacceptable becomes immediately apparent. And as the flood of offers becomes a trickle, you'll be spared much moral anguish; which I know will be of great comfort to you.
Q: As an advertiser, should I worry about a change of ownership at the national newspaper that I spend rather a lot of money advertising in?
A: What an extraordinary question. Would you increase your expenditure in this newspaper if it were owned by Nelson Mandela?
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. He welcomes questions via campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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