Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 04 December 2009 12:00AM

Q: Dear Jeremy, what will an advertising agency need to look like in three to five years' time?

A: It's a little early for seasonal soothsaying but since this is my last column before 2010, here goes. (And let me be clear: nothing that follows is based on extrapolation, trend analysis or early-bird identification. It's based entirely on wishful thinking.)

The word advertising will have survived all attempts to replace it by ugly upstarts such as marcoms. The advertising trade will finally concede that, since the great ignorant public is happy to call all forms of marketing communications advertising, then the advertising trade might as well fall into line. So ad agencies will still be called advertising agencies. They will, however, do a great deal more than make advertisements.

Their key skill will be neither purely creative nor purely strategic nor purely administrative but an amalgam of all three: and it will be embodied not in a department but in a relatively few immensely knowledgeable and inventive individuals.

They will be as invaluable to clients as any senior advisor from any service sector has ever been and they will have been forced into existence by the chaos of change.

The headlong disintegration of media and audiences and the parallel demand for the reintegration of a company's communications will make the emergence of such people imperative. Their role will be a lofty one; only a lofty eye will be able to discern and create benign patterns from the swirling activities below. They will be fascinated by, and knowledgeable about, all forms of human behaviour. They will know that many actions dismissively described as irrational often make abiding human sense. They will understand that intangible values are at least as valuable to real people as tangible ones - and even more valuable to their clients because intangibles don't need the imperfect protection of patent law. They will have access to sizeable research budgets of their own and will run Idea Incubators from which the next generation of products and promotions and creative stimuli will come blinking into life. They will welcome those new and worryingly unfamiliar opportunities that the internet will continue to present - and will relish the task of evaluating them and smoothing them into shape. They will play no part whatsoever in the plumbing of their agencies.

Beyond, but not beneath, squads of clever people will do what they love to do best. They may call it ambient or experiential, and may work in any medium and any discipline: but because a great, flexible and inspirational pattern has already been established and widely understood, the work they do will slot elegantly into its pre-determined place. It will all be advertising.

Once an advertising agency can deliver all that, client procurement executives will need to look elsewhere for their sport.

Q: In the old days, it was creative idea first, media plan next, based on that idea. Then comms planning came along and it became media strategy first, followed by an idea to fit the chosen medium. Now it's all up in the air. Which way is best in your opinion?

A: All up in the air is much the best: keep it there. Start by working out what you'd like which people to do that they aren't already doing: all assignments boil down to this.

Don't write briefs until they've already emerged from talk and argument and the sniffing out of research. Don't ask anyone to follow a brief they haven't contributed to. If five different people have been teasing away together at the same task, invite them all to draft a short brief: there'll be something valuable in every one.

Tidiness and logic will become clearly apparent in retrospect; but don't let that fool you that tidiness and logic had anything to do with the process of discovery.

Q: Now that the London Evening Standard has doubled its print run and dropped its coverprice, I can never find it. This can't be simple incompetence, surely, so what's going on?

A: With apologies to non-London readers, I welcome this question. It's obviously a brilliant experiment into the power of what behavioural economists call lossaversion. You may remember how Coca-Cola introduced new Coke while at the same time withdrawing the original. National loss-aversion was so widespread and so vocal that within three months Coca-Cola was forced to reinstate the original: its brand strength hugely enhanced. The Evening Standard management is clearly planning to reinstate the title with a coverprice of £1: consummate marketing.

Either that, or it's simple incompetence.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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