On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 02 April 2010 12:00AM

Q: How do you expect the outcome of the General Election to affect the cultural zeitgeist?

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

A: I'm afraid to say that I don't know what a cultural zeitgeist is. I'm not sure I've even met one. But since I've rubbed along in ignorance for some years now, maybe it's not that important. The election, however, may affect other things.

I hope, irrespective of outcome, that our governing bodies' obsession with legislation may begin to wane a little - and not a moment too soon. It's not as widely known as it should be that over the course of the past 12 years, each year has seen an average of about 2,500 new laws - the equivalent of seven new laws a day or one new law every three-and-a-half hours. One scare headline in The Sun about a toddler and a lollipop stick has been enough for the Lollipop Stick (Toddler Protection) Bill to be before the House within weeks.

There are many ways of inducing citizens to conduct their lives in a socially responsible manner. In sensible regimes, persuasion is always optimistically examined before legislation is resorted to. Successful persuasion is not only cheaper than legislation but seeks willing collusion on the part of the persuaded.

Legislation, on the other hand, is gunboat diplomacy: please buy a TV licence because, if you don't, I'll squirt superglue in your keyhole and stamp on your glasses. Much legislation, very expensively, creates a nation of deeply resentful bloody-minded people - while doing little to protect toddlers from the lollipop threat.

So if a little less legislation means a little more persuasion, that should be good news not only for the country as a whole but also for those of us in the persuasion business, shouldn't it? Just how that might affect the cultural zeitgeist I leave my readers to ponder.

Q: I'm a marketing director and one of our brand ambassadors has just been exposed in a Sunday tabloid for having an affair. We've enjoyed a long and prosperous relationship, but should we act now and cut all ties with this particular person before things get out of hand and it starts to ruin our reputation?

A: Mr Kipling has never been caught with his trousers down. The Jolly Green Giant must be heading for 80 but isn't yet dribbling into his sweetcorn. Despite worldwide concerns about obesity, the Michelin Man is still a respected brand icon. And you've never seen a flash photo in the National Enquirer of Tony the Tiger leaving a Vegas motel with a coat over his head.

When your agency first recommended this brand ambassador to you, did they also draw up a contingency plan? Because the trouble with human beings is that they frequently behave like human beings. Indeed, there are some contingencies that should be more properly categorised as certainties and human beings behaving like human beings is one such - particularly when they're celebrated human beings. They come to believe that normal rules don't apply.

There are only two sure-fire ways of avoiding the predicament in which you now find yourself. Either choose a brand ambassador that no-one's ever heard of, nor ever will. (This option has one fairly obvious disadvantage.) Or avoid human beings altogether and Invent Your Own Celebrity.

The only drawback here is that it requires imaginative skills on the part of your agency. It's a great deal harder to invent a celebrity than to negotiate to buy one with someone else's money. But for future reference, that's what you should instruct them to do next time.

As for now, lie low. If you cut all ties immediately, we'll all see you as a cynical, commercially driven organisation - happy to buy a man's glory when he's up and running but only too ready to kick him where it hurts the moment he gets caught doing something we assumed he was doing all along and wouldn't half mind a bit of ourselves as a matter of fact. Cutting all ties immediately would be the fastest and most expensive way of dulling your own reputation while burnishing his.

Q: I'm thinking of launching a start-up. Is it just a myth or is a recession really a good time to start a business?

The entire world is suffering from a pandemic of over-production. We have too many cars, wines, cereals, sofas, shops and advertising agencies. When drawing up their shortlists, chief marketing officers do not bemoan the shortage of agency candidates. In 1888, George Safford Parker said: "Make something better and people will buy it." Recession or not, if you can, they will. So can you?

- "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, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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