A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: Should advertising try to save the world?

Advertising should sell products, not save the world. Do you agree?

I think advertising should be used to do just about anything that advertising does well. 

And, by "well", I mean when it helps its users to meet their objectives more efficiently than the equivalent expenditure on any alternative could have done. 

We all know that advertising can do this when it comes to selling stuff – even though the pedant in me finds it necessary to point out that much of advertising’s value comes not by getting people to buy stuff but by making stuff so attractive that people are happy to go on paying a decent amount of money for it. (And if you think that’s sophistry, you still haven’t fully understood the trade you’re in.) 

But the never-mentioned truth about our trade is this: it isn’t advertising that sells products; it’s the people who use advertising who sell products. 

So while it’s entirely possible that advertising will have some considerable part to play in saving the world, until we know who has the ideas and who’s invented the actions that, if widely adopted, could save the world, advertising won’t know who it should be helping. You might as well call for a competitive creative pitch for a brand whose physical form, name and purpose have yet to be invented. 

As a wiser man than I once said: "Advertising’s only worth doing when you’ve got something worth advertising." Until we know how to save the world, we can’t advertise it.

Is it OK to present the same idea to a succession of clients? 
There used to be a rumour that "the car in front is a Toyota" started life as "the car in front is a Ford". And maybe it did. Purists like to tut-tut at any suggestion that agencies keep a hoard of all-purpose slogans on file, ready to retrofit them to the next gullible client. I used to be one of them. 

Advertising ideas, I would argue, should spring from the essence of each individual brand. So if an idea was equally appropriate for two or more brands, then by definition it must be a bad idea. Furthermore, an idea that had come into being before the need for that idea was apparent must be fraudulent, in the sense that the worth of an idea can be judged only when tested against its suitability as the solution to a singular and specific problem. 

That’s all rubbish, of course. There must have been a dozen beers that could just as credibly have reached the parts that others didn’t. If Heineken had not only rejected it but had fired CDP on the grounds of its creative drought, CDP would have been well within its right to put in a call to Carlsberg.

On the other hand, if Comparethemarket.com hadn’t liked the look of Aleksandr, it would have been a tidy test of VCCP’s persuasive powers to sell him on to Gocompare.com. 

The only proper answer to your question is this: yes, it’s perfectly OK to present the same idea to a succession of clients. But do just remember that, when one of them eventually buys it and runs it, there’ll be at least three other marketing directors out there who’ll recognise it with whoops of joy. And marketing directors talk…

What do you think is most beneficial for an up-and-coming creative: to work across a wide range of clients to build up a varied knowledge and skillset, or to work on a very narrow range (or maybe just one) to really understand its DNA?
Without question, the more the better. Your immediate goal is not to become an expert on retailing, or analgesics, or comparison websites; there’ll be more than enough clients and planners and pieces of research to see that you know all you need to know about retailing and analgesics and comparison websites. 

Your immediate goal is to become a bit of an expert on advertising. And the more accounts you work on, the more people you work with and the more media you master, the more you’ll enjoy yourself and the more valuable you’ll become. 

An American copywriter I knew worked only on the Ford account… only on two marques… only on ads for Reader’s Digest… and only on headlines. He learnt nothing whatsoever about advertising and only a little more about the automotive market. Though very well-paid, he wisely left and became a trainee psychotherapist. 

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