A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: Do I have to watch Game of Thrones?

You don't have to like what's popular but you ought to believe that knowing what's popular is a professional necessity, writes Jeremy Bullmore.

Everyone I know is watching Game of Thrones but I can’t stand it. As a creative, should I force myself to watch really popular TV shows and films that I don’t like so I’m not missing out on (apparently) important cultural references?

You’ll know the elderly joke about the psychiatrist who went to strip clubs; not to watch the girls but the audience.

As someone in advertising, you ought to be interested in what your audience is interested in: not because of "cultural references" (whatever they may be) and not because you might want to rip off some fancy piece of CGI for your next TVC; but because you ought to be interested in what your audience is interested in.

There’s no room in advertising for snobs, elitists or culture vultures. You don’t have to like what’s popular but you ought to believe that knowing what’s popular is a professional necessity. Nobody who’s listened to American radio shock-jocks over the years, particularly from the "flyover states", will have been that surprised by the popular appeal of Donald Trump. I’d love to know the overlap in fandom of Nigel Farage and Jeremy Clarkson.

So you shouldn’t have to "force yourself" to watch Games of Thrones; and you won’t need to watch all of it all of the time. But you should certainly be familiar with it. The fact that you can’t stand it is wholly irrelevant.

Copywriters who can identify only with people indistinguishable from themselves will enjoy extremely short working lives.

Is marketing really more important than advertising?

Oh dear, oh dear. Did anyone ever suggest that it wasn’t? You might as well ask: are doctors really more important than pharmacists? Or composers really more important than choreographers? Or historians really more important than publishers?

No-one would have even thought of such a question had the marketing discipline not allowed itself to be belittled. The rot set in as soon as marketing departments allowed themselves to be held responsible solely for getting rid of what was already made rather than being at least in part responsible for deciding what should be made in the first place.

From then on, marketing directors didn’t have to know very much about the merchandise they sold; their central and eminently transferable skill was getting rid of stuff. Just about any stuff.

I’ve remarked before on those announcements in trade papers, fresh from a press release: "Anglo Galvanized announces the appointment of Nick Thrust to marketing director (aggregates). Nick has served in similar positions at Procter & Gamble, Featherwick Pensions, Christian Aid, Berlitz and the Bristol Zoo."

Even when marketing starts outside the factory gates, it’s still more important than advertising – but not that much. There is an enviable skill in being able to shift language lessons one day and disposable diapers the next; but it’s not marketing.

Marketing should be as Steve Jobs believed it to be and as George Safford Parker defined it in 1888: "Make something better and people will buy it." (But only, of course, when they hear about it from an advertisement.)

What are the most effective questions to ask a candidate during a job interview?

Ask them what action, what project, they’ve been most proud of. Let them tell you about it in great detail. Then ask them, if they were doing it all over again, what they would do differently. The merely good ones look puzzled and say, well, dunno, nothing really… The really good ones know exactly.

If I send a sarcastic question to a magazine’s agony uncle about their redesign, do you think they will start featuring me in their articles more often?

There’s an easy way to find out.

Why do agencies find it so hard to thrive after their founders step down?

James Walter Thompson stepped down in 1916.

Kickstarter project CATS has won funding to fill an entire London Underground station with posters of cats. Is this a threat to the very future of the advertising industry?


Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP