A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Which is most interesting to you? An irreverent, risk-taking brand that appeals to a raw human instinct or one that instils joy and hope?

A: Your question should, of course, have read: "Which is more interesting to you?" I make this point because I'm a pedant. The rest of my answer will confirm this truth.

Here is what the very best advertising does. (And for younger readers, I should explain that by "advertising" I mean what real people know it to mean, and that's every element of a brand's communication from pack design through website to shelf wobbler.) The very best advertising supplies precisely the right and individually distinctive wardrobe for each of its subjects. Advertising creative people are like personal stylists - and in more ways than one. Some stylists, like some creative people, have only one favoured style and they want all their clients to adopt it. So seven women, irrespective of personality, all turn up for the Oscars wearing biased-hem backless dresses in a sort of beigy orange. At Cannes, you can see the advertising equivalent: seven entirely different brands all clothed in the same high-fashion example of some cutting-edge special effect.

The best advertising people, like the best personal stylists, start with the client and create accordingly. They do not conflate Dame Helen Mirren with Lady Gaga or Patek Philippe with Pot Noodles.

And that's what makes this business so inexhaustibly fascinating. By definition, no two brands can be identical. Real people demand differentiation, the profits of client companies depend on it and good advertising stylists provide it. The best advertising is as integral a part of a brand as its formulation; and even more valuable because it's impossible for competitors to replicate.

I know you didn't expect all that when you asked your simple question but I had to explain why irreverent, risk-taking brands and ones that instil joy and hope are equally interesting professionally. Personally, of course, I'm attracted to brands that take things easy and wear cardigans.

Q: I've just left an agency to become a client for the first time. Is it wrong to appoint my old agency now to our advertising account?

A: As an ex-agency person, you'll be all too familiar with any agency's reaction to the news that a valued client has just appointed a new marketing director. Oh my God.

We all know what new brooms do. We all know that new marketing directors like to stamp their authority on their new company. We all know that new marketing directors are most unlikely to be able to make any significant changes to the product, its formulation, its pricing or its distribution. And we all know what that leaves.

So the incumbent agency is on instant red alert. Nothing can be taken for granted. An immediate artificiality infuses the relationship. What time would you like it to be?

It sounds like you're contemplating firing your company's existing agency before you've been introduced. This may have the advantage of eliminating trivial subjective factors such as whether you like them or not - but it fails to make the most of a never-to-be-repeated opportunity. You could earn your existing agency's undying loyalty and commitment simply by astonishing them.

Tell them that you're not even going to think about changing agencies for a full 12 months; and you'd hope not then. When you've found your feet, you may want to review the advertising or the people on your account but you won't be reviewing the agency itself. Meanwhile, you'd like to set up a formal meeting at which the agency (which knows more about the brand than you do) outlines its own brand strategy. You'd be particularly interested in any recommendations that the agency may have made in the past that, for whatever reason, failed to find favour.

Do it like this and you'll have the most enviable client/agency relationship in the country.

Of course your old agency will be disappointed, particularly having given you such a long and lavish send-off party. You may have forgotten those indiscreet hints you dropped as you finally fell into the car they'd so thoughtfully provided for you - but don't assume that they have.

Q: I am a food client who works with an agency that doesn't seem to eat much of our product. Should I be concerned?

A: Agencies who drink only their clients' drinks and eat only their clients' food hope to be valued not for their objectivity but for their obsequiousness.

- "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.

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