A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Ali Cheval, on graduate placement, writes: With so much emphasis on financial issues and the money-conscious consumer, how do you feel brands should behave in this "age of austerity"?

A: Thanks for the question, Ali. The answer, I fear disappointingly, is that in an age of austerity, brands should behave exactly as brands should behave at any other time in an economic cycle.

By that, of course, I don't mean that brands should do nothing or that they should all behave in the same way. The main thing that brands have in common is that they're all different. A brand that isn't unique isn't a brand; it's just a boring old product. So lively brands respond differently to common circumstances.

What a lively brand does - not just at the beginning of some arbitrary planning period but all the time, every week, for the whole of its life - is keep very close to what people out there are thinking and feeling and doing; and then adjust itself accordingly. So if the people out there are feeling strapped for cash, some brands will choose to offer economy recipes, some will offer a touch of affordable self-indulgence, and some will go bogof. And some will give the matter just as much thought, conclude that what their consumers respond to in times of uncertainty is confident consistency - and so decide do nothing. They may all be right.

Q: I run the marketing for a financial services company. I'm torn between appointing a specialist financial agency that's a subsidiary of a bigger group, and a top-20 mainstream one. The former "gets" financial services so I won't have to waste hours explaining stuff to it. The latter doesn't - in fact, it's financially illiterate on a personal level - but it's much more creative. Is it better to use a specialist or a generalist?

A: Are you consumer-facing or B2B? I slip effortlessly into marketing jargon here because, on overwhelming evidence, most people who run the marketing for financial services companies are addicted to jargon. I hope you're not one of them.

It's true that, if most of your communications are between your own financial company and other financial companies, the use of jargon may be just about acceptable.

Indeed, if part of your strategy is to demonstrate your membership of that secret society of financial institutions whose language is comprehensible only to other members of that secret society, then your use of jargon may even be creatively canny.

But if you're marketing your financial products to real people, the use of jargon is ugly, ineffective, unprofessional and socially irresponsible. Instead of clarifying options for your potential customers, you're further confusing them.

Ron Sandler is a former CEO of Lloyds' insurance market. He's spent a lifetime in finance and speaks the language fluently. A few years ago, he completed a report on the savings market for the Government - and revealed to the Financial Times: "I had difficulty dealing personally with this industry and thought that, if other people have that experience, I wanted to try and help. You can't have an industry that is so complicated and difficult to discern and expect the competitive forces to be working properly."

You complain that people in mainstream agencies don't "get" financial services - that they're financially illiterate on a personal level. Well, so am I; and so are those millions of people who you hope to persuade to buy your brands. You're paid by your company, first to make the complex comprehensible and then to make it desirable. If you can't get financially illiterate agency people to understand what you have to offer and why it's wantable, what hope do you have with the real world? The best of the specialist financial agencies are bilingual. They know what a zero dividend preference share is. They understand what you're going on about and can interpret it persuasively for the lumpen proletariat. But if they can't do that second bit, you're far better off struggling to educate the financially illiterate.

Q: How can I persuade my clients to allow the agency to talk about work we do for them?

A: Don't even try. People in advertising are supposed to be good at empathy; at seeing things through other people's eyes. You're clearly not.

This is what a client sees: an advertising agency, exorbitantly rewarded, which took the best part of a year and remorseless prodding to get things even roughly right, now claiming exclusive credit for a sales performance that was caused mainly by the introduction of a new ingredient and the rest by some unseasonably warm weather.

- "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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