On the Campaign Couch with JB

On the Campaign Couch with JB

Q: The agency has its own Twitter account and some of the more junior members of staff take it in turns to Tweet. I've noticed that some of the output is juvenile (although funny) while others are more worthy (but dull). Am I worrying too much about our tone of voice or should agencies be expected among the client community to have some personality?

A: Whether or not they set out to have one, all agencies - like all people - have a personality. It may be a weak one - agencies can be nonentities too - or it may be a strong one. But however ingeniously agencies try to forge some unique proposition for themselves, however confidently the agency's chief planner plots the agency on that bi-polar grid (always in the top right hand corner where "creativity" and "commercial responsibility" meet in uncomfortable collusion), all agencies will always be differentiated through personality rather than function.

Agencies are quintessential brands; and the most successful agencies are those with the clearest, strongest brand reputations. If you're the CEO of your agency, you're also its brand custodian. And there's an assumption buried in your question that makes me think you may not be up to the job.

You seem to believe that a confusion of Tweets - funny, serious, dull, irreverent, reactionary, subversive, offensive, banal, juvenile, derivative, scabrous and potentially slanderous - is proof to the client community that your agency has some personality. And by extension, you seem to believe that without such a confusion, your agency would be personality-free. How deeply defeatist. And how wrong.

Imagine Louis Vuitton behaving like DFS. Imagine Pot Noodle doing a joint promotion with The Economist. Imagine Bentley offering a free pair of furry dice with every new Mulsanne.

Successful brands send out consonant signals. If all your juniors had a crystal clear feel for the agency they work for, so would they. Instead, you'll soon seem formless, gormless and rudderless.

Q: One of the beauties of the internet is that there are billions of websites. So how come, then, that there is such a massive concentration of traffic into three or four of them?

A: Mark Earls would say Herd Instinct. And that's certainly part of it. It must be a lonely business being an only fan. No-one to do swapsies with. The enjoyment of a film in a crowded cinema is different in kind and quality from the enjoyment of that same film watched at home with only your cat for company.

But there's something else going on as well. When Bamber Gascoigne was asked how he decided whether people were famous or not, he conceded it was difficult. There's no objective measurement; it's a personal, subjective thing.

But he soon recognised that there was a common phenomenon that he called A Consensus of Subjectivity. If it's indeed true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then every single beholder, being a unique individual, is entitled to have a personal opinion of what constitutes beauty.

Sixty million beholders could be beholding a common object in 60 million different ways. And yet we don't.

Women come in billions of different forms. Why don't we spread our appreciations widely? But we don't. At any given time, a mysterious, unspoken conspiracy sees to it that the great majority of us agree on what is shapely and what is not. But only at any given time. Once it was The Rokeby Venus. Now it's not. There's no longer a consensus of subjectivity rooting for the Betty Grable shape - and maybe not even for Marilyn Monroe's.

And as with women, so with websites: we'll always cluster round a few.

I'm extremely proud of the above pretentious analysis and hope you enjoyed it. There may even be a little bit of truth in it. But the real answer to your question is that most websites are crap.

Q: A marketing director writes: how much should I believe media owners are listening when they say they have restructured their business to be more "client-focused" yet have never asked me what I want?

A: Media owners have always preferred talking to listening. That's because, before the internet, the only thing that media had to do was talk. Aware that times are changing fast, they've now moved reluctantly from simply talking to talking about listening. They may eventually come to realise that, if they're actually going to listen, they'll have to stop talking; but not, I suspect, very soon.

"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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