On the Campaign Couch ... with JB
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, I'd like to work in advertising, probably in planning, and am just looking at university courses.

Any advice on whether a marketing or media studies degree is better than a degree in a traditional subject such as English or history? Or perhaps I shouldn't be contemplating university at all ... maybe I should be plotting some interesting adventure that will give me some standout in a few years' time. What do you think?

A: I'm always a little concerned when people make up their minds so early in life that they want to go into advertising.

I can understand a strong vocational instinct, often prompted by parental precedent, to become a physicist or a veterinarian; but advertising? You may think you know what advertising's all about, but I promise you don't.

Making your mind up too early rules out chance, serendipity, happy accidents. Most people who turn out to be good in advertising could probably have been just as good in a number of other trades, not necessarily closely related. It's a great pity to eliminate other options before you need to.

The question of a degree is a fairly simple one. Having a degree probably won't make you any better at doing an advertising job as and when you get one. But without a degree, you probably won't get it in the first place.

The logic here is practical rather than professional: recruiting companies need some objective benchmark to determine whether or not applicants are worthy of interview - and a reasonable degree is the only benchmark available.

It seems arbitrary, which it is, and almost certainly excludes major potential: David Ogilvy wouldn't have qualified, for example. But that's the standard practice; and unless your godfather's the global marketing director of a multibillion-pound multinational, there are few ways round it.

If, instead, you embarked on this interesting adventure of yours, you might well achieve some sort of standout in a few years' time. But to do so consciously, and purely for that purpose, seems to me to be more than a little creepy and far from certain of success.

So, if I were you, I'd go for a degree. But don't try to second guess which subjects are most likely to ring bells with agencies. Choose the ones that interest you the most and which you think you'd be best at. Within days of graduates joining agencies, no-one's remotely interested in what degree they got or in which subjects. All that matters is how useful they are.

But it may be worth remembering that the very best planners are extremely comfortable with both the art and the science aspects of planning. They can use words and numbers with equal ease. And they're all dedicated disciples of rigour and committed enemies of bullshit.

Q: Dear Jeremy, High-street stores had a nice boost in sales when the sun came out in the spring. Presumably, our wet June and July will have the opposite effect. Where does this leave the case for advertising?

A: What a silly question. You seem to think that advertising's like a tap, to be turned off when the sun comes out and on again when it rains. Or maybe the other way round. Neither way, it ain't. Or maybe you think that the weather's such an all-important influence on sales that advertising has no reason to exist? Were that the case, don't you think that someone else might have spotted it before now?

Q: How does one reconcile lack of trust in advertising with continuing effectiveness of advertisements?

A: Unlike cruise ships, advertising doesn't have a tangible, visible, physical presence. When a couple of cruise ships sink, there are terrible pictures everywhere. People lose their trust in cruise ships and decide to stay at home instead.

When a couple of advertisements sink, no such images appear. Any trust lost is more in the product than in its advocate. People, thank the Lord, have never had blind trust in advertising generally. If ever they did, it would be time to take up landscape gardening; the responsibility would otherwise be suffocating.

Effective advertisements don't just ride on the tide of blind faith in the generic. All advertisements, like all transactions, operate against an entirely healthy background of wariness.

There's no reliable evidence that wariness levels about advertising have materially changed over the past 50 years. If they plunged, we should be at least as worried as if they soared.

"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.