A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: How worrisome is ad fraud?

Should we be concerned about ad fraud?

Most concerns about advertising are about the impact of advertising on the public – and quite right too. Advertisers themselves are always thought to be the potential villains rather than the potential victims. Until recently, the only exception to this has been the invisible poster.

There are so many niceties and nuances about advertising that expecting absolutely everyone to be in absolute agreement on any one viewpoint is nearly always doomed to disappointment. But surely no-one could disagree with this: a poster, so designed and so positioned that nobody, not even those with the keenest sight and with time on their hands to pause and peer, can determine the brand being advertised, is an advertiser robbed.

Please do not tell me that no such posters exist. Take an hour’s drive around any urban area, as passenger rather than driver, and you’ll find half-a-dozen. These are not posters of debatable value. These are posters of zero value. They cost money to make and money to display, and they return nothing. Yet, bafflingly, clients continue to pay for them.

It seems that the poster that no-one can read has now been joined by the internet ad, whose audience is almost entirely consisted of bots. And since bots don’t earn money or go shopping, their value to the advertiser is zero.

At a time when clients, driven by cost and powered by procurement, are counting the pennies as never before, it’s absurd that widespread speculation about ad fraud should go unanswered. An ad that fails to pay for itself because it fails to influence its audience is an unfortunate but accepted condition of advertising. An ad that fails to pay for itself because it never reaches an audience is commercial theft.

My ad agency took me and a few of their other clients to Cannes. They put us up in a wonderful villa and kept us topped up with rosé. I’m afraid I was carried away by the merry atmosphere and ended up skinny-dipping in the pool. How can I regain the respect of my agency now they’ve seen the real me?
I’ve waited a month or two before attempting to answer this question in the hope that, by now, you’ve had time to answer it yourself. What I found interesting was your apparent belief that you could expect respect from your agency only when you shielded them from the real you. In other words, you saw yourself as The Client, in capital letters: a semi-fictional character, austere, cerebral, authoritative and with an ice-cold certainty of judgment. Now that they’ve seen you half-cut and entirely unclothed, you fear they’ll see you as fallible.

I find that sad. You are fallible. Respect shouldn’t be dependent on artifice. You’ll earn their real respect when you admit to doubt and indecision; then take them out for a drink and sort it all out in a muddly, grown-up, open-minded kind of way.

Just being the client buys you quite enough unearned respect. Admitting to fallibility will earn you more; even with your clothes on.

Do you think the most successful adlanders all have similar character traits?
No. A quick riff through the A List book puts paid to that theory. One of the many pleasures of our trade is that it not only accommodates but actually needs people of very different mentalities, abilities and character traits.

It’s true that disproportionate attention is given to advertising people with certain common characteristics. They tend to be cheerfully extrovert, naturally charming, engagingly eccentric, irrationally resilient and very good company. Boris Johnson would have made an interesting agency head. Those working for them frequently despair – but wouldn’t work for anyone else. Their success is almost totally dependent on the far less visible success of others beneath them: the worriers, the brooders, the meticulous providers of immaculate service; the Mad Men, of course, but the Maths Men as well.

When you come across high-profile adlanders, ask yourself this: are they high-profile because they’re successful or are they successful because they’re high-profile?

I’ve long thought that there should be a grown-up version of Faces to Watch. Open only to those over 45, it might be called Adland’s Secret Superstars. But it would, I suppose, rather defeat its own purpose.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE