Jeremy Bullmore
Jeremy Bullmore
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the campaign couch...with JB

Q: Isn't the language of advertising all wrong now, Jeremy?

We still talk about direct agencies and digital agencies, digital media (by which we generally mean online and mobile), creative agencies and so on. Since most agencies seem to do most things these days, and most media is digital in some sense, do we need a whole new industry lexicon?

A: When things get invented by sensible, grown-up people, they get given sensible, grown-up names. Over the years, names had to be found for windmills, locomotives, motorcars, helicopters, television, telephones, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and football; and the names that were found were useful and accurate enough and they've all survived.

When things get invented by small groups of adolescents who are intelligible, if at all, only to other small groups of adolescents, the things that they invent are given names that derive not from any known, everyday language but from the code that these people speak. The meaning of the word address is understood by several billion more people than is the word URL. And when you discover that URL is an acronym for Universal Resource Locator, mystification only intensifies.

I don't know which small group of adolescents it was who first decided to call digital digital. The usage should have been strangled at birth - if only because it's impossible to strangle it now. Once words get entrenched, they're as hard to eradicate as Japanese knotweed. "Classified" was never the best descriptor for small ads - but it's hung on in there for 100 years so far.

We do need a whole new industry lexicon - but it's not going to come about as a result of the recommendations of an Advertising Association Nomenclature Taskforce. It will come about in exactly the same way that all language develops over time: by a form of undirected crowdsourcing.

Lots of people try out lots of things. Some stick, some don't. There's no academy, no referee. It's a miracle, really. Just a shame that we'll have to wait a couple of hundred years or so.

By which time, I expect, digital will have stopped meaning the opposite of analogue and will just mean all the things that we now use it to mean - so there'll be no need to change it.

Q: Dear Jeremy, my son wants to follow me into the world of advertising.

I'd really rather he didn't and have been trying to put him off. The money's not as good, the hours are longer and it's no fun any more. Should I just let him follow his dream and learn the hard way?

A: When you say that the money's not as good, the hours are longer and it's no fun any more, you're making the comparison of advertising today with the advertising you think you remember when you started. That's a comparison your son won't make. The only worthwhile comparison for him will be with other trades and occupations.

My bet is that, for certain minds and dispositions, advertising will continue to offer more challenge, more satisfaction, more insights into human behaviour, more agreeable colleagues - and more fun - than most other ways of earning a living.

Your mistake was almost certainly getting promoted.

Advertising hasn't changed as much as you think it has. You've just had to stop playing pool in the office and bunking off to the pub at 11.30. You now have to worry about fee negotiations and laying people off. You've had to become responsible.

Anyway, as an advertising person, you'll be acutely aware of the phenomenon that we gurus call Communications Recoil. Tell people that something's good for them and they'll instantly assume it tastes revolting. Young people are particularly prone to Communications Recoil.

By attempting to put your son off advertising, you'll be strengthening his determination to go for it. Instead, try warning him off becoming an actuary.

Q: The Apple co-founder Steve Jobs recently retired. I read in the paper someone describe him as "the best adman of his generation". Would you agree, or is this just more hype?

A: If this was intended as a compliment to Steve Jobs, it fails. But it's quite a compliment to admen. Any adman who was as product-obsessed as Steve Jobs; as dismissive of ugliness as Steve Jobs; as committed to utility as Steve Jobs; as ruthless in the elimination of the merely adequate as Steve Jobs: any adman who was all these things would be a very good adman indeed.

I wonder if there's ever been one?

"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