There are two kinds of books about advertising. One is the kind that tells you what advertising is, how to do it, measure it and so on.
For my money, essential ones you need to read are Reality In Advertising by Rosser Reeves, Testing To Destruction by Alan Hedges, Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Ries and Trout, and Competing For The Future by Hamel and Prahalad. Jeremy Bullmore would add the textbooks of Claude Hopkins, David Ogilvy and James Webb Young. He is a particular admirer of Webb Young, whom he quotes and refers to frequently in his new book.
In fact, Bullmore and Webb Young have a lot in common. Webb Young practised, taught and wrote about advertising for more than 50 years, from 1912 to 1964. For the whole of that time he either worked for, or was a consultant to, J. Walter Thompson. Bullmore joined JWT as a trainee copywriter in 1954, and stayed with that agency until his retirement (as the chairman) in 1987. Since 1988, he has been a non-executive director of the WPP Group, JWT's parent company.
Furthermore, both men have written some of the wisest words about advertising you'll ever read. Webb Young's seminal book is called How To Become An Advertising Man. In it, he was ahead of his time in identifying how advertising works, understanding the difference between stimulus and response, defining target audiences by factors of taste, interest or habit rather than by demographics, believing that creativity and effectiveness are the same thing rather than different things, and so on.
More Bullmore is a seminal book of the textbook kind too. It's a collection of the pick of the articles, essays, papers, presentations and speeches Bullmore has written over the years. It first appeared in 1991 as Behind The Scenes In Advertising, and now appears 12 years and two editions on - including 66 new pieces which broaden the scope of the original book considerably - subtitled Behind The Scenes In Advertising (Mark III): Brands, Business And Beyond.
It tackles all of Webb Young's issues and more, including the roles and responsibilities of the different advertising disciplines, the sensitivities of the relationship between client and agency, the future of the advertising agency, and the nature of marketing, brands, and business. It seems that there is no advertising or advertising-related subject to which Bullmore hasn't turned his insightful mind and had important and helpful thoughts about.
But I said there are two kinds of books about advertising. The second kind is the novel set in adland. Matt Beaumont's E is very good, but it wasn't the first. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers was first published in 1933, and The Agency Game by Bernard Gutteridge was first published in 1954. Bullmore summarises them for us: "To the modern eye, the Sayers agency seems quite formal. First names are never used - everybody is either Mr Tallboy or Miss Rossiter - but they do have fun. They make jokes, they gossip in the typing pool, they go out to lunch, they have staff parties and they play cricket matches against their clients.
"By the 1950s, to judge from The Agency Game, advertising people were having even more fun. The workers at Slender Oliphant & Queste scheme, lust and, above all, drink. They drink Tio Pepe and beer and brandy and pink gin.
The account man Shotover invariably starts his evening session at the Lion with a couple of double-double gin and tonics. The two new products that occupy them most are a bra and a chocolate drink that turns out to be an aphrodisiac. They make a potent combination."
It is in considering these two kinds of books about advertising that the real genius of Bullmore is revealed, because it's not just his wisdom that we benefit from when reading him, but his wit. Webb Young's is a great textbook, but it's not funny. Beaumont's sitcom is very funny, but it doesn't advance the thinking component of our craft. More Bullmore is both intellectually stimulating and very funny, which is a unique and irresistible combination.
For example, on the subject of how advertising works, we're reminded that there are few sensible and well-articulated theories and then treated to one of them, based on the unarguable but often-forgotten notion that "the consumer has a mind as well as a stomach". Account planners are asked to confront their worst fears by asking themselves with unnervingly child-like innocence: "What are account planners for, Daddy?" And clients are guided in how to get just the opposite by being given "ten tried and trusted ways of getting the least from your advertising agency".
Punctuating the six sections of the book are insights of a rather different kind, conveying the flavour of working in an advertising agency. At the beginning we learn how Bullmore first entered the world of advertising through the doors of No 40 Berkeley Square, and at the end how, after 33 years and two months, he finally said farewell to "London advertising's most famous address".
Fortunately, he didn't say farewell altogether to our absurdly ungraspable business, and continues to grasp it better than most.