A: Dear Brian, thank you for your kind enquiry. The origins of this entirely rational practice may be traced to the emergence of American multinational marketing companies.
For them, the world was divided into two parts: the United States of America and International. (The Rest, though entirely accurate, was thought overly dismissive.) Reporting to the worldwide CEO were two executive vice-presidents: the senior of whom was responsible for the US of A and the junior (also a US citizen) for everywhere else.
Twice a year, the worldwide CEO would conduct a comprehensive review of the company's worldwide communications. The EVP for the US would proudly present a coherent and consistent programme of work, all of which the CEO could understand. The EVP for International would sheepishly present an apparent transcript from the Tower of Babel: a nightmare of different languages, layouts, typefaces and even spellings of the brand itself. The CEO could understand none of it; and furthermore, interpreted this unsightly display as deliberate subversion of his master plan for global compliance.
As an immediate consequence, no EVPs for International were ever considered for further promotion; until that is, in an almost Darwinian process of evolution, they developed the concept of global copy.
Since then, a great many EVPs for International have scaled the heights of the corporate rockface - some of them even foreigners.
I hope this satisfies your curiosity.
(I trust that your question, even by implication, was not attempting to introduce the wholly extraneous factor of consumer effectiveness?)
Q: After being a creative in advertising for 20 years, I've just discovered that no-one really knows anything, least of all clients. Have I been naive? Has it always been that whoever networks best rises to the top? Should I see the Emperor's new clothes and go mad, or leave, lose my salary and stay sane?
A: I hope you won't be offended if I suggest that most people in advertising begin asking themselves this sort of question rather earlier in their careers. Seven weeks, I believe, is the average. By waiting 20 years, you may have established some sort of record. Well done for that, anyway.
Your other achievement - a consequence, perhaps, of the first - is to have leapt from one certainty (some people know everything) to another certainty (no-one knows anything) with no intervening pause for contemplation.
It is one of the great glories of our trade that, despite several trillion bananas being expended on it every day, no-one knows exactly how it works.
Or to put it another way: several thousand people know exactly how it works, but, wondrously, no two of them agree. Your comfort (and mine) should lie in this fact: the underlying trend in advertising expenditure has never looked back for longer than a few irksome recessionary detours. Over the past 93 years, so statisticians tell me, advertising expenditure, in real terms, has grown by well in excess of lots. We are therefore left with just two possible explanations for advertising's continued existence.
The first is that clients are soppy. Furthermore, they get soppier every year. They worry about people like you, fragile artistic creature that you are, and in the teeth of the evidence, determine to keep your family in food and footwear whatever the consequence for their bottom line.
The second is that, even if no-one knows everything, some people sometimes seem to know enough to make some of it work at least some of the time for some of the people who pay for it and even on occasions more often than not.
This I believe to be the more scientific explanation.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. A compilation of his business advice, Another Bad Day at the Office?, is published by Penguin, priced £5.99. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.