A: Don't we call it ambient? Ambient means surrounding; and you're right: ads are increasingly surrounding us. The first urinal ad prompted acres of entertaining national comment. Today, it's impossible to have a pee without being obliged to decode some tortuous urinary pun. (Are women more fortunate in this respect, I wonder? Feel free to write in).
The ambient trend is with us to stay. Anyone who owns a space will be happy, for a price, to have bills posted on it. Farmers sell cows' flanks.
You can even buy the bottoms of holes on famous golf courses. But I don't think it matters very much. We're all pretty skilled at screening out the unwanted; and it would take a world-class casuist to make a convincing distinction of principle between an ad in a public convenience and a TV commercial. I suspect your real problem may be a minor form of professional snobbery.
Q: I represent a fairly major TV talent (soap walk-ons, that sort of stuff). Frankly, the boy will do anything for cash. He's told me to get him in a commercial "cause it pays large". Before I run off some more publicity stills to send around, you lot will use any old so-and-so to get a product noticed, won't you?
A: I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but some people's motives when casting celebrities in commercials are not altogether pure. If, as you suggest, they choose mini-celebs principally to get the product noticed, at least their motives are irreproachable even if the decision is a profoundly misguided one. (To recruit maxi-celebs may compound the error: it's widely believed that both John Cleese and Billy Connolly caused millions to shrink from their hectoring propositions.) Mostly, however, celebs are recommended by creative teams not for sensible commercial reasons but because of a deficiency of imagination and a surplus of teenage awe.
If you can't come up with a decent creative idea, the alternative of buddying up to someone who's been twice mentioned in Wicked Whispers seems doubly desirable - particularly when it's the client who's paying for the vodka.
Unfair and unfounded, I hear you squeal? Then tell me this: why are so many B-list celebrities used as expensive voiceovers - yet so anodyne in delivery that even their mothers fail to identify them?
So, by all means run off a few more stills and scatter them around: you'll probably find some takers. But (deeply tedious marketing point coming up) unless your boy has widely recognised attitudes and characteristics that perfectly complement a particular brand's position, you'll be taking out a great deal more than you're putting in; a fact, no doubt, both you and your boy would relish.
Just keep him out of The News of the World, that's all.
Q: So media neutrality is the new black is it? Just what the hell does media neutrality mean?
A: A marketing client briefs a public relations firm on his marketing needs; and, amazingly, the public relations firm recommends public relations.
The following day, the same client presents the identical brief to an advertising agency; and, amazingly, the advertising agency recommends advertising. A week later, this assiduous client presents his unchanged brief to a company specialising in skywriting; and, amazingly ...
What media neutrality actually means is the absence of media partiality. Clients would like to believe that their precious, battle-won budget is allocated rationally and disinterestedly, and in a manner more likely to benefit the brand than the communications adviser.
Unfortunately, the only companies demonstrably devoid of any trace of media bias are those who know absolutely nothing about media of any kind, let alone how to make creative use of them.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.