Close-Up: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: The art directors at every agency I have worked with reduce the shot of my beautifully designed pack to the size of a postage stamp in their ads. In their words, to "give it a bit of air to make it stand out". I find this habit incredibly irritating; how best to get bigger pack shots in my ads without being seen as a thug, moron or indeed both? A: This question came up last week as well - and I granted it a disgracefully glib and thoughtless answer. So let me try again. And this time I'll be numbingly earnest.

You're probably right to want bigger pack shots but your reasons for wanting them are probably wrong. I may be maligning you, but it sounds very much as if you're so proud of your beautiful design that you simply want it to occupy centre stage so that everyone can say: oh, what a beautiful pack! It is such a beautiful pack that, if only out of gratitude, I shall buy that product from now on to the exclusion of all others!

This is as poor an argument for a big pack shot as the average art director's is for a small one. A question that seems not to have been asked for a hundred years is this: what are pack shots for?

The more mechanistic of marketing persons know exactly what pack shots are for. The function of the pack shot is to trigger what marketing persons like to call in-store, on-shelf recognition. Well, up to a point and maybe; but since most purchases are repeat purchases and so most pack faces are as familiar to the aisle-cruising consumer as those of her own family, there surely must be more to it than that. And, of course, there is.

The whole point about packs is that they serve as a receptacle not only for the product itself but also for all the good feelings about the brand that have been so expensively generated over the years. David Ogilvy spelt it out 50 years ago. Every good advertisement makes a small and probably immeasurable contribution to a brand's stock of goodwill. Pack designs store these feelings as batteries store electricity. So when people see a familiar pack, all that goodwill is instantly released. Packs are like national flags. They are true brand icons. To be reminded of how they work, think no further than a swastika. Leave out the pack shot - or make the pack shot so small as to be invisible - and you halve the value of any advertisement. It may still have an immediate contribution to make; but because there's no flag for it to enrich, its longer-term value is wantonly wasted.

So next time you find yourself in a head-to-head with bloody-minded art directors, don't just bleat defensively; let them have it as above. I can confidently predict that it will not make a blind bit of difference.

Q: "We tried that but it didn't work." I have heard this so many times in meetings and have yet to find the equally succinct riposte that encourages people to have a bloody go. Any advice?

A: Nobody ever got fired for turning down a brilliant idea. That's because no-one can know with certainty that it is a brilliant idea while it remains on the drawing board. It's so much safer to reject ideas than to accept them that I'm sometimes astonished that any advertising at all survives its tortuous approval process.

As with insurance policies, so with original ideas - there are only two ways to sell them. As James Webb Young puts it, you either mesmerise your audience with a vivid vision of the potential reward or you scare them witless by conjuring up the penalties of inaction. Neither approach can be summed up succinctly. That's because rejection and acceptance don't occupy equivalent positions at either end of the same scale. Rejection is finite and brutal. Acceptance is the first, conditional stage of a lengthy and often unresolved process. Sorry about that.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. He welcomes questions via campaign@haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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