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

Q: Dear Jeremy, as a reader of both your Management Today and Campaign pieces I can't help noticing that your pen is more acerbic when replying to the loyal readers of Campaign. Is this because we all deserve a good literary kicking or am I living proof of the paranoid low self-esteem individual that you are currently trying to address? A: You're right to have spotted the difference and I'm glad you've asked about it because it's been puzzling me too. AJP Taylor used to say that the only reason he wrote was to find out what he thought. Perhaps by the time I've finished responding to your question I'll know the answer to it. On the other hand, perhaps not. As you may have noticed, I often get to the end of an answer without having paid much attention to the question.

Anyway, here goes.

I think it's to do with familiarity. The questions I get from Campaign readers every week remind me that the world I've been sniffing around in for 50 years really hasn't changed that much. Of course, lots of things have changed - but even more things haven't. All the old insecurities are there: the euphoria of winning, the despair of losing, the obtuseness of account handlers, the intransigence of creative people, the insensitivity of clients, the inhumanity of researchers, the injustice of awards evenings, the ambiguous value of account planning, the craving for fame and reassurance, the agony of hacking out an original idea and the impossibility of selling it, the malignant discrimination of the trade press; all these were around, though some at a lower level of intensity, in 1954.

And because they're so familiar, I observe these frailties with an exasperated affection. Safely withdrawn from the frontline, spying on the action through my telescope from the comfort of a serviceman's retirement home, I can be blithely critical. I used to be inhibited from waspish comment by the knowledge of my own all-too-obvious imperfections. Today, unfairly, I agree, I can be acerbic with impunity. (I have also convinced myself that some of this acerbity might even have constructive consequences.)

Q: How worried should we be about the way reality TV has infected TV advertising? The best commercials used to have witty warmth. Now they're full of cynical and dark humour in which all the jokes have to have victims. Young creatives obviously think they're a hoot. But is this charmless stuff really what clients need?

A: Witty warmth is wonderful. It's also very difficult to do. So lazy creative teams (or creative teams of limited talent) opt for laddishness instead. The long-term damage to brands has yet to be calculated but it will be. I don't think you can blame reality TV. The good news, I suppose, is that laddishness is on the way out - so advertising shouldn't be more than its usual five years behind.

Q: What constitutes a "veteran" creative in this business?

A: A veteran creative is anyone who puts as much commitment into a trade ad for waste management as a 60-second launch commercial for iMac; who can write persuasive, evocative food copy without using the word delicious; who can remember split-runs and learnt from them; who insists on being taken round the factory; who finds witty warmth extremely difficult but works all weekend until it's cracked; who respects deadlines; who listens very carefully to clients before disagreeing with them; who knows that skillful writing can make a script even better while saving £100,000 of production money. That's what I think a veteran creative is.

Other people think that a veteran creative is anyone older than they are, much too low profile to get another job offer and therefore infinitely exploitable when the really tough assignments get allocated. Veteran creatives are not really creative.

How could they be? They never throw tantrums.

- 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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