Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: We have recently had "relaxation areas" installed on the account management floor of our building, directly in front of where the big cheeses escort clients out of the lifts. Should I use them or not?

A: You really should be able to work this out for yourself. If your idea of relaxation is The Wall Street Journal and Japanese green tea in a tall glass, by all means make use of these bizarrely placed facilities.

But if you like to show off your tattoos, scratch your crotch or snore, then go somewhere else. Are you always as obtuse as this?

Q: How worried should we be about the way reality television 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: I'm sure I've answered this question before, but if I can't remember it, nobody else will. And it deserves a second visit.

Long ago, before we all contracted sophistication, it was customary for advertisements to speak well of the products they featured. It was believed that this is what ads were for. Benefits to the consumer were identified, dramatised and communicated.

Increasingly, however, claims for functional performance became so extreme, so strident and relentless that the bruised consumer had little choice but to dismiss them as hyperbole. In response, the more sensitive advertisers, encouraged by their sensitive agencies, discovered a new, self-deprecating voice. They still spoke well of their products; they still showed pride in their products' quality; they were still openly hoping to persuade people to buy them: but the style changed. Consumers were assumed to possess intelligence.

The explicit lost ground to the implicit. Audience involvement was sought and found. Hectoring gave way to wooing. Your felicitous phrase "witty warmth" is accurate. These well-mannered communications both encouraged immediate purchase and earned deep-rooted, long-term affection.

Then an idiot few misread the runes. They believed that the move from the explicit to the implicit, from the repetitive claim to the implied reward, was a trend that could be further extended. And so an important line was crossed. Reality TV can't be blamed; only witless agencies and compliant clients.

Commercials that slag off their products and their users - and take glory in being ill-mannered - are not superior extensions of the warm and the witty.

They belong to an entirely different category, just as notoriety is not a superior extension of fame.

They will almost always generate a sharp and immediate effect on sales - which will lure the advertiser into a potentially fatal commitment.

But over time, charmless advertising begets charmless brands. And charmless brands, like charmless people, are soon friendless.

Q: My boss wants me to get a BlackBerry so that I'm more "in tune" with events at our agency 24/7. Should I get one?

A: If your boss wants you to get a BlackBerry, and is prepared to buy you a BlackBerry, then get yourself a BlackBerry. At the same time, you should track down one of the new BlackBerry accessory shops that do a hot trade in different forms of BlackBerry harness. Beautifully made in hand-tooled leather, the most popular item acts as a sort of breaking-in bridle or chastity belt for the thumbs. Strap them on for meetings - and at all times when at home - and your thumbs will be rendered elegantly immobile. Only thus can BlackBerry users hope to remain popular.

Q: What is the collective noun for a group of creatives?

A: An excellent question - so good, that I'll open it up to all comers.

Submissions are invited in two categories: Flattering and Not So Flattering. You may submit no more than five suggestions in each category. Given the inherent dangers of irony, please make it clear for which category your submissions are intended.

Entries will be judged by the Editor and me. Our decision is final. Winning entries and the names of their authors will be announced in this column.

There might even be prizes.

Entries should be e-mailed to Campaign at the address below under the subject heading Creative Collectives. The deadline is Friday 7 October.

In the event of no entries displaying adequate creativity, the competition, for obvious reasons, will be declared void.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683. Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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