Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm a director of a production company and I've been thinking long and hard about launching a digital ad division, as industry wags keep saying I'll soon be left behind if I don't. But I hear there's no money in it. Should I gamble and launch one anyway, or hang fire and see what the competition does?

A: God knows. Or maybe He doesn't. I certainly don't. Everything I know about digital things reminds me just how little I know about digital things.

Here are some of them.

The word digital no longer applies only to digital media, but then it never did. All media are now digital, that's why you can send anything to anybody by e-mail and read The Guardian online. When you choose to watch your favourite TV programme on your computer, a week after it was transmitted, complete with ads, what are you watching?

The first digital advertising experts knew a great deal more about digital than they did about advertising. Speaking a new and incomprehensible language, they commanded some awe. In this respect, they were uncannily like the early (c. 1955) television advertising experts - except that they didn't know anything about television or advertising. They did, however, know about entertainment, which is why so much singing went on in early commercials.

After a few years, it dawned on people that television advertising was simply advertising that appeared on television; not a moment too soon, the main agency reclaimed the medium. I expect the same will happen with digital but if we don't watch out, it could be a reverse takeover.

Online newspapers would never have got going without the courage, vision, vanity, and downright stupidity of newspaper proprietors. They never looked liked breaking even (or washing their face, as they like to say in the City) and only now are beginning to. And that's only some of them. Were they right to be so stupid? You bet! Are those still not online wishing they were? Almost certainly. Will digital newspapers replace print-on-paper newspapers? Almost certainly not. It's much more likely that your newspaper will print itself out in your personal communications centre (or "kitchen") every morning; and on proper paper as well.

For how much longer will we refer to the new media as new? New College Oxford was founded in 1379 so has now been new for 627 years. I very much doubt if the new media will still be new in the year 2633. The sooner we stop calling them new, the more sense we'll make. In other words, why are you talking about launching a "division"? Isn't it about time that it dawned on us that online advertising is simply advertising that appears online? So what's wrong with having a production company that makes good advertisements for audio-visual media? Or do you think you still need a few nerds and geeks to silence those who would otherwise say: "Excuse me, Tamburlaine, but don't you think it would be quite nice if we sort of actually showed the product actually sort of working?"

I could go on. Whether you should is quite another matter.

Q: If I pop a dog in my ads, will it sell product regardless of the brand?

No.

Q: Myself and a colleague are thinking of quitting to launch a start-up. How do we go about this in the most dignified fashion? I really fear being branded disloyal.

A: I'm sorry to say that you're congenitally unfit to launch a start-up.

People who launch start-ups don't put dignity and loyalty as Key Performance Indicators in their business plans. It's like hiring someone to be in charge of Corporate Social Responsibility before you've got a creative director. Venture capitalists, when approached for venture capital, find concepts such as loyalty and dignity a little elusive and need to ask their parents what they mean.

To leave a company that has taught you everything with the clear objective of setting up in competition is neither illegal, nor unprincipled. In many ways, it's brave and admirable. But it's not the most obvious evidence of loyalty. Drumming up business through tenuous contacts, snotty relatives, despised ex-clients, venal journalists and barren cold-calling is also brave and admirable. But dignified it ain't.

You'll be a lot happier staying where you are, acquiring an affectionate nickname, organising your company's golden jubilee, topping up your pension plan - and telling your grandchildren that there's still a lot to be said for good old-fashioned loyalty. And dignity, of course.

- "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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