Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Do we need to find a new language for advertising? Starting with the word advertising? Above the line, below the line, digital, traditional ... all our terminology seems awfully clumsy now. Any suggestions?

A: According to the IPA's new report, The future of advertising and agencies: "The advertising business' traditional, narrow definition of advertising as a discrete communications category, limited to above- the-line spot advertising, no longer reflects reality." The IPA is old enough to know better. This narrow definition is not traditional, has been embraced only by the blinkered world of metropolitan agencies, never reflected reality and is blithely ignored by the population as a whole.

The giveaway phrase is "above-the-line spot advertising": advertising had been a recognised activity in this country for 100 years before the word "spot" was first used. To the elitist few, advertising came to mean TV ads only when TV became the sexiest advertising medium around. Far from being a traditional definition, it's been a shortlived aberration.

In the same report, the IPA's director- general, Hamish Pringle, writes: "Advertising is the blanket term used by the general public to describe any communications activity which they see coming from or being about the activities, products or services of a commercial or not-for-profit organisation." Exactly so. And that's the traditional definition of advertising: not this fly-by-night upstart.

The advertising business prides itself on its consumer-orientation. Yet with the single exception of the word advertising, none of the words that the advertising business uses about advertising are the words that real people use. When did you last hear a real person muse: "As a consumer, I'll admit to being more susceptible to ambient than I am to outdoor generally. And it remains my belief that DM erodes brand equity while above the line - as long as it's edgy, obviously - greatly enhances it. But my overall channel preference today would be digital, though only if seamlessly integrated."

Advertising remains much the best word for advertising. Replace it, and we'd sever our last link with reality. It's true that financial analysts persist in thinking that advertising is a frivolous, fragile trade while marketing communications are solid and essential profit-earners. So let's talk about marketing communications to the analysts and about advertising to the real world.

It pains me to say this but I envy the French their word publicite. Publicite is not the same as publicity. Publicite means what advertising used to mean before advertising came to mean advertisements - at least, I think it does.

Q: A junior copywriter writes: "How much longer am I going to have to justify my decision to join a digital ad agency to my college mates who still think that television is the be all and end all of advertising?"

A: You won't have to be patient for very much longer. Within the year, they'll ask you out for a drink and then sheepishly ask you what this digital's all about then; and you'll know you've passed a tipping point. Just don't let it go to your head, that's all. You've got at least as much to learn from them as they from you: as long as you both understand you're all in the advertising business.

Q: A former account director asks: "I was poached from my former agency to be the new marketing director on the account I formerly ran. The work we produced was never brilliant and, now I'm client-side, I'm beginning to think of reviewing the relationship. Is there any way of doing this without appearing to be stabbing my former colleagues in the back?"


Q: From an agency head: "We have just picked up a large piece of new business for a major brand; however, the nature of the work threatens to disrupt our agency culture. Is there any way to properly devote the agency to the account, without losing too much of our own brand?"

A: If your culture inhibits you from doing the right work for a major brand, you've got the wrong culture. If you knowingly do the wrong work for a major brand because the money's good, you've got the wrong principles. If your best people despise workmanlike advertising because it's not edgy, you've got the wrong people. If you think the main function of your clients' advertising is to build your own brand, you're taking their money under false pretences. And if you can't work out how to honour excellent work irrespective of style, you're in the wrong job.

- "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@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.