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Opinion: On the campaign couch ... with JB

"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?

The reason you haven't found that equally succinct riposte is because there isn't one. What's more, there never will be. It's not just that the devil has all the best tunes; it's because, when you come to think of it, getting things to happen and stopping them happening are not neat and symmetrical opposites. They're different in kind.

Remember Karl Popper's famous distinction between validation and invalidation. You may hypothesise, Popper said, that all swans are white. And you may continue observing white swans for the rest of your life but your hypothesis will remain no more than that. You can entertain it with a higher and higher level of confidence but it remains mere hypothesis. You have failed to validate it.

Then you observe just one black swan - and bingo! Invalidation: instant, unarguable, brutal, decisive. End of conversation.

"We tried that but it didn't work" may or may not be true. The "it" may be different and the proof may be anecdotal: but the effect is immediate.

It's the black swan of advertising.

There's only one way to win - to get other people to understand unproven creative work and then to commit money to it - and that's to know a great deal more about your subject than anyone else. (Steve Harrison is excellent on this subject in his new book, How To Do Better Creative Work.)

If you know your subject, if you've got a coherent model of how things work, if you've studied the case histories, if you can quote precedents and if you've got an impressive record of success yourself, you'll achieve tentative, conditional agreement to proceed. But it won't be the antithesis of "We tried that but it didn't work". There's no such animal.

Stopping things happening can be short and sharp. Getting agreement to making new things happen never is.

A few weeks ago in this column (Campaign, 5 June), I revealed that I didn't know what a Mivvi was. Neither, apparently, did anyone else. Readers, deeply frustrated, have been left in suspense. Now, Bob Wootton, the director of media and advertising at ISBA, has very kindly ridden to our rescue.

Dear Jeremy, I'm an avid reader of your column each week, but thought I'd hold back on corresponding until I had something really significant to offer. Now seems to be that time - I write with respect to the question as to the meaning of "I see you've gone for the early Mivvi".

The IPA's Hamish Pringle made the comment to me at the annual IPA President's lunch. It was a fine day and I had chosen to wear a beige suit, aka a "Mivvi". According to the CAP/BCAP chairman and erstwhile Advertising Association director-general, Andrew Brown, from whom Hamish and I clearly take a lead in such matters, it was common for ice-cream vendors of bygone days to wear beige suits. A Mivvi was a popular lolly, its nearest contemporary equivalent being a Solero. I hope this clarifies and helps set the world back on axis.

Thank you very much, Bob. What a hugely reassuring letter. There can't be much wrong with our world when the leaders of our vital trade bodies engage in such convivial exchanges.

Why is making TV commercials a stepping- stone to Hollywood? And should a client like me be worried about it (since that's the declared aspiration on the blog of the director of our next commercial)?

Fifty years ago, such was the stigma attached to the making of commercials that celebrated features directors would direct them only on condition of anonymity. I remember denying to the Daily Mail that the great Joe Losey was making a Horlicks commercial. I was lying. Then talented would-be features directors such as Ridley Scott began to emerge from art colleges and television (Z Cars) and were more than delighted to make commercials.

From then on in, the directing of commercials was seen as a wonderfully well-subsidised training-ground; working with the best of technicians and equipment, generous budgets and the salutary demands of disciplined editing. It's been excellent news for both advertising and entertainment.

You should begin to worry only if your agency creative team shows signs of using your precious advertising budget to demonstrate their potential as Hollywood scriptwriters.

"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

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