Three weeks ago, a Martian stepped out of his spacecraft in Soho Square. He carried with him his Electronic Guide to Planet Earth. The first person he met was an adman.
"Advertising? How interesting. On Mars, we have no advertising. I take it to be a form of popular art?"
"No, no, no," the adman said. "Advertising is not art. Advertising is an investment. Advertising promotes sales, adds value, maintains prices. Good advertising returns more than it costs to the advertiser."
The Martian consulted his Electronic Guide. "I observe that a company called Procter & Gamble is one of the most successful companies on this planet and has been a major user of advertising since 1882. I take it, therefore, that P&G advertising is good advertising?"
"No, no, no," the adman said. "P&G advertising is bad advertising. It is not creative."
The Martian frowns. "And what is creative advertising?"
"Creative advertising is advertising that wins prizes."
"So these prizes are for return on investment?"
"No, no, no. These prizes are for creativity. That's why P&G advertising doesn't win them."
The Martian returned to his spacecraft. "Let's go home, Scottie," he said to his driver. "These people are less developed than we had been led to believe. There's no point coming back until they've learnt to think straight."
I assume it was you the Martian met?
2. I'm a client and the finance director at my agency has told me I've got to pay Basbof to allow the ad industry self-regulation. The matter is of little importance to me. Why should I pay it?
Well, of course you needn't. As I'm sure you already know, if you get the timing right, you can always slip through a revolving door on someone else's push. I bet that sets you up for a whole day. Almost as good as finding a vacant parking meter with someone else's quid still on the clock.
And wasn't that you I saw last weekend in a Disabled Only bay at Tesco?
This is your favourite poem: "The rain it raineth every day/Upon the Just and Unjust feller/But more upon the Just because/The Unjust hath the Just's umbrella." You much enjoy the sight of the Just getting wet because that's exactly what they are, you think.
You pride yourself on being smart. And you despise all those who aren't smart; who stand their round when it's their turn and agree to pay the Basbof levy.
You're right, of course: self-regulation - and therefore your continued freedom to advertise responsibly - won't be seriously threatened by your own tacky little decision. Somebody else's umbrella will still see you covered. It's just that if everybody decided to be as smart as you, I don't suppose you'd think that smart at all.
3. My big perk for working sweatshop hours in the service of my clients was that I always earned significantly more than they did. Now I find that's no longer the case. Is there anything I can do to persuade my boss to restore the differential?
Agency people used to be paid more than client people not, as you so quaintly put it, to maintain a differential, but because agencies had earned the respect of their clients. So stop banging on like a shop steward; your boss has an even bigger problem than you have and would appreciate your help.
4. Recently, one of my beautiful ads was slated in Private View and by a respected creative director, too. The whole agency has been patting me on the back and telling me it doesn't matter ... it doesn't, does it?
Silly old you: no, of course it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter the teeniest little bit - or anyway not in the way you fear.
It's far, far worse than that.
If your colleagues had held you in even the faintest affection ... if they genuinely felt that your beautiful ad had been criminally defamed by an envious competitor ... they would have maintained a sympathetic silence.
Every week, decorously determined not to intrude on the grief of respected friends, thousands of people pretend not to have read Private View. But that, it seems, is not the path your colleagues chose to take.
Painful though it will be, you must ask yourself why. And in case you find the answer elusive, let me provide it for you.
They never shared your view that your beautiful ad was beautiful. Neither do they share your view that you are the cat's pyjamas. For the best part of five years, they have been intimidated by your title, your rumoured income and your relentless self-promotion. They have long suspected their Emperor to be lightly clothed but no small innocent had spoken up; no whistle had been blown.
But now, devastatingly, the whistle has been blown - and not by an innocent but by a widely respected creative director. And so, liberated, emboldened, their suspicions confirmed, your colleagues have found a voice. Each pat on the back, each unctuous reassurance, each variant of hypocrisy: they all expressed just one exultant sentiment: sorry, boyo, but the game's up.
Do not, however, contemplate self-end. As you yourself have demonstrated, charitable colleagues can take as long as five years to see through world-class poseurs. So even if you've still got 15 years to go before retirement, another three cushy billets should see you safely home. Start phoning today.
5. Has the world gone mad? A TV ad gets banned for offending transsexuals, while an ad to curb binge-drinking featuring a chimp gets primate lovers up in arms. Are we reaching a stage when political correctness is going to suffocate us advertisers?
I expect you're a great admirer of Saul Steinberg's famous View of the World from 9th Avenue? It makes you chuckle knowingly, and feel a delicious sense of superiority over those insular Manhattanites whose inverted perspective it so wittily captures. Yet your own question could well be entitled View of the World from Soho Square.
However daft the justification, if the banning of a couple of UK ads is the strongest evidence you've yet mustered for questioning the sanity of the world, you must be living an enviably sheltered life.
In fact, I'm reasonably optimistic about the threat that political correctness poses. Much is extremely silly and some of it sinister. But I defy anyone to draw a clear and permanent distinction between undesirable political correctness and wholly desirable respect for the feelings of others. And the wilder examples should be warmly welcomed; their manifest absurdity will disarm the thought police far more effectively than any cumbersome alternative.
6. We think of ourselves as an integrated agency. We produce high-quality, creative direct marketing as well as above-the-line advertising such as TV and print. However, our ads never get the same recognition in the press as our above-the-line counterparts. Why?
Perhaps the above-the-line work you produce is not as good as the work that gets all the recognition?
Not that this explanation will satisfy you, however, because behind your question there lurks this suspicion: fashionable above-the-line agencies attract far more attention for their work than do equally talented agencies who are perfectly happy to turn their hands to direct marketing, instore displays, promotional pieces and pop-ups. And in this suspicion, you are of course right.
Any agency with two or more award-winning, talked-about, iconic commercials on the reel will attract more column inches and be invited to join more shortlists than the most consistently dependable commercial persuader.
This injustice may be traced back to the 50s. Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York, and some years later, Collett Dickenson Pearce in London, produced work of breathtaking elegance, persuasiveness and wit. It was deservedly pounced on with delight; praised and emulated in equal measure. Then, gradually, something less healthy happened. It became conventionally held that these agencies marked the true beginning of great advertising; and that advertising which owed nothing to this school could not, ipso facto, be great.
As a corrective, I strongly recommend The 100 Greatest Advertisements, first published in New York in 1949, revised and updated in 1959. The earliest of the 100 ads chosen dates from 1882.
We continue to use the word great - but fairly thoughtlessly. These great ads owe their selection for greatness not to awards but initially to effectiveness.
The original preface said: "The 100 advertisements recorded here have been chosen, primarily, by two kinds of exceptionally well-qualified experts - one, the people who read (or do not read) advertisements, who act, or do not act, upon them ... and two, time."
To which Raymond Rubicam, the copywriter who founded Young & Rubicam, adds this in his foreword: "A great ad by virtue of the very adjective applied to it, must be not merely successful but phenomenally so. Yet phenomenal results alone - whether in number of readers, or enquiries, or sales - do not make people feel that an ad is great unless its message is made memorable by originality, wit, insight, conviction or some other notable quality of mind or spirit."
Those chosen represent no single style - no dominant school. They conform to no set of fashionable beliefs as held by the insecure members of a creative jury. To quote again from the preface: "Persuasion is still the destination of any advertisement, and you can reach it from almost any point on the creative compass if you've got an idea worth travelling in."
I don't suppose you expected your question to precipitate such an avalanche of boring-old-fartdom; but believe it or not, I'm optimistic.
There's a hugely hopeful regeneration of interest in different media, different styles and different points on the creative compass.
Quite soon, I believe, you'll know with confidence that your work is attracting all the attention it deserves. This could, of course, continue to be none.
7. The boss of my agency is bald yet he insists on telling me that he loves my shampoo so much he uses no other. He has even written about this love affair in a book. How best to tell him clients see through his account man flim-flam?
Try saying: "We clients see through your account-man flim-flam." For full effect, you may have to put it in writing.
8. As an account man, I have become increasingly interested in the client side of things and would love to give the job on the other side of the fence a go. How do agencies feel about the move to the "dark side" and, if I didn't like it, do you think that I could switch back?
Agency people often have an entirely romantic idea of the life of a client.
They believe that the bit they see is the whole bit. They see the client in London, being taken to lunch; being treated with deference as he flicks dismissively through a dozen new poster ideas; being consulted respectfully about the economy by the agency CEO. And agency people think: I wouldn't mind a slice of that.
So before you leap, just make sure you acquaint yourself with the other bit; the bit you don't see. The spreadsheets, the factory canteen, the margin targets, the budget battles, the ritual humiliation at the hands of the new marketing director, the contempt shown you by the production director. The bloody numbers.
If all that fails to deter you, then by all means give it a go. Should you ever return, you'll be a much better agency person as a result. But the respect accorded to clients can be addictive. You may not find it easy to return to a world where people laugh at your jokes only when they're funny.
9. Dear Jeremy, as a marketer should I be wasting my time reading Campaign when I haven't yet read my own industry's trade title?
What a revealing question. Why do you think (or pretend to think) that reading Campaign is a waste of time? I'll answer for you. You're one of those marketing people who harbour a guilty fascination for the advertising village. You read Campaign furtively, as though it were Asian Babes. When a colleague approaches your desk, you slide it under a month-old issue of Farinaceous Foods Weekly, which you have yet to open. You are a great deal more interested in marketing communications than in marketing. You are not in the least interested in farinaceous foods.
So it is these days with many marketing directors. They are mobile mercenaries, happy to apply their skills to any enterprise in need of a bit of front-page fame. From Bacardi Breezers to Bristol Zoo, they'll take it on - knowledge of product immaterial.
This is a perfectly respectable way to earn a living and I don't know why you're so ashamed of it. You should carry on reading Campaign, but from now on openly; and insist your agencies read Farinaceous Foods Weekly from cover-to-cover, and provide you with a brief digest.
10. Dear Jeremy, have you ever bothered to read or act on a set of best practice guidelines? And have you ever come across an advertiser who has ever referred to one?
I'm sorry to say that I've no idea what you're talking about.
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