The Annual 2006: Top 10 Bullmores

1. I'm the marketing director of a successful car company. I've got a few agencies working for me, and fundamentally I'm very happy with them. But one or two keep hinting that they'd like to raise their fees. Yes, they've done some great work for us, and, yes, I like them as people. But the fact is we could easily get someone cheaper. But maybe they wouldn't be as good. What should I do?

You should count your lucky stars. Research undertaken on behalf of the Marketing Society consistently reveals that, at any given time, only 8.7 per cent of marketing directors are fundamentally very happy with their agencies. Fifty per cent admit to "almost daily exasperation" and more than 40 per cent are "actively looking around".

Furthermore, you are the marketing director of a successful car company. In the whole of the UK at the moment, there are no more than three marketing directors of successful car companies of whom only one is fundamentally very happy with his agencies. I think we know who you are, already.

Ask yourself this outrageous question: Do you think there might just conceivably be some causal relationship between the great work that these nice people in your agencies do for you and the fact that the car company of which you're marketing director is successful?

I have every sympathy with clients who feel they're paying too much for bad work. I have no sympathy whatsoever with clients who enjoy great work and a successful business - and who still lie awake at night wondering if they're being ripped off.

I bet you keep your coins in a purse.

2. I'm a marketer, and I think the proposed ban on food advertising aimed at kids is a hysterical knee-jerk reaction by the Government to tackle the obesity problem. And there's plenty of solid evidence - from Ofcom, by the way - that shows that advertising doesn't have a big direct effect on what kids eat. That said, I've got children who pester me for sweets and burgers after seeing them advertised on the box. It's a messy problem. If you were Ofcom, what would you do?

If I were the chief executive of Ofcom, I'd resign right away - and then look around for a cushier job somewhere else: Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, perhaps, or coach to Tim Henman. Meanwhile, the problem remains.

After years of brooding about these things, I've come to the defeatist conclusion that, whenever society seems to get it wrong, advertising is doomed to be held disproportionately responsible. It's no good bleating about this; it's quite inevitable and anyway some of it's our fault.

Take debt. When NatWest, Midland, Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland introduced their Access card in 1972, they launched it with the slogan, Takes the Waiting Out of Wanting. Bernard Levin devoted a full column to its condemnation and Archbishops pounced gleefully. Yet the whole purpose of a credit card, like the whole purpose of a mortgage, is to let us have use of things before we can pay for them. Mortgages were so respectable that the state subsidised them, but actually telling the truth about credit cards - in an ad - was morally bankrupt.

Advertising works best when it goes with the grain - when it encourages people to do what they want to do anyway. People want to eat sweet and fatty things and they want to spend more money than they've got. With or without advertising, they would. And when they do, it's a lot easier to condemn advertising than voters. And it's a lot easier to ban advertising than eating. What's more, we've spent a century trying to convince the world of advertising's astonishing effectiveness so we look a bit flaky when we suddenly protest its impotence.

As for your children: if you want to protect advertising's right to exist, you'd better teach your children how to resist it. If advertising ever became irresistible, it would be indefensible.

3. Do you think media planning and buying is bound to split, with buying perhaps one day being sourced out to a big warehouse or two in India? If so, do you think this would take some of the entrepreneurial spirit out of the media side of the business?

I expect you're as fond as I am of the word disintermediation. Well, you ain't seen nuthin' yet. Media buying won't even need a warehouse. Warehouses will be disintermediated along with a few million media buyers. There'll just be which will work like Advertisers will buy direct, prices will vary by the second, clever people will wait until the last minute or alternatively buy well ahead. Sometimes both. Soon there'll be several allthemediaintheworld type sites, so there'll still be competition. One of them will be called easyMedia. Meanwhile, most of media planning will cuddle up again with creative, where it surely belongs. I hope this helps.

4. I've been the marketing director of a medium-sized business for nearly eight years and I'm approaching my 53rd birthday. Six months ago, the company hired a new managing director (he's 38) and, ever since, I've been feeling increasingly sidelined. I am left out of management meetings and even my staff are starting to notice a change in my status. Getting older has never been a concern of mine, but I'm now wondering if it's my age that is a problem for him. I don't really want to leave - and I'd probably be considered too old to get another job anyway! What should I do?

Please excuse my old-fashioned approach - but it may depend on how good you are. I forget what the average tenure of a marketing director is these days. To judge from the inside pages of our trade magazines, it's about a week. You've survived nearly eight years. This suggests that either your previous managing director wasn't that committed to Key Performance Indicators and stuff (perhaps that's why he was replaced?) or that you're good at what you do.

So let's assume you're good. In which case, your new MD is dumb to sideline you, it'll soon show up and you'll be welcomed back into the inner circle. If that doesn't happen, cling on to the knowledge that these days, the average tenure of a managing director is only marginally longer than that of a marketing director.

There remains the possibility that he's cut you out because he stands in awe of your experience and superior intelligence and feels uncomfortable giving directions to an older man ... On second thoughts, forget it. If you're good, he's dumb. I'm less certain what to say if you're not good.

5. I am a marketer who is fast losing faith in the advertising industry, particularly after the kick-back payments fiasco. What else could my agencies be hiding from me?

I know it's not very newsworthy, but agencies tend to be ploddingly straight. The only things your agency could be hiding from you are their contempt - and maybe some brilliant creative work they think you're too insensitive to appreciate.

6. A perplexed agency chief executive writes: what's behind adland's new obsession with carbon neutrality? We're hardly environmental sinners on the scale of BP or Shell. Is it a fad or something I should be seriously thinking about for the future?

I think it's probably my fault. I wrote a piece last year about the agency selection process and argued that potential clients, faced with a long list of excellent agencies, looked not for reasons to prefer an agency but for apparently objective reasons to eliminate them. The instance I quoted was: "Do you have an office in Kuala Lumpur?" It's so much easier to tell an agency that they didn't get the business because they haven't got an office in Kuala Lumpur than because you found the creative director a wittering wally. This year's KL question seems to be: "Are you carbon neutral?" Being able to say yes won't guarantee your getting it but it might just stop your losing it.

7. What is your opinion of branded content? Is there any substance behind all the recent investment in the area or is it all a load of PR puff?

I have an absurdly purist attitude towards all this sort of stuff. I believe that the great consuming public (that's us, remember) has the right to know, when a product is praised or even just featured, if money has changed hands. That's why good old-fashioned ads are so easy to champion. That old chestnut, "they speak very well of it in the adverts", is only funny because ads are universally known to be paid-for puffery. In the same way, sponsored links on search engines seem to me to be legitimate. By contrast, a bookseller's Book of the Week, ostensibly an independent choice, yet available to any publisher with a clandestine few thousand quid to spare, is no more legitimate than a brown-paper bung slipped to a regional planning officer.

I know that's not what your question was really about but it has a bearing. Any medium, channel, platform or weasel that depends, even in part, on the hoodwinking of its audience is likely to prove an unsatisfactory investment. Or so I profoundly hope.

8. A creative director writes: "Why are there so many rotten DM agencies churning out rotten work for great companies who deserve better, and sadly becoming very rich in the process?"

Tell you what. Why don't you approach one of these great companies and make them an offer? Absolutely for free, you'll run them up some creative work which they can then pitch against the rotten work they're currently running. Because that's the marvellous thing about direct marketing, isn't it? A client can actually work out quite easily which ads pull best.

To add spice to the offer, and as evidence of your confidence, suggest that if your stuff wins, you get the account and if your stuff loses, you pay all the media costs. What a telling way to make your excellent point!

9. Until 18 months ago, I was a high-profile agency chief. After taking a well-earned year off to spend with my family after 20 years in the business, I've spent the past six months interviewing and plotting start-ups, but the right opportunity hasn't materialised yet. What's a reasonable time limit to spend out of the industry before becoming unemployable?

Until the beginning of this century, you could have spent 15 years out of the industry and you wouldn't have missed a thing. Absolutely nothing happened. I remember one colleague who spent four years doing something quite different in South Africa before returning to the agency. He was greeted on his first morning back: "Oh, hello Chris (brief puzzled pause). Good hols?" Absolutely nothing had happened and no-one had noticed he'd gone.

More has happened in the past 18 months than happened between 1955 and 2000. There'll be quite a lot of words you won't even understand. You'd better be quick.

10. I'm a creative graduate and want to get into advertising. However, I am torn between digital and above the line. Which one will afford me more money, women and drugs?

How many times must I remind you I've no first-hand knowledge of anything that's happened since 1963? It's true that I used to be something of an expert on Radio Luxembourg and split runs in the Daily Sketch and that I once won a Silver Quill from The World's Press News. But I've no idea where you might get drugs. Have you tried Boots?


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