Ask Bullmore: What can we learn from crappy ads?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

Ask Bullmore: What can we learn from crappy ads?

Dismissing other people's work as crappy is not intelligent or constructive, writes Campaign's agony uncle.

Dear Jeremy, What can we learn from Morrisons, which has produced another set of reasonable Christmas figures despite having crappy ads?

There is something almost admirable about your arrogance – but not about your ignorance. What do you mean when you say with such certainty that the Morrisons Christmas ads were crappy? Ads are crappy only when they fail to pay their way.

The only evidence you have about the efficacy of these ads is positive: as you acknowledge, Morrisons’ figures were good. So I must assume that, by "crappy", you mean that they were not to your personal taste: a fact of no significance whatsoever.

If you were interested in advertising, as opposed to being opinionated about advertisements, your reaction to the Morrisons results should have been one of curiosity. You should have wanted to work out – despite your instinctive, subjective reaction – why its Christmas advertising campaign seemed to have elicited the right responses from those to whom it was directed.

You might have learned a lot. To which you will say: "OK, I accept that those ads may have done some good. But better ads would have worked even better."

To which I will say: "That’s what’s called a truism – which means, may I remind you, a statement that is obviously true but says nothing new or helpful.

"If you’re confident that you know the kind of advertising that, for the same amount of money, would have delivered Morrisons measurably better results, then tell us what it would be like. That would be intelligent and constructive. Dismissing other people’s work as crappy is neither." 

Dear Jeremy, I’ve worked in automotive marketing for 15 years. It’s been challenging, rewarding and enjoyable but I worry that, by sticking to one vertical, I’m narrowing my future options. Should I try another sector?

I wish I knew. I’ve often been scornful of marketing people who see marketing as a discipline totally detached from any given sector. They move happily from charities to pension schemes by way of frozen food, mobile phones, pizza chains and price-comparison websites.

To them, marketing is simply getting rid of stuff – and once you’ve learned how to do that, you can apply it to absolutely anything, starting on Monday.

To my mind, the best marketing people are those who, yes, know a lot about marketing as a discipline but they’re also extremely knowledgeable about whatever it is they’re marketing and almost comically enthusiastic about it.

In your case, I suppose, it comes down to how you see yourself. Are you a marketing person currently marketing cars – or a car person currently specialising in marketing? Before you look around, do be sure that you’ve got nowhere else to go as a car person.

To dump 15 years of agreeable experience for the chance to market celebrity cruises might be to cut yourself off forever from the trade you feel a great affection for. 

Dear Jeremy, After ten years as an advertising creative, I am finding it increasingly difficult to come up with good ideas. Should I consider a career change or look for better ways of getting myself back on track?

You probably won’t respond at all well to this suggestion and nor will your agency. But there’s a creative role that has no name and is rarely recognised – but which can have a benign effect across an almost unlimited number of bits of business.

Some creative directors can do it but most don’t. When presented with new work, most of them say "That’s great" or "That’s crap". But a few of them say "That’s very, very interesting…" and then they blow very, very gently on this small, faltering glimmer of an idea, fanning it to hesitant life, trimming the superfluous and honouring its core – so that when others come to see it, it barely needs a champion.

As the saying goes, it now speaks for itself. There’s not a lot of glory in such a role. All credit, rightly, goes to the originators. Improvers don’t get gongs. But if you can do it – and you probably can – you’ll be relieved of the tyranny of the empty page while still putting your past ten years of learning to creative, productive use. 

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@ or by tweeting @Campaignmag with the hashtag #AskBullmore.