On the Campaign couch: does every product need to advertise?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: does every product need to advertise?

Do you agree with the belief that some products are so good they don't need to advertise?

No. In case you’ve forgotten it, let me remind you of what the president of the Advertising Association said in his opening address to the AA’s national conference in June 1931: "Some of the greatest of our commercial houses have endeavoured to carry on their business without advertising. I think Guinness is the best I can quote. The facts are well-known. The board of that great company have obviously been completely convinced of the value of advertising after generations during which they refused to consider it." 

For 50 years, Hershey dominated the US candy market and did so without the help of consumer advertising. Milton Hershey was proud to say: "Give them quality; that’s the best advertising in the world." Then along came Forrest Mars and some real advertised competition; and, from 1970, Hershey has been both a serious advertiser and even more successful.

There are other examples of companies that resisted advertising for long periods of time (Marks & Spencer was another). But I can think of no examples of large companies that have abandoned advertising and prospered as a result.

Until relatively recently, there was a widespread and uneasy feeling that lots of people harboured: that good products should sell themselves, that virtue should be its own reward, that good wine should need no bush. It was a feeling that led to another feeling, a natural corollary: that things that needed to advertise must therefore be in some way inferior. As recently as the 50s and 60s, before something called "marketing" became ubiquitous, there were many manufacturers who echoed Milton Hershey in being proud of the fact that they’d never "had to advertise". It was, to them, an article of faith; hard evidence of their purity of purpose and product superiority. And a little of all that still lingers.

Good companies that use advertising sensibly will beat good companies that don’t. This is because advertising is not only an absurdly cost-effective way of lubricating the market machine but can also add real pleasure to the consumption of brands. 

It’s obviously true that some products enjoy some of the advantages of advertising – awareness and reputation – through means other than conventional advertising. But I’m afraid there’s no such thing as a product so exceptional in quality that it generates its own favourable and sustained mass publicity. 

I work in an ad agency but I’ve got an aversion to hiring anyone who studied marketing or advertising at university. Am I being narrow-minded
There can’t be another occupation where the gap between academic theoreticians and day-to-day practitioners is so yawningly vast. I’d be prepared to bet that not one of the ten most widely revered advertising practitioners of the past 30 years read a single paper published in the International Journal of Advertising. They may not have known that the publication existed. To an advertiser, that should be as shocking as knowing you’re about to have your kidneys replaced by someone who’s never heard of the International Journal of Surgery – but it’s not. 

So your aversion to those whose knowledge of marketing and advertising has been gleaned entirely from universities is almost understandable. But I suspect you’re also guilty of a bit of inverse snobbery – like people who exaggerate their humble origins so that they can more easily mock those they see as elite. To discriminate against people who’ve bothered to study their subject before offering themselves up for interview does seem a little perverse. Try to treat them as if they’re normal human beings and you might be in for a pleasant surprise.

How many interviews do you think it really takes to choose the right candidate for a senior hire? Surely one is enough?
If you’re big enough to take the blame when it all goes horribly wrong, one’s plenty. If you want to cover yourself, you’ll ask 11 of your colleagues, one by one, to interview the same candidate over a period of five weeks. This will ensure that all the best candidates pull out in frustration – and the one you end up with will be the one that none of your colleagues could find in any way objectionable. And that’s a comfort, isn’t it?