On the Campaign Couch ... with JB
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dan Lacey writes: Hi, Jeremy. Do you think it would be right for a creative to refuse to work on a political account if they didn't believe in the party and didn't want them to get in?

I guess, being professional, you just work on it, but how much do you think it could affect the work?

A: To do good work on Heinz Tomato Ketchup, you don't have to be a driven, obsessive, fired-up ketchup freak. You don't have to hate Daddies Tomato Ketchup with a visceral loathing or bore supper parties with your 30-year analysis of the relative fortunes of competitive ketchups and their correlation with social change, the growth of individualism and the insidious influence of European eating habits. You don't have to work with sleep-deprived clients whose judgment is conditioned entirely by the twice-daily publication of The Ketchup Appreciation Index.

To do good work on Heinz Tomato Ketchup, even if you seldom buy Heinz Tomato Ketchup yourself, you just have to be good at advertising.

But unless you're a driven, obsessive, fired-up political freak, with a visceral loathing for all other political parties, you shouldn't go near a political account. It will drive you mad.

Ironically, however, driven, obsessive, fired-up political freaks are those least likely to produce sensitive, persuasive political advertising. Fired-up freaks sit round all night competitively ad-libbing lines of argument with their equally fired-up colleagues and not a human being in sight. The last three polls strongly suggest they need to abandon yesterday's new positive approach and now go for the jugular. So they do: lashing each other into frenzies of extremism, all basic principles of persuasion long since jettisoned. Their work is no longer designed to cajole the electorate but to wow the party's war cabinet when it meets, sleepless and unshaven, three hours later.

Our trade has not distinguished itself in the course of this election. The poster that painted David Cameron in much the most attractive light was designed and paid for by the Labour Party. Gordon Brown's tortured smile was at its most convincing on Conservative posters. Fundamental design rules were contemptuously ignored: far too many words for passing traffic to absorb and even confusion in some cases about exactly which party this particular poster was promoting. You feature your opponent's face at your peril.

If I were running a political party, I wouldn't want fired-up freaks on my business; I'd want intelligent, open-minded and talented creative people who had a deep and intuitive understanding of what it was like to be a supporter of the opposition. And if I was one of those intelligent, open-minded and talented creative people, I wouldn't touch the business with a bargepole.

So thanks for your question, Dan - but I don't think that principle actually comes into it much.

Q: I'm intrigued if your couch is, in fact, a sofa and if you purchased it as a result of being swayed by one of those TV commercials we are constantly being bombarded with. Do you think repetition of message to that degree harms a brand in the long term?

A: I've been misleading readers for getting on for ten years now and I'm ashamed of myself. There's never been a couch and Campaign has never suggested buying me one. It's only in the headline because of the cheap allure of alliteration.

As for those sofas, I half agree with your implied view: relentless repetition of the same message - particularly when the message is always about some price reduction - does seem certain to devalue a brand. But I only half think that for two reasons.

First, I don't know how often people buy sofas but certainly not as often as they buy toothbrushes, for example, or even cars. So I don't have to face buying a devalued brand on a regular basis: maybe no more than three times in a lifetime.

Second, and critically important this, the brand is not the sofa, it's the store.

If I'd bought a car that had been relentlessly advertised as being 35 per cent off list price, my neighbours would notice and sneer. The car is the brand and the brand has a name on it.

The great secret of cheap sofas is that nobody else knows that they're cheap sofas. If cheap sofa sellers suddenly decided to show pride in their merchandise by discreetly but clearly labelling them, like designer handbags, their sales would plunge. Unless, of course, they spent a lot of money adding value to their new designer sofas - in which case, they wouldn't be cheap sofa sellers any more.

"Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4919

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.