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

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Someone told me recently that there are many hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of unredeemed Air Miles out there and similar numbers of Argos points, John Lewis partnership vouchers etc. Why is it that people don't cash them in?

A: That's a good question. It's a particularly good question for behavioural economists.

Perhaps it's already been answered in one of their books but, if so, I didn't pick it up. So let me speculate.

The theory of loss aversion holds that people feel the loss of any given object more powerfully than their desire for it in the first place. (I've never found this odd and certainly not irrational; it's been known for 70 years that a successful brand's most valuable characteristic is its familiarity.)

Unclaimed or unredeemed vouchers and Air Miles have never been physically acquired, have never become familiar; they remain remote and without real substance. They're therefore worth less than their nominal value.

People who run these schemes must have worked all this out before they started them.

Any scheme that enjoyed a 100 per cent redemption level would go bust. Remember the great Hoover promotion?

All other suggestions, even from non-behavioural economists, will be warmly welcomed.

Q: Is it really true that there is no such thing as an original idea? Or is that just an excuse for laziness on the part of advertising's creatives?

A: In ideas as in people, there is no such thing as a virgin birth. All ideas, like all people, are born of parents.

Arthur Koestler coined the term bisociation - the collision of two quite different but existing ways of thinking that leads to a third and utterly original way of thinking.

Existing sperm collides with existing egg - and an utterly original human being is born.

"He's just like his daddy!" the neighbour coos. But he isn't.

Make sure, however, that you don't confuse ideas with techniques.

Q: My children don't reply to my e-mails any more, saying they've got bored of all the spam and want me to start communicating with them using Facebook (Joshua), Bebo (Natalie) and LinkedIn (Jordan), which are "phat", apparently. It's also virtually impossible to get them to write "thank you" letters to their older relatives who send them birthday presents. This strikes me as a bit rich since they seem ready enough to open the letters and parcels in which these gifts arrive.

Meanwhile, I've got dozens of office e-mails to deal with both at work and via my remote link to the company network from home, and then some personal ones on my own e-mail address, to say nothing of the texts I'm receiving from my niece. An added complication is that my Uncle Hector ...

A: This meandering e-mail went on for another 200 words or so. For obvious reasons, I'm usually delighted to receive very long questions; they fill up the column with little effort on my part and can sometimes even be answered with some self-satisfied monosyllable. Like "Yes", for example, or "No".

But I'm afraid I began to lose patience with Uncle Hector's nephew. Having lost all authority over his own family, he resorts to self-pity. He badly needs to reassert himself as a Man.

No self-respecting Man will allow himself to be intimidated by a younger generation convinced, always erroneously, of its superior knowledge not only of what's cool but also what's the current coolest name for cool.

Phat, for example, stopped being cool in March 1997. As the Urban Dictionary reports: "The problem with 'phat' is that it is no longer in really. It has kind of phased out and is mostly used by wannabes, lowerclassmen in high school, or middle schoolers."

By referring to Facebook, Bebo (Bebo!) and LinkedIn as phat, Joshua, Natalie and Jordan expose themselves to ridicule - but with names like theirs, who's surprised? Nothing is as ridiculous as people so anxious to be seen to be in that they inadvertently reveal their irredeemable outness.

Harold Macmillan, later Earl of Stockton, never fully recovered from using the phrase "with it" with the emphasis on the "it".

Attentive readers of this column will have noted that I've not called anyone or anything phat since the end of the last century.

Uncle Hector's nephew needs to pull himself together, call his children into his study and instruct them to eat their greens and open their e-mails.

"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.