On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: A marketing director asks: I see crowdsourcing is all the rage.

But rather than do that, with all its attendant hassle, why can't I buy or licence old ads from companies that don't want them any more, operate in other countries, or which aren't in my sector, touch them up, alter the endline and re-run them? In fact, as I also have an entrepreneurial nature, would this be a good business to set up?

A: This is a brilliant idea. Doomed, of course, for reasons I shall come to later, but nonetheless brilliant.

I see your business being built on the model of a charity shop, but with money changing hands in both directions.

Every major advertiser has an attic full of discarded advertisements. They are perfectly clean and still serviceable but suffer from one major deficiency: they were originally acquired to satisfy the tastes of the previous marketing director.

Just as the arrival of a new wife necessitates the acquisition of a new wardrobe, so does the arrival of a new marketing director necessitate the acquisition of new advertisements. The old ones, hardly worn and with years of useful life left in them, are consigned to some distant archive.

Each one cost a quarter of a million pounds and overnight becomes entirely worthless. They can't even be melted down and sold for scrap.

But they could, of course, be sold to your SwapShop. What client today would hesitate for a second before snatching at even a token amount in return for the disposal of last year's embarrassment?

Once having acquired, for tiny sums of money, several thousand hours of cast-off commercials, your main investment will be in classification. You should codify available footage according to predictable demand. Popular categories will include Yuletide Extravaganzas, Seemingly Irrelevant Blockbusters, Edgy Upstarts, Broad & Blokish, TearJerkers, 101 Ways of Saying Cheap! and Seventy-five Minutes of Mountain Roads.

Potential clients are invited to browse your website and view sample clips. Selected footage would not be sold but rented, like dinner jackets; so, unlike charity shops, your stock would never be depleted. Prices would be calculated on the basis of length, exposure and exclusivity. You might also offer an in-house editing facility, skilled at customising otherwise somewhat generic material.

For 10 per cent of the usual price, the client would have unrestricted use of work that had not only been shot to the highest professional standard but also carried a market-tested advertising idea. And you'd have £25,000 - plus maybe another £10,000 for customisation.

So you're happy, the clients who supplied the discarded material are happy and the new client is absolutely delighted. Why then do I declare your brilliant idea to be doomed?

The answer, I'm afraid, as so often in life, is greed. Advertising people, as any random sampling of any commercial channel will readily confirm, are already extremely comfortable with the concept of recycling. But once having spotted an idea or a technique that tickles their fancy, why should they want to rent it out for a few quid when they can make it all over again for £250,000 of someone else's money? There must be mountain roads in Italy that have been filmed as frequently as Stonehenge.

As a client yourself, you'll know that only clients will be enlightened enough to see the great advantages of this wheeze. So unless you can obtain unanimous and militant backing from ISBA, I'm afraid it's back to the drawing board.

Q: Everyone is saying marketing directors have become much more risk-averse. Are ads really more boring these days?

A: Yes. Ads have always been more boring than they used to be. The only exception to this golden rule is a period of about 15 years (approx. 1960-1975) now enshrined as The Golden Age of Advertising. Several recent books have testified to its existence so it must be true.

Q: Dear Jeremy, why aren't agencies as good as they used to be?

A: Agencies have never been as good as they used to be. Only once have ad agencies ever been better than they were before; and that was true for only two agencies and for only a relatively short period of time (approx. 1960-1975). It remains a bit of a mystery that the advertising trade, having got steadily less good for 135 of its 150 years of life, has shown almost uninterrupted growth.

- "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.