On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Sam Oliver of DDB London writes: Dear Jeremy, I've never seen you write a Private View. Why not?

A: Thanks, Sam. I expect you're quite young. I have written a few Private Views but not for a long time. The last I wrote - and will ever write - was about 15 years ago.

One of the television campaigns up for review was for a variant of a famous - and famously well-advertised - beer brand. The word I used about the commercials was profligate. They used up 45 seconds when 30 would have been plenty; they used expensive surrealist imagery that contributed nothing to the beer's appeal; and they contemptuously ignored the parent brand's long-established and hugely successful positioning. Had it not been for the shared name, you'd never have known the two beers were related. They were, I thought (though didn't say), as patent examples of irrelevant self-indulgence as any curmudgeon could wish to find; gratuitous ammunition for the hard-sell brigade.

A few days later, I got a letter from the responsible agency's CEO: someone I knew and admired. He was deeply pained. He reminded me that it was difficult enough to get brave, cutting-edge ideas accepted by conservative clients without commentators such as myself publicly undermining them at their moment of birth. He looked forward to writing again when the sales figures, as he knew they would, confirmed the campaign as being outstandingly successful.

I was certain both he and the campaign were wrong and nothing that's happened since has caused me to change that opinion. But I still don't feel vindicated and I've never wanted to do a Private View since.

That's not to say that I'm against Private View and would wish it dead. I'm not and I don't. But my friend had a point. And I realised, with some shame, that I'd taken a certain pleasure in skewering somebody else's work. In this instance, I'm sure I was right; but I might not have been.

Even longer ago, for a university magazine, I wrote a review of Calder Willingham's new book End As A Man.

I was highly critical of it - almost certainly as a way of displaying my own wit, acuity and sophistication. Three weeks after the review appeared, I was still thinking about the book and realised, too late, that it was remarkable.

No more than 43 people would have read that review. No harm was done to Calder Willingham, to the publisher or to the book's sales. Yet 60 years later, as you can see, the memory lives on.

So thanks again for the question, Sam. All my answer demonstrates, I suppose, is that I'm a bit of an old softie.

Q: After pressure from my children, I recently Googled my own name. I was staggered to find I share my name with an American basketball player who is on an indecency charge. The first correct mention of my name is on page four of the search and that refers to my previous job. The next refers to me getting a golden duck in a charity cricket match. As a fast-rising agency MD, should I be worried that my clients will get the wrong impression of me?

A: I'm thinking of starting a collection of excuses claimed by those who've Googled their own names. No-one, it seems, has ever chosen to Google their own name out of perfectly legitimate curiosity: it's always someone else's fault. In your case, you were pressured into it by your children. "If you don't Google yourself, Daddy, we'll disembowel the guinea pig." I don't believe you.

You're upset because you share an entry with an American basketball player on an indecency charge. I expect he's quite upset because he shares an entry with an obscure Britisher who's no good at cricket. But neither of you should fret because the world has long since learnt to discount almost everything gleaned from the net.

Traditional publications conferred considerable authority on anything they published. There was a scale of authority, certainly: from the BBC and The New York Times at one end to Sunday Sport and the National Enquirer at the other. But "it must be true, it's in the papers" got most people nodding.

Now that everybody's a publisher, that's different. Follow any trail though the blogosphere and you'll find lies, invective, poison, calumny and self-serving insinuation; much of it cowering behind the coward's shield of anonymity. Found in traditional media, it would be devastating stuff. Found online, it's mostly shrugged aside.

If your clients do Google you, they may be surprised at how insignificant you are; but I thought you were worried that they'd get the wrong impression?

- "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.