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

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I was hoping to convince a few of my clients to make themselves more useful and get involved in fundraising, good causes or helping disadvantaged people. I'm pretty sure most of them won't be interested. Shall I push it? I do think that's the best way for brands to get consumers on board.

A: There's nothing quite as nauseating as the sight of a person hoping to acquire a reputation for philanthropy entirely at other people's expense.

Unfair! you may cry. But what other interpretation makes any sense? You can't, as a professional advertising practitioner, honestly believe that "the best way for brands to get consumers on board" is in "fund-raising, good causes or helping disadvantaged people". The best way? For all brands? And all consumers? Come, come. Push this thought with your clients and it won't just be a lack of interest they express. They'll have permanent doubts about your sense of commercial reality.

It's entirely possible, however, if you sift carefully through your client portfolio, that you'll identify two or three brands whose brand positioning would indeed chime well with an open involvement in good works. Start with the brand, demonstrate the potential benefit - and your conscience can be entirely clear.

Just as long as you've already made a massive contribution to Nabs, that is.

Q: I run a big network agency. Most people perceive us as fairly old-fashioned so we always try to appear ahead of the game. Everyone's using terms like "nimble" and "malleable" to describe their agencies now to make them seem more efficient and dynamic. I feel like a fraud and hate using stupid buzzwords but my PR team is telling me that is how I should describe our agency (though often it's pretty far from the truth). Do I tell the truth or cave in and use PR spin?

A: Many years ago, there was a favoured school of marketing that I called Ostrich Marketing. Its greatest attraction was its simplicity. For example, a client would do some thorough research into consumer attitudes to their brand and discover that drinking port was thought to be downmarket and deeply yesterday. The simple solution: stick your head in the sand and run some ads featuring men in dinner jackets under the headline: It's Smart to Drink Port!

Certain clients welcomed Ostrich Marketing. It relieved them of the effort and expense involved in improving their product offering. Having identified clear deficiencies in performance and reputation, you simply stuck your head in the sand and briefed your agency to claim the opposite. Job done.

For the record, there is not one example of Ostrich Marketing having won an IPA Effectiveness Award. Your PR team may be the world's last remaining believers in Ostrich Marketing. You know your agency is perceived to be fairly old-fashioned. You know there's some truth in that reputation. So your PR team urge you to stick your head in the sand and go all out on trendiness and dynamism. Dear oh dear; what a prat you'll seem.

If you continue to go about things, things like thinking and planning and brand sensitivity, with proud old-fashioned conscientiousness; and if you occasionally lob into the mix an idea or an ad of startling originality; and if you refrain from using any adjectives at all to describe your own agency but rather be content to be judged entirely on your deeds: you'll be just fine. There'll always be a market for you - and what's more, a pretty loyal one, at that.

This leaves you with the problem of your PR team. And I couldn't possibly advise you on that.

Q: With the first few brands making tentative steps into product placement, do you expect the floodgates to open and see an avalanche of companies signing these type of deals?

A: When penguins wake up in the morning, they're hungry. An early few jump heedlessly off the ice flow. The remaining penguins shuffle to the edge and peer with interest into the dark waters. This is what they're keen to establish: are those first fearless penguins having breakfast; or, rather, are they being breakfast?

If they're all clearly having breakfast, the rest leap in with happy abandon. If they're just as clearly being breakfast, the appetite of the others becomes strangely subdued. Perhaps another time, they think, as they retire to the back of the ice flow for a bit of a lie-in ...

Do not expect the floodgates of product placement to open until several early penguins are widely known to have got fat.

"Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10.

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