On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: There has been a stream of recent pitches for government-related advertising campaigns. How heartening is it to see the return of public-funded advertising?

A: I do hope you're not one of those people who believe that the more advertising there is, the better. Agencies are never going to turn down a bit of business because they believe the expenditure's unnecessary - and neither are the media. But never forget that advertisers spend marketing money reluctantly: they want the maximum return from the minimum expenditure. If they could retain their margins and increase their volume while spending absolutely nothing, you can bet they'd do it: and without a second's thought to the effect on the livelihood of agency people, the postal service, the coverprice of The Sun or the quality of programmes on ITV.

Advertisers don't choose to subsidise the media: it's an accidental by-product of actions they take for purely self-interested reasons: and quite right too. The right advertising, in both content and weight, makes trading more efficient: and that's entirely how it should be judged.

So if there is a return to government advertising campaigns, I will certainly be heartened; but not because that should mean more loot in the kitty. I'll be heartened only because some beady brains must have studied the jobs to be done; the costs of not doing them; the use of alternatives such as legislation; and come to the conclusion that a skilfully applied dose of advertising money will be of considerable net benefit to the public - whose money, let's always remember, it is.

The virtues of public-service advertising are easily forgotten. I don't suppose you've even heard of How Public Service Advertising Works, let alone read it. But if you want to find out how advertising has had a benign effect on organ donor recruitment, vehicle crime prevention, teacher recruitment, blood donation, fire prevention, road safety, drink-driving, domestic abuse, Aids, home protection and a dozen others, read this book. Because you won't just learn about public-service advertising; you'll learn some absolutely fundamental and universal truths about the difficulties of effecting behavioural change and which forms of persuasion are best suited to do what.

How Public Service Advertising Works 2008. Edited by Judie Lannon, COI, IPA, Warc.

Q: The Cabinet Office is looking for an agency to create a campaign that brings young people together and encourages them to embrace their communities. Can advertising really stop the teenagers rioting?

A: No, of course not. But advertising, sometimes in conjunction with legislation, can help change accepted views and values. Think smoking, seat-belts, drink-driving. (See above.) Whether it's worth it or not is often, of course, fiendishly difficult to calculate. What's the social cost of a looted shop?

Q: I really fancy my boss and I think he fancies me too. Our Christmas party is coming up soon. Do you think I should approach him or would it be wrong to start a relationship with someone at work?

A: On this specific subject, I'm afraid I have no first-hand experience upon which to call. But I've always been led by others to believe that a relationship (as you so quaintly call it) usually has some element of spontaneity about it. You seem to be contemplating such a relationship with the timidity of a tiger approaching a tethered goat.

So perhaps you even feel detached enough to seek advice from your putative paramour. "Damon," you could say, at the start of your party, "I really fancy you and am bold enough to suppose that you in turn may fancy me. But I'm concerned, as I imagine you might be, that to enter into a relationship with a colleague, indeed with one in a superior position, could well lead to serious complications, confusion among other colleagues and later regret. I wonder, Damon, if you could give me the benefit of your wisdom in this matter?"

I think you'd find that such an approach, so disarming in its directness, would provoke an instant response - and one that would, at a stroke, helpfully limit your options.

Alternatively, you could do what everyone else does (or so I've been told): have a drink or two, go for it, and see what happens.

Q: Dear Jeremy, are you aware of any research that has been commissioned by a brand or agency that subsequently reflects that brand or agency in a bad light?

A: Oh, yes. Lots. But I'm not aware of any that's been published.

"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.