On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: As a thinking ECD, I'm totally conscious that more than 80 per cent of purchases are made or strongly influenced by women, but only 25 per cent of my creatives are women.

How can I hire more females and get them to stay the course? We've got a laddish culture that is good for banter and jokes that can inspire ads, but the women aren't so good at it. There's one female team nicknamed the Schiacciati Sisters, but they aren't exactly welcoming to new girls. Should I go on about the John Lewis ads more to try to soften things up?

A: Perhaps you should do a little less thinking. Or perhaps a little more. You clearly have no time for that self-indulgent, right-brain-only, all-planning-is-an-insult-to-my-creative-wellspring category of ECDs: the ones who know that the five most creative campaigns ever all bombed in research. You pride yourself on your sense of responsibility and parade it by quoting percentages. The trouble is, you're wrong.

You don't have to be a man to write good ads for men. You don't have to be under five to write Smarties commercials. You don't have to be black to feel for Othello. You don't have to be straight to invent a Lynx campaign. You don't have to be old to write persuasive words about a stairlift. You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's bread.

How do you suppose the best sitcoms are written? I expect you'd have a woman writing all the female parts and a man writing all the male parts (unless they were doctors, of course, in which case they'd be written by doctors, I suppose).

You may be right that you'd be better off with more women in your creative department but that's got nothing to do with the fact that 80 per cent of purchases are made or influenced by women. You need those rare people, irrespective of age or gender, who can understand what it's like to be somebody else. As Professor Jean Aitchison said in her Reith Lecture: "An effective persuader must be able to imagine events from another person's point of view."

Any competent hack can knock out an adequate ad designed to appeal to himself. Presumably that's what your laddish lads can do.

The most valuable creative people will always be those who are able to imagine what it's like to be on benefits or pregnant or 17 or stuck at home with five children - as well as to enjoy a Friday-night razzle. If you go on about the John Lewis ads, the unimaginative will just try to copy the solution rather than understand the insights that made it possible. Introduce your creatives to the wonders of empathy - and you'll be amazed how much better they'll be.

Q: Should creative people be more businesslike or is it better for their talent to be left to roam wild and then be corralled occasionally by skilled client-service cowboys who lasso their ideas and harness them to the client's need?

A: What colourful prose. You clearly fancy yourself as one of those skilled client-service cowboys. I'm not sure what you mean by businesslike. If you mean approaching every brief with such responsible concern for the commercial imperatives that the imagination remains grounded on the runway, too heavy to take off - then down with being businesslike. If you mean believing that problems are solved and ideas invented by following a logical sequence of thought, each step being dependent on the proven validity of its predecessor - then down with being businesslike.

The time to be businesslike comes later: not before but after some far-from-obvious piece of speculation has been generated. Academics and researchers are known to speak dismissively about post-rationalisation. Yet almost every great advertising idea (and scientific discovery) has been validated only in retrospect. It's only marketing case histories and learned scientific papers that pretend otherwise.

But creative people should welcome the post-natal interrogation to which every new idea must be subjected. To resist such an enlightening process is to be very unbusinesslike indeed. And impractical, too. To expect an idea to be taken entirely on trust severely limits its chances of seeing the light of day.

Q: The Week publishes great quotations in every issue and I read this one from GK Chesterton: "There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect." How did he know this before neuroscience discovered it?

A: See above. More often than not, the role of science is to explain what intuitive people have already proposed.

"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.