On the campaign couch with JB

On the campaign couch with JB

Q: An agency head writes: I have a superstar creative that can turn his hand to anything (writing, directing, sketching, shooting, producing - hell, even account management if he had to). How do I protect him from the thieves, poachers and spangled lights of Hollywood?

A: Sketching? I thought you were certain to lose this Leonardo until I realised the significance of sketching. Despite his astonishing array of talents, he's clearly a simple, home-loving lad at heart.

So invest in a little aversion therapy. Send him, kicking and screaming, on a paid, four-week trip to Los Angeles. On his own. He'll hate it. No mates, no Marmite, no Chelsea, no Coach & Horses. Make sure you're all in the pub the day he gets back, jet-lagged and traumatised. He'll burst into tears and stay with you for ever.

Q: A worried managing director writes: Jeremy, BBC Four's Mad Men is only a few episodes in but it's giving admen a terrible name. Already, I'm getting disgraceful glances from dinner-party guests when I mention my profession and had a number of dubious similarities made to Don Draper. I'm faithful, I never drink on the job, I don't smoke, I don't need to sleep with clients to retain business. But I seemed to be tarred and tainted irrespectively. How do we clear our name?

A: As must be internally evident, this letter is more than four years old. I wonder what I would have said had I answered it then?

Despite not being about advertising, Mad Men must have done more for the reputation of advertising than 30 years of the IPA Effectiveness Awards. Everybody already thought we were pretty dodgy; now they know we're not only pretty dodgy but also quite intriguing. I bet you wouldn't write me the same question now.

Q: Is environmentally friendly advertising an oxymoron?

I shall use your question as an excuse to rant on a bit. Please don't bother to tell me I've digressed: I know that already. But as a good friend of mine once said: "I digress: but only to return to my central point."

A: great many people, even people who should know better, continue to talk about advertising as if it were a monolithic, single-purpose conspiracy with pooled aims and ambitions: "Advertising creates artificial needs", "Advertising encourages wasteful consumption". Even the defenders of advertising do it: "Advertising is the mainspring of the economy", "Advertising creates jobs". And yet, as I've been pointing out for a pitifully long time, advertising, of itself, does no more than the telephone system or the internet. It's an entirely neutral facility; a means of communication available to anyone who can afford to use it.

It's advertising campaigns that have an effect - and the advertisements that make up those campaigns. And exactly like telephone conversations and internet usage, advertisements have an infinity of intentions, ambitions and effects. Far from conspiring, many are in direct competition with each other. One of the very few effects that advertisements have in common is that they all, quite inadvertently, help keep the price of media down. This is undoubtedly A Good Thing; but it's not why advertising exists. If advertising's only virtue was that it made media cheaper, it wouldn't be worth defending.

So I hope you're beginning to see the central fallacy of your question. If you'd been tempted to ask "Are environmentally friendly advertisements an oxymoron?", I trust you'd have stopped yourself, so clearly ridiculous is the question.

If the world's governments are right in believing the human race urgently needs to modify its behaviour; that finite resources are truly finite and diminishing fast; and that a swift and permanent conversion to sustainability is the only hope for our children's children, then advertising and marketing campaigns designed to accelerate that conversion will need to be employed. They will be not only environmentally friendly but environmentally essential.

At the same time, of course, other marketing and advertising campaigns will continue to encourage us to enjoy ourselves, to make ourselves more attractive, to save more money, to spend more money, to gamble, to travel, to stay at home, to drink, to drink responsibly, to buy doughnuts, to fight obesity: and all the thousands of other wonderfully alternative and contradictory invitations that living with the principle of competitive persuasion implies.

If you can think of a better alternative, do let me know.

"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