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

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I like the idea of using our staff in our ads to convey a sense of the ordinary, likeable people behind the brand but I can't bear the thought that it might engender one of those cheesy bank ads. Is there an elegant way round this?

A: Nope. And don't feel too bad about this; it's the inevitable effect of what we of the communications elite call "framing". The moment you put a frame around ordinary, likeable people (which is precisely what you're doing when you put them in an ad), you're inviting people to judge them differently.

You're saying, the reason we're putting a frame around these people is because they're special; which, of course, is the opposite of what you're hoping to convey.

But because they won't seem special (because they aren't), they'll seem more than usually ordinary: in fact, a great deal more ordinary and a great deal less likeable than ordinary likeable people. So at considerable expense, your advertising will inspire the watching world to believe that your members of staff are all well below the national average for intelligence and helpfulness. To portray ordinary, likeable people convincingly requires calculation and artifice of the highest order.

Q: With the recent MP expenses scandal and general lack of trust in public figures, has "personality" advertising run its course? No-one can believe their sincerity, can they? They're only in it for the money.

A: Personality advertising has never been believed.

No: let me rephrase that.

Personalities in advertising have never been believed.

In 1959, on US network television, the President's widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, spoke with enthusiasm on behalf of Good Luck margarine. What was newsworthy was not that Eleanor Roosevelt spread Good Luck margarine on her breakfast toast every morning but that, as long as the money was right, Eleanor Roosevelt could be bought. ($35,000, as it happens.)

Nobody in the world has ever believed that personality spokespersons speak warmly of brands simply because they're so appreciative of the contribution that these brands make to the rounded happiness of their own lives that they feel a moral obligation to bring them to the notice of the less fortunate. It has always been known and fully understood that well-known people say nice things about things because they're handsomely rewarded for saying them.

Personality advertising works through our old friend association. Association doesn't work at a rational, logical level. Put Good Luck margarine and Eleanor Roosevelt together in the same TV spot and Good Luck margarine absorbs a bit of her immense fame and authority. (There's also a residual, rational bit that goes: "Even for $35,000, I don't suppose Eleanor Roosevelt would have put her name to a margarine if it was toxic" - so at the very least there's some sort of basic reassurance of quality.) As it turned out, as quite often happens with irrelevant personality campaigns, the personality is remembered at the expense of the brand. In 2010, Good Luck margarine is not a major player in the US yellow fats market.

So the unassisted class suicide pact of our MPs will have done nothing to undermine people's belief in the sincerity of personality endorsers; such a belief has never been held. It may, however, have destroyed the last shred of deference that our elected representatives believed to be their entitlement; and that's not altogether bad.

Q: I've helped build an agency group of various disciplines. We thought that was the way forward. It looks great on a PowerPoint chart. Quite a pretty shape. Reality is that the businesses all compete with each other in one way or another and clients don't seem interested in buying (or paying) for a group offer. Do you think there is a way of repositioning the business model in a compelling way?

A: Every year, foolish spouses buy expensive multi-purpose toolkits for their partners.

Yet you have never seen anyone putting a multi-purpose toolkit to practical use. Multi-purpose toolkits are like all multi-purpose objects; they appeal only to those who will never have to employ them.

They have been designed not for the end-user but for the donor.

They are something to put in a parcel. Look at a real craftsman's tool box and it will be a treasured collection of individual items, many eccentric, each one picked up over the years, some new, some well-used, that between them suit the craftsman's personal daily needs.

Your PowerPoint chart, prettily depicting your many marcom disciplines, is the precise equivalent of a multi-purpose toolkit. Encourage your clients to pick'n'mix.

"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.