On the Campaign Couch with... JB

On the Campaign Couch with... JB

Q: I've featured in Campaign's Diary page three times in the past month. Do you think my star is rising?

A: You may have forgotten that The Guardian had to abandon its Young Businessman of the Year Award because so many of those honoured either went bankrupt or to prison. Rumour has it that in its final year, the winner was the fourth person to whom it was offered: the first three threatened to sue.

What are your own future plans?

Q: I'm the marketing director for a media brand run by a controversial figure. My agency has suggested getting him to front our new campaign - but as he polarises opinion, I'm unsure. Is this ever a good idea?

A: My immediate reaction is to conclude that your agency has run out of ideas: "But only in the direst case/should you show the client's face." However, I'm sorry to say that your question, "Is this ever a good idea?", betrays your ignorance. There are times when almost anything can be a good idea; and there are times when the same idea can be a very bad idea - it all depends on the nature of the task. I remember first explaining this simple truth more than 40 years ago - and in less than ideal circumstances.

In the late 60s, agencies were being interviewed by a high-powered governmental committee to ascertain the shortlisted agencies' ability to convert an indifferent nation from pounds .S.D to this newfangled decimal thing, due to be launched in early 1971. My agency, led by an imposing economist, presented a stress-proof, intellectually rigorous, precedent-rich case; and then invited questions. One committee member, also a mature member of the Upper House, cleared her throat. "I wonder if I might ask you, Mr Chairman," she said to our leader, "exactly how you feel about cartoons?"

Two junior ministers, several senior representatives from the Treasury, the head of COI and three members of the great and the good leaned forward expectantly: this had suddenly become interesting. Many millions of pounds and the year's most delectable account were at stake. Our leader didn't hesitate. He turned to me. "Jeremy?"

If your media brand is already a controversial brand, never happier than when attracting green-inked e-mails from disgusted readers, then your controversial proprietor would seem an ideal frontman. If, on the other hand, your media brand believes in cricket, bed socks and warm beer, you might like to consider the use of cartoons.

Q: I am increasingly frustrated with TV ads that do not have an immediately clear narrative. How do they get made? Surely any ad that needs to be seen twice to understand its message is, by its own definition, not good advertising? A case in point is a recent ad for a desirable FMCG client my colleagues and I had to watch twice to understand, and yet it has been received by the industry with rapturous applause. It seems some creatives care more about producing an obscure work of art than good advertising.

A: I commend you for your courage. I'm often asked why there are only 59 people in advertising over the age of 34. Well, here's the answer. Many people over the age of 34 not only fail to understand these sorts of commercials but are confident enough to say so. This is the only evidence needed: they're clearly senile. And senile people have no place in one of this country's fastest-moving creative industries. (So soon there will only be 58 people in advertising over 34.)

In truth, absolutely nobody understands these sorts of commercials; it's just that most of us are too wise to admit it.

- Great Tissue Issue Latest! Reg Starkey writes: Are you aware that bookmakers have "tissue prices"? These are their first best guess at opening prices in any race. The final prices are the "starting prices". Of course, in this game, both "accountant" and "meeting" also have their own meanings.

- Many thanks, Reg. No - didn't know that. How did you know that? So work shown at tissue meetings is the agency's first best guess at what the client might conceivably accept? Seems entirely plausible.

I've always relished the term "turf accountant". It was soon after bookies started calling themselves turf accountants that advertisement agencies formed the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. If they could only have found a more respectable word than advertising, they'd have been even happier. A small prize is offered to anyone who can come up with a generic description of advertising that, while entirely accurate, successfully disguises its disreputable function.

"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