On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Dear Jeremy, why do so many television commercials on air just now spend valuable time telling me it’s Christmas and filling their spots up with Santas, snow and sleighs? Don’t they know we know it’s that time of year?

I can tell you don’t know anything about advertising. (I was about to say "I can tell you’re not in advertising" but I’d forgotten that lots of people in advertising don’t know anything about advertising. I wonder if that’s as true for other trades? I do hope so.)

The point of all those clichéd Christmas clues is not, of course, to remind us that it’s Christmas. Only someone who didn’t know anything about advertising would have even suggested such a thing. The object of a great deal of advertising is primarily one of association. Brands, much like people (and brands, of course, are much like people), derive much of their character from what they’re seen to rub shoulders with. That’s why high-fashion brands rub shoulders with high-fashion models, Red Bull rubs shoulders with Felix Baumgartner, Sainsbury’s rubs shoulders with Jamie Oliver and Old Spice rubs shoulders with you-know-who. Contrary to the views of sociology graduates, such campaigns are not expecting gullible people to identify; the transfer of imagery is not to the consumer but to the brand. Brands, like people, are judged in large part by the company they keep. George Osborne will never be completely free of the Bullingdon.

So what all these Christmas commercials are doing – or trying to do – is forge an associative link; not between the fact of Christmas but the feeling of Christmas. And that’s why the ones that manage it with the greatest subtlety, sensitivity and accuracy of observation are the ones that do best.

What would you do? Just plonk a couple of presenters in a bare studio, I suppose?

Dear Jeremy, St Bride’s in Fleet Street, the ancestral home of adland, is in danger of closing due to structural damage and I’ve been asked to contribute to its fundraising campaign. Meanwhile, Nabs is asking me to buy Partner Cards for my agency. Which way should my dollar drop?

If you look carefully enough, you’ll find you’ve got two dollars. Drop them both.

Dear Jeremy, I’m the marketing director (OK, new-business director – I’m here to sell what I’ve got to sell, such as it is) of a second-tier agency that I’ve got on to a pitchlist in competition with some first tiers. So far so good, but I’ve discovered that all but us and one other (a start-up…) have withdrawn. I’ve got a bad feeling about this, but should we stay in and win?

That would probably be better than staying in and losing.

What are you scared of? A hollow victory? A promiscuous client? Unprofitable business? I think you’re far too conscious of being what you rather sadly call a second-tier agency. So you assume that the rather grander agencies that’ve already withdrawn from this contest must be shrewder than you; that they know something that you don’t know. And that of course may be absolutely right. But there again, it might not be.

Stop being so defeatist. "I’m here to sell what I’ve got to sell, such as it is": with that attitude, you don’t deserve to win anything. On its day, I bet there’s enough talent in your agency to do as good a job as any "first-tier" agency; and without the smuggery. So why not go for it; do it extremely well; win it; and let confidence seep back into your agency like a blood transfusion. Even if the account turns out to be transient, the consequences needn’t be.

Dear Jeremy, I’ve got one of our grads Tweeting, blogging and Facebooking for me but it doesn’t seem to be working. No invitations to top-level industry gigs or to join pitchlists. What more can I do?

This is the most encouraging letter I’ve received for some time. If your experience becomes universal, we may expect sanity to return. Meanwhile, you might want to wonder if there’s anything of value or interest you could actually do yourself: it can be surprisingly satisfying. (Why not get one of your grads to rustle up some suggestions?)

Dear Jeremy, did you ever retain a PR agency in order to help build your profile?

Vanity’s a strange affliction. Some people are so vain that they hire a PR agency to build their profile. I’m so vain that I never would.

"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.