On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I'm the marketing director of a famous sausage brand. Should I sign off a campaign pointing out that the meat in our products is of the highest quality and hasn't been near a horse stable? Or should I ride out the storm, pull adspend and wait for all the fuss to die down?

Try applying a little elementary understanding of the principles of communication; in this instance, the "DON’T PANIC!" principle. Imagine a full-page ad, with headline in red.

Horsemeat Crisis.
An Urgent Announcement To All Consumers Of Trumpleton’s Sausages!

You will have heard a great deal recently about certain widely available food products having been discovered to contain a significant proportion of horseflesh – in some cases, as much as 100 per cent.

The makers of Trumpleton’s sausages would like to reassure the public that Trumpleton’s sausages are made from the highest quality pork (73 per cent) and contain absolutely no horsemeat whatsoever!

So you may consume your favourite Trumpleton’s sausages safe in the knowledge that only pig meat, rusk, herbal flavourings and certain necessary preservatives are employed in their manufacture.

What openness! What transparency! What needless idiocy!

Certain statements elicit a response opposite to that intended. (Or, as Professor Aranguren succinctly puts it in his book Human Communication: "The emission does not always and inevitably lead to the simple, quiet and passive reception of a message, but frequently excites an active response: and for th same reason, this response may be in opposition to the emission instead of conforming with it.")

"Don’t panic!" is perhaps the most telling example. "Thank God I’ve got a sense of humour", "I’m glad to say we’re not complacent" and "Our sausages do not contain horsemeat" all run it close. The horsemeat story has been all about prepared food and beef. Only the most fearful of imaginations will have linked it to your sausages; until you responsibly start to reassure everybody. You don’t even have to pull your adspend; that, too, could easily be portrayed as a tacit admission of guilt by the mischievous Twitterati.

So carry on as if nothing has happened. As far as you’re concerned, nothing has.

Do you think it’s right the speed with which agencies remove advertising that involves a celebrity accused of a misdemeanour or are you worried that this could influence the judicial process?

It’s not the agencies, of course: it’s the clients. And you can’t blame them.

Celebrity advertising is all about association. Slebs are hired to bring fame, glamour and interest – and, ideally, some complementary match of personality – to what may well be a parity product. You can’t believe in the positive benefits of association without conceding that the converse applies as well. Once those associations become first questionable and then stealthily toxic, the sooner the marriage is dissolved the better.

Your legal point is an interesting one. If the dropping of the sleb is presented as a temporary measure until the adverse publicity and speculation have been seen to be groundless, I would have thought you’d be well in the clear.

I’ve been asked by our HR director to "manage someone out". I think this means that I’ve got to get rid of them without paying redundo but am not entirely clear as this management lark is a bit new to me. How do you think I should "manage them out"?

I don’t like the sound of your HR director. Your company took this person on with high hopes; and those hopes must have been met at least for long enough for the person in question to have survived the statutory probation period. No demonstrable crime can have been committed. When new hirings fail, bad companies blame the hired. They feel themselves badly let down, as if the recruit had deliberately misled them all the way through the recruitment process and then, just as deliberately, decided to prove themselves inadequate.

Tell your HR director that this person, who you had no hand in hiring, deserves everything that’s stipulated in their contract; and, what’s more, done with sensitivity. "Managing someone out" is both corrupt and cowardly.

"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