On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Is it time to rethink the use of behavioural insights after they led to a campaign based around how people dispose of their used toilet paper?

It’s hard to conceive of a sequitur more deserving of the prefix non.

An insight (and most insights aren’t insights at all but banal observations emerging from workaday research) is no more than a starting point. Different people will take the same starting point to totally different destinations. To blame an insight for an execution is just another instance of blaming boring creative work on the brief.

It’s the job of the creative team to make the potentially banal engaging and evocative. There is nothing inspirational about being told to concentrate a beer’s positioning on refreshment or a newspaper’s positioning on its independence: is that all planners are paid for? But "Reaching The Parts That Other Beers Can’t" and "It Is. Are You?" both take the banal and illuminate it.

The history of advertising is strewn with examples of brands that have colonised the generic and made it their own – simply through the style of the execution. The theory of the unique selling proposition led a lot of brands to absurd extremes of functional claim: "Melts In Your Mouth, Not In Your Hands." There should be another established theory that recognises the skill of differentiating a brand not by function but by style; the buccaneering impertinence that allows a brand to hijack an entire sector’s generic appeal and own it for itself, simply through the originality of its expression. Suggestions, please, as to what it should be called.

The planner has a responsibility close to that of the creative team: first, to spot what could be just a banal observation – and then to make it engaging and evocative. An insight, however sound, will remain of no utility until it’s been inspirationally expressed.

I’ve many times quoted Theodore Levitt’s famous insight of more than 50 years ago: "People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole." It informed an entire generation of marketing people. But what if Theodore Levitt had said: "Product satisfaction arises less from inherent construction and performance than from consumers’ internalised perceptions of utility." The insight would have been exactly the same, but the potency of that insight would have been zero. Strategy needs as much creativity as creativity.

Behavioural insights, irrespective of the use to which they are put, will continue to be as precious as diamonds. But, like diamonds, only if they’re cut and polished.

Dear Jeremy, I’m a junior creative who has been working on an ad that is getting ridiculed in the press. The creative idea was my partner’s, but I didn’t have the guts to tell him (and our executive creative director) that I had an instinct that the spot would get a bad response. Should I speak up now, or hold my tongue?

Not for the first time do I recommend a valued correspondent to put himself into the shoes of others.

This ad is being ridiculed in the press. So you say to your partner: "You know, Barry, I always had an instinct that this spot would get a bad response. And if you remember, the creative idea was yours, not mine. So I thought in a spirit of openness I’d make this clear not just to you but also to the ECD."

If you expect Barry’s response to be one of gratitude and admiration, then the very best future you can hope for yourself is to become Britain’s oldest junior creative. And even that’s more than you deserve.

Partner means partner. Bouquets and brickbats equally shared. You can’t pin the turkeys on him and keep the picks for yourself.

Dear Jeremy, if I "borrowed" your surname for a start-up, would I get in trouble?

Yes. Putting a name over the door or a name on the pack means that customers know who to blame if they don’t like what they’ve paid for. I’d be extremely peeved if I got blamed for your derisory service and would happily take you to the cleaners.

Besides, if you trawl through the records of the IPA for 1927, I think you’ll find Bullmores Ltd listed. So I’m afraid that territory is already occupied.

"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