On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Dear Jeremy, when a songwriter pens a tune, they are paid royalties each time that tune is played. Why can it not be the same with ads - when a brand decides to use our brilliant work again for a second year, rather than commission a new campaign, shouldn't we be paid for the value that we're giving them?

Oh, what a complicated set of problems your wonderfully simple question opens up! If I handed it over to three different teams of lawyers, you could expect, as early as 2016, three quite different sets of initial, tentative conclusions.

A point that none of them would make, I suspect, is a point that the advertising trade itself has chosen never to make; and it’s an absolutely fundamental one.

When a brilliant ad gets awarded some immensely prestigious gong, that ad is seen to be the exclusive property of the agency that invented it. Certainly, the client will get a bit of perfunctory credit (quite often for courage) but the unchallenged assumption is that the ad can be evaluated in its own right, and entirely divorced from the brand it features.

This assumption is implicit in your question: "When a brand decides to use our brilliant work again… shouldn’t we be paid for the value that we’re giving them?" In every instance, the brand is seen to be the beneficiary of the ad – and never the other way round.

Well, it’s high time there was a counterblast to this ignorant assumption. ISBA needs to make its voice heard. Every ad, however great, owes more to its brand than the brand owes to the ad. This has to be the case, since the brand, by definition, is the starting point. Without the brand, there would be no ad.

That’s what’s wrong with your songwriter analogy: songwriters (unless writing a jingle) have to think of their own starting point. Ownership of the finished article is relatively simple to establish. Ads don’t have to work out where to start. They start with the brand.

Early Volkswagen advertising is universally held to be the best advertising ever devised. And it is indeed wonderful. But what’s seldom acknowledged is its absolutely central indebtedness to Volkswagens. I’m not for one second implying that creating great work for Volkswagen is easy, or that anyone could do it; just that without Volkswagen, and Volkswagen’s particularities, it would be impossible.

And the better the work, the more true all this becomes; because the best work is never an interesting advertising idea settling almost arbitrarily on a product to feature – it’s work that could only have been inspired by the nature of the specific brand it features. The gorilla school of advertising will never enjoy the timeless reverence that properly great advertising quite properly earns for itself.

With all this in mind, read your question again and see if it still makes sense. You were exceptionally talented to have produced such brilliant work; but you were also vastly fortunate to have been given the opportunity. You owe the brand at least as much as the brand owes you.

Where would My Fair Lady be without Pygmalion? In any event, you’ll still be getting paid.

Rory Sutherland has written that a first-class university degree is no better than a third when it comes to recruiting ad talent. Does this mean that intellectual nous is wasted in our industry?

No, it doesn’t; and that’s not what Rory Sutherland was saying. The advertising business can make use of just about every form of intelligence and talent. Some are more susceptible to measurement than others.

In some subjects, a reasonable degree depends as much as anything else on diligence. Diligence alone can get you good marks. But diligence alone won’t deliver an original thought.

Every agency contains at least two super-diligent persons baffled and disappointed by their failure to progress. And some of the people most capable of delivering original thoughts are some of the most slothful; but not always. This makes recruitment difficult because a recruitment policy limited to the slothful is no more likely to be successful than one limited to the diligent.

Some people never start to work until they can see some point to it. I was one.

"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