On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I'm speaking at a conference soon for the first time in a couple of years and I'm worried. I've seen photos of today's delegates spending most of the time on their laptops, tablets or mobiles. I think this is rude and I'm worried that I'll be like one of those actors who harangue the audience member whose phone rings during the play. Any tips on how to control my red mist? And any insight as...

Regular fixtures on podiums include shaded reading lights, projector buttons and sockets for drinking glasses.

I am none of the above.

But you raise an interesting digital-age point. The last time I was at a podium, I noticed a young person of my acquaintance tapping away on her smartphone. It being an informal occasion (my podium was the back of an armchair), and as I’d already said all I wanted to say, I remarked without rancour that I seemed to have reached the limit of my audience’s attention span and invited questions.

I was later gently chided by the young person in question. She hadn’t been Tweeting or editing her shopping list or texting Gideon or placing £5 each way on the 3.30. So captivated had she been by a point I’d just made that she was immortalising it before it fled her memory.

Or, rather, that’s what she said she’d been doing and I naturally wanted to believe her. So I did.

For a great many years, podium people were deeply flattered to see members of their audience scribbling away in reporters’ notebooks. It never occurred to us that they might be jotting down the outline of a great British novel or "NO YOG TIL THURS PLS". We took it for granted that they were diligently recording our insights. And they would certainly have been quite disconcerted if we’d suddenly succumbed to a red mist, kicked over the lectern and snarled: "Put those fucking notebooks away or I’ll fucking come and do it for you!"

So my earnest advice to you is this. When you get to your conference and you peer down from your podium and see all those laptops, tablets and mobiles, transform them in your mind’s eye into reporters’ notebooks – and start to feel a warm glow of appreciation. And when you later observe a sudden surge of activity – row upon row of eager thumbs and fingers rattling away on their devices – whatever you do, don’t conclude that you’ve lost them all completely. You’ve obviously just said something brilliant.

Why hasn’t the 30-second TV spot died like all those trade-press journalists predicted? And where are they now?

As somebody once said, hindsight is a cruel judge. Alvin Toffler (Toffle: v. To predict with more confidence than accuracy), 1970, knew that by now, much heavy manufacturing would be taking place in outer space. He also knew that "information overload" would lead inexorably to the enforced separation of individuals. Instead, we’re stiflingly over-connected.

Philip Kotler, 1999, predicted: "In the coming decade, marketing will be re-engineered from A to Z." The death of almost everything, from history to the television commercial, has been seen as inevitable.

It’s fun to mock. But the reason that the TV spot was wrongly sentenced to death is quite interesting. Yet again, the confident commentators confused the medium with the message: the means with the end; the delivery system with the satisfaction delivered.

35mm film and 35mm film projectors may be giving way to digital; but the satisfaction delivered remains exactly the same. Whether in The Roxy or the Royal Opera House, people like being with other people, responding to the same experience. The delivery system may change – but the cinema is safe.

And no advertising delivery system has yet improved on television’s ability to reach huge numbers of people, in their own homes, at the same time.

It may have seemed logical to believe that people watched scheduled programmes only because there was no delivery system available that allowed them to watch when they chose to; but that, again, was to misunderstand the nature of the satisfaction delivered.

"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