On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I’ve heard it said that the stricter the rules, the more creative and effective the advertising, with the Benson & Hedges campaign cited as the prime example. Do politicians realise this?

I don’t suppose they do for a moment. But even if they suspected it, they wouldn’t want to believe it because it would make life far too complicated. And the same goes for lawyers and regulators.

The only model of communication that politicians and regulators can cope with is a thoroughly dodgy one. It depends on the assumption that all receivers of all messages are brainless and that they accept messages literally and without modification.

It ignores tiresome figures of speech such as hyperbole and meiosis. It fails to acknowledge inference or implication. It believes that if person A says to person B "The first thing I’d like you to know about me is that I’m modest", person B will turn to person C and say: "I’d never realised before that Dermot was modest, but I now know that he is because he told me so."

As I suggested somewhere around the middle of the last century, an advertisement that proclaimed "Going bald? New enriched Pom guarantees you a completely new head of hair in just five minutes!" would be interesting on two counts. First, it would certainly be banned for being misleading; and, second, it wouldn’t mislead anybody. Whereas an ad that said "Worried about hair loss?" and then simply showed a picture of the pack might well get past the regulators and then mislead millions.

Grown-up editors have to pretend to believe that the judicious use of asterisks protects their more sensitive readers. But since everybody knows that f**k stands for fuck, and since the asterisks force the reader to take part in the decryption, f**k ends up being at least as offensive as fuck would have been and probably rather more so. But because the word was never actually spelt out in full, everyone can claim that the decencies were observed. It’s a tacit conspiracy of deceit.

Good advertising people know that it’s not what you put into an ad that counts; it’s what your audience takes out of it. And since each member of any audience, depending on age, prejudice and circumstance, will take something slightly different from the same original, you can see why lawyers, regulators and politicians put their hands over their ears at the very thought. You can’t stop people inferring things and you can’t police their inferences.

Benson & Hedges couldn’t "say" anything, so it didn’t. But that didn’t stop people taking something out of the ads. I have no idea what people thought the ads were about, but I suspect they inferred, in a vague, unverbalised sort of way, that the brand was somehow quite smart, upmarket and fashionable.

And they probably concluded that with a greater level of belief (since the inference was their own) than if the ads had trumpeted: "Benson & Hedges! It’s smart, upmarket and fashionable!" Which it wouldn’t have been allowed to say and wouldn’t have wanted to anyway.

Warning: anyone who takes all the above to mean that obscurity in advertising is a guarantee of sales success hasn’t been listening.

As part of our brand ambassador programme, we have audited all of our employees’ social media activity across the top five platforms and now we are enlisting them as channels. Would it be better if we let them ad-lib and improvise around the themes set out in the grid, or should we be mandating them to post centrally generated content?

May I suggest that you ask somebody to translate your question into English and then resubmit it?

Thank you.

Our super-premium tequila brand is sponsoring a band and part of the deal is that we provide a crate of product for their dressing room while on global tour. I’m scheduled for a VIP access-all-areas meet-and-greet when they come to Liverpool and it would help if I knew some of the jargon – where does the term ‘rider’ come from? And am I being taken for one?

I’m afraid you’ve written to the wrong column.

‘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, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE