On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

A team at my agency were recently (though not too recently; I’m not stupid) given Turkey of the Week for an ad they made. They’re pretty cut up about it. What’s the best way to console them?

This presents you with the perfect opportunity to get in a bit of fundamental education without seeming to be too po-faced about it.

One of the sillier statements about our trade is that good advertising speaks for itself. If that were the case, we’d all routinely show clients a layout or a script, without a word of background or explanation, and then give them 60 seconds to take or reject it. And if they rejected it, we’d accept that rejection, also wordlessly, and trot off dutifully to make another one. Which we’d then put in front of the client, again without a word of background or explanation. And so on and so on until the client finally said: "I like it."

But never why.

Remind your team that all the best advertising is made up of the visible and the invisible. The visible (as the world strongly implies) is what a single advertisement looks like. Just occasionally, everyone who sees it will think it entrancing or ugly or boring; but mostly, on account of people being different, there will be a wide difference of opinion. There are some advertisements that prompt a great many people to exclaim: "Now that’s what I call a great ad!" And so it may be; but it may not be a great piece of advertising.

The invisible is what distinguishes advertising from advertisements. Experienced people can deduce quite a lot of what lies behind an advertisement just by looking at it – but nobody can deduce everything. Invite your team to read a few of the winning submissions to the IPA Effectiveness Awards. Even the most startlingly, obviously "creative", even the most award-showered pieces of work, will have been steered and influenced by knowledge of markets and knowledge of people that, mercifully, remain hidden from sight in the final execution. (Your art director may respond to the thought that, while a knowledge of anatomy will help the talented artist draw from life, in the finished work there will be no sight of bones.)

Next, you should remind your team that ads don’t exist for decorative reasons. They exist because they’re expected to do something. And if an ad does it, it’s a good ad; and if it doesn’t, it’s not. Nothing else counts.

You’re finally in a position to talk Turkey.

Here they are, all cut up and miserable, simply because an individual journalist, with no practising knowledge of advertising, no knowledge of what lay behind their advertisement and certainly no knowledge at all of its effect (the only reason for the ad’s existence) should have subjectively found it not to their liking. By allowing this superficial and strictly amateur opinion to get under their skins, your team have abandoned their professional status.

All this should help them.

It’s entirely possible, of course, that, on both visible and invisible grounds, this unqualified critic was absolutely right. It can happen. It which case, your team do not deserve to be consoled; they deserve further instruction.

(But who, I can’t help wondering, allowed this Turkey to be presented to the client in the first place? Could it have been you, by any chance?)

What’s the most ridiculous phrase you have ever heard used in an ad pitch?

This really needs pictures as well as words, so you’ll have to help me. There was a new, young account executive who was terrified of saying anything that he thought his client might not like to hear. And he’d been given the unenviable task of starting the presentation with a review of the previous three years’ sales figures. They were plotted on a large cardboard chart mounted on an easel and they were not a pretty sight. For about nine months, the sales line was absolutely level and steady as a rock. And then, without warning, it dipped alarmingly… and went on dipping until it reached the present day.

James traced this line with a pointer while saying: "As you can see, for very nearly a year, sales showed extremely encouraging growth…" He now reached the point of the precipitous decline: "But have now levelled off."

‘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