On the Campaign Couch...with JB

On the Campaign Couch...with JB

Q: My wife says that Morrisons' own brand of cornflakes is just as good as Kellogg's cornflakes and is cheaper.

I disagree that it is just as good and sympathise with my children's pleas for the Kellogg product. She won't be persuaded and says I am caught up in my own marketing spell. What do you think?

A: One of the many tedious habits I had when my children were young was declining to give a direct answer when they looked at me with limpid eyes and asked: "Are avocados nice, Daddy?" And I'd say: "That's the wrong question. Taste is personal and subjective. I like avocados but you may not. Try one and see." And they'd roll their eyes and exchange resigned glances and get on with growing up.

That Morrisons' cornflakes are cheaper than Kellogg's cornflakes is an objective, demonstrable fact. It would be foolish were you and your wife to disagree about that. But it's perfectly possible for your wife to prefer Morrisons' cornflakes to Kellogg's cornflakes and for you to prefer Kellogg's to Morrisons': you're both right. Brands compete with each other on the delivery of total, blended satisfactions. Some of those satisfactions are objectively measurable - price, availability, convenience - and some aren't. The relative pleasure of taste isn't; at least up till now.

For many, many years, all blind-versusnamed taste tests showed that preference for the Kellogg product significantly increased when its name was known. This was attributed to the "brand effect": respondents' belief that a brand as established and famous as Kellogg should be preferable - and therefore claiming to find it so. Smoke-and-mirrors, slightly spooky, Vance Packard stuff, your wife might think.

But now, what with brain-scanning and all that, it's becoming slightly easier to do what's been impossible heretofore. The pleasures derived from taste can be identified and compared.

And it seems, for example, that different wine labels can have discernibly different effects on the pleasure derived from identical wine. Not just snobbery; not just "in the mind": Label A actually contributes more to the satisfaction delivered by the same liquid than label B. There's much more to come, I suspect; and scientists who've long been perplexed and intrigued by the astonishing efficacy of some placebos won't be in the least surprised.

And if by now you've started to roll your eyes and wish you'd never raised the bloody subject, you'll know how my children felt.

Q: A client writes: I've been invited to appear on my agency's reel delivering a testimonial. The only problem is that while I like my team there, I don't think the agency is that good. I'm tied up in a contract that means I can't review out yet. How should I politely decline without upsetting anyone?

A: You've obviously forgotten that clause in your company's Ethics and Standards Agreement that you signed on joining. It explicitly forbids any employee from using company position and/or company name in the public promotion of any external enterprise. Only charities may be excluded from this requirement, and then only on a case-by-case basis, personally authorised by the chief executive.

Now that you've remembered this entirely reasonable condition of employment, your conversation with your agency will present no problems. Resist the temptation, however, to express your deep personal regret that you're unable to help them. One lie is enough.

Q: A marketing director writes: My media agency has suggested that I might want to barter some of my stock for media space. Although he's explained how it works to me twice, I can't make head nor tail of it. Can you explain how it works or should I just walk away?

A: When creative agencies know that their six-week-late creative recommendation is only just verging on the adequate, and that their client might notice this, they tell the client that they're so excited about the work that they want his permission to enter it in every top awards event starting immediately. Sometimes it works.

Your media agency is playing the same game. They know they're in trouble - so they want to flatter you. They're so confident in your future success (and, nudge, nudge, in their own contribution to that success) that they'd like to be paid not in money but in stock.

It would be infernally complicated, it's morally questionable and it's probably illegal. What else would you like to know?

"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.