Since when have they been a good metaphor for anything other than smoking, illicit drinking and pornography, rather than creative brainstorming?
A: Those garden sheds were installed not as incubators for creative thought but to impress gullible journalists and prospective clients: "My word, these people must be creative! They've got garden sheds on their creative floor! Amazing!"
It's a lot easier to invest in a few garden sheds than to put together a body of self-evidently outstanding work. Garden sheds are no more than an extension of the black-T-shirt-and-designer-stubble convention: visual evidence that the presenter is not as other mortals and that to question their work is to reveal yourself as a philistine.
The garden shed also owes something to the wine label. As recently revealed, a good wine label actually enhances the enjoyment of the wine. In just the same way, a designer-stubbled creative director, fresh from a garden shed, enhances the perceived creativity of the work presented. It's high time that research validated this hypothesis; the methodology should present no problem.
The same piece of mediocre creative work is presented to two matched panels of clients. The first presenter is an account executive of indeterminate age and ability who presents the work in a bog-standard meeting-room. The second presenter is a stubbled creative who presents the work in a garden shed. The work being identical, the only variable is the presentation (or wine label). Both panels of clients are then required to rate the work, on a ten-point scale, for creativity. It would not surprise me to find that the garden-shed work was found to be significantly more creative than the work presented in a bog-standard meeting-room by a bog-standard account executive.
No wonder executive creative directors are so highly valued. They do not even have to be creative when their very presence can add value to an agency's product.
However, as the astute reader will have spotted, there's a flaw in my wine-label analogy. The wine label has an effect on the ultimate consumer: the drinker of the wine. The garden shed has an effect only on the client - and that only temporary. All too often, the expensively completed work comes as a thumping disappointment: "It seemed so much better when Leonardo first presented it ..."
For the ultimate consumer of advertising to be exposed to the garden-shed effect, every member of the consuming public, individually, would need to attend a garden-shed presentation from Leonardo.
So perhaps, as ever, agencies should concentrate on making exceptional wine - and not worry too much about the packaging. Are you sure you're with the right agency?
Q: I work on what they call a "challenger" brand, competing in a highly competitive category and against corporate megaliths with extremely deep pockets. Since our marketing budget is minuscule by comparison, I believe that we can best build our profile via PR rather than advertising. Can you convince me otherwise?
A: You're starting in the wrong place. What you need is an idea: an idea that captures the imagination and engages the sympathy. Once you've got an idea, you'll be in a better position to know how best to get it across. "We're only No.2" has served Avis pretty well; though I'm beginning to wonder why, after 50 years of trying harder, it still hasn't caught up. That's a dispiriting prospect for new employees. If I were recruiting for Hertz, I'd be inclined to say: "Why flog yourself to death and still come second when you could join the effortless winners?"
Q: We have just won the advertising account for a big fast-food chain and the client, naturally enough, is expecting us to eat their food. I've just lost two stone and pride myself on encouraging health and fitness among staff at my agency. But the client isn't the type to take no for an answer and expects us to eat greasy junk food during all their meetings. How do I get around this?
A: No idea. Get a note from your doctor confirming you as a diabetic? Bring your dog into the office and keep it under the meeting-room table?
Better still, secrete your new intern under the meeting-room table? It's relevant, client-facing experience.
Just weeks after the Governor of the Bank of England has confirmed that we're facing the biggest financial crisis in our island history, I do find your sense of priorities curious.
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.