CLOSE-UP: ON THE CAMPAIGN COUCH ... WITH JB

Q: I found a copy of Campaign on the train and felt I should write. I'd just finished a 27-hour shift as a staff nurse. Can I ask, what do you people actually do that is of any real value?

A: The question you ask is a serious one and I will answer it in a moment.

I'm just extremely grateful you didn't ask me why an advertising copywriter should be paid so much more than a staff nurse. I do not know why an advertising copywriter should be paid so much more than a staff nurse. It used to be argued that those driven by a sense of vocation in some way surrendered their right to competitive pay but I no longer find that at all acceptable.

They may not deserve their levels of reward, but the value of the work that advertising people do can be simply put. By presenting as attractively as possible the competitive choices open to you, they acknowledge and confirm your ultimate influence and keep competitive producers on their toes. You may not always like the way they woo you; but it's a great deal better to be wooed than to be taken for granted: a lesson, you may think, that successive Secretaries of State for Health have yet to absorb.

Weren't soaps originally called soaps because the large detergent manufacturers of the 50s funded the programmes? Why now do people think they have invented the wheel when they talk about programming content as being the next great communications breakthrough?

At least in the States, soaps pre-dated both the 50s and television.

Aurora Dawn, Herman Wouk's first novel, was the story of the eponymous soap that sponsored pan-American radio programmes well before the war.

Sponsored television followed. With no more than the swivel of a chair, anchor persons would turn from interviewing Debbie Reynolds to extolling the virtues of the Kraft Cheese Slice. And it was on the pernicious prospect of sponsored television that British critics turned their fire when the prospect of commercial television was debated over a five-year period from 1949.

As Lord Reith, the redoubtable founding father of the BBC, famously thundered in the House of Lords: "Somebody introduced smallpox into England and somebody introduced bubonic plague and the Black Death. Somebody is trying now to introduce sponsored broadcasting." When ITV finally came, of course, sponsored television was nowhere to be seen.

Instead we had spot television - with each commercial coyly separated from both programme material and other commercials by a seemly starburst.

Today, such fastidiousness seems almost quaint. Automobiles pay fortunes to be featured in James Bond movies and Fay Weldon is commissioned to write a novel about Bulgari.

Content as part of commercial propaganda is certainly not new - though it still leaves me a little uneasy. The wonderful thing about your traditional ad is that all but the irredeemably dumb know where it's coming from. "They speak very well of it in the advertisements" is seldom heard in the 21st century.

Q: Chris Thomas of Lowe writes: Do you think Campaign's brand and authority is diminished by its journalists using disparaging and often very personal attacks about people and agencies from unattributed sources under the guise of "a former insider" or "a senior source"?

A: Dear Chris, thank you for your kind enquiry. I seem to be becoming Campaign's equivalent of the Press Complaints Commission, a role I don't relish.

The Guardian, admirably, employs a Readers' Editor - who examines complaints about inferential journalism and factual inaccuracy and publishes corrections and apologies with wit and grace. Perhaps Campaign should do the same. Meanwhile, I shall believe Campaign's authority is widely diminished only when the Editor receives a complaint from an advertising agency concerning unattributed and disparaging remarks made in Campaign about a competitor. I understand that, in this instance, no such complaint has been received.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. A compilation of his business advice, Another Bad Day at the Office?, is published by Penguin, priced £5.99. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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