Q: The following is taken from the introduction to a book I own, published in 1931- entitled "Advertising Administration". "Advertising has been for some years in a transitional stage ..." Is the fact that our industry seems to have been in a state of transition for the past 70 years or so a good or a bad thing? Is constant regeneration more useful than long-term stability?

A: I've never come across the book you mention but judged on this brief extract, it doesn't sound like a very intelligent one. Authors like to include such phrases in their introductions to suggest that they've spotted some immensely important but hitherto unidentified trend - but I can't think of any business that isn't in a permanently transitional state, can you?

Advertising is no different. Some bits haven't changed at all, some bits have changed a great deal and the whole thing evolves on a daily basis.

Superior persons working for media companies and advertising agencies always forget about classified. Classified is the purest and most laudable form of advertising there is. Nobody feels ambushed by classified; it brings together those who want with those who have to the satisfaction of both; it minimises waste and it subsidises the price of newspapers for the rest of us. Even with the introduction of the internet, classified hasn't changed. How could it? It's perfect.

The really big change over the past 70 years has been caused not by the introduction of stuff like the internet and television but by the simultaneous arrival of mass production techniques and higher disposable incomes for many of us serfs.

We've gone from being grateful for a paper bag of digestive biscuits sold loose to complaining bitterly that Asda's run out of mango-flavoured Tabasco.

We are the masters now: and the producers fight each other for our favour.

Once it was mainly advertising they used but quite soon it won't be. Advertising's biggest challenge will come from other forms of advertising which cleverly call themselves anything but advertising.

Q: Do you really think the current genre of irreverent advertising - you know chucking the product over someone - is any good at all? I'm a client and can't really see where it is going.

A: It's going to oblivion - but unfortunately rather slowly. Nobody learns from the past in advertising. Learning from the past is a contradiction in terms and, furthermore, deeply uncool.

If you choose to ignore the long-term effect on the brand (which is tantamount to saying: if you choose to forgo advertising's most valuable contribution), achieving high-impact advertising is child's play; and frequently looks it. Chuck it, smear it, give it to the pet goat or rub it in your hair: this'll grab their attention!!! And indeed it will.

Two years later, when Low Involvement Processing has done its invisible work, the brand will be held in universal disrespect; and nobody will understand why. Except you and me, of course.

Q: We've just read about the agency putting up a garden shed because they heard someone had a caravan and they thought the client would think they were "wacky" too. My chairman has said the pool table is old hat and has tasked me with sorting something similar for our agency. I was thinking a parrot in the gents. "Who's a pretty boy" might go down well with our clients. What do you think?

A: Clients often say: "There's the real world; and then there's advertising agencies." With people like you and your chairman around, who's surprised?

You are in the middle of the worst advertising downturn for 70 years.

You have already abdicated your former role as a senior, serious business partner. Your clients, without exception, are under unprecedented pressure to meet their targets and therefore turning increasingly to hard-faced movers-of-product.

So what do you do in the face of this approaching Armageddon? You think of putting a parrot in the loo.

- 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@ or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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