Close-up: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I run a contract cleaning company and had to deal with the most revolting mess at an agency recently. They obviously had a huge party and thought nothing of asking my staff to clear up vomit, and worse, the morning after. What course of action would you advise?

A: The less I know of a subject, the greater the confidence I feel when expressing an opinion about it. I know nothing whatsoever about contract cleaning, so I find this one of the easier problems to have come my way.

You have chosen to earn your living by cleaning up the mess made by other people. You should therefore be grateful to this agency, in much the same way that career policemen should be grateful to the criminal classes and the Salvation Army to Satan.

All three of you pursue hopeless aims; which is just as well, since success would put all of you out of work.

If your workers regularly arrived at a client's offices to find the carpets hoovered, the wastebaskets emptied and the lavatory pans frothing with thickest-ever Domestos, your contract would very soon be terminated.

Ad agencies should be familiar with this paradox. They complain bitterly about consumers' reluctance to consume - while failing to acknowledge that it's only this reluctance that keeps them employed. What both agencies and contract cleaners should do is adjust their fees according to the unpleasantness of each task. Vomit - and its advertising equivalent - could become quite attractive.

Q: All our competitors are striking up branded-content deals with production companies and broadcasters. I'm afraid we've missed the boat - is advertiser-funded programming the Mecca it's made out to be?

A: You're much too young to remember; but when the forces of reaction were arguing against the Television Bill of 1954, they chose to call commercial television sponsored television. The allusion was to US broadcasting, with the implication that sponsorship blurred the distinction between editorial and advertising and left the consuming public either confused or misled. So it was that the eventual Television Act permitted only spot advertisements, chastely distanced from surrounding programme material by at least 1 1/2 seconds and a decorous starburst. There was something reassuringly unequivocal about such strict segregation, but it's long since gone. Although I mourn its passing, it's hard to argue that the foundations of society have been fatally weakened.

Just why programme material is now called content escapes me. Advertiser-funded programmes have existed in America for 60 years and more. In this country, they will join the other 56 varieties of commercial media that enable brands and people to encounter each other. They will be no more of a Mecca than any of the others. So, no: you haven't missed the boat.

Q: I am the boss of a medium-sized agency. I'm a bit of a conservationist, and I'm seriously thinking about following the lead of St Luke's and making our processes more environmentally friendly. How do you think the market will react if I start shouting about our new green credentials?

A: Shouting, irrespective of subject, is not an environmentally friendly activity. By shouting about your new green credentials you will, and just as unintentionally, achieve the same result as the late Lord Longford when he wrote in The Tablet: "Several years ago I published a book on Humility, which, to my certain knowledge, has yet to be improved upon."

There's nothing disreputable about doing worthy things in the hope that they may contribute to your material success. Boasting about them, however, exposes your motives, so denying you the credit you didn't deserve in the first place.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone: (020) 8267 4683. He welcomes questions via or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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