Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Phil Peters writes: Dear Jeremy, I have an obsession with Lester Wunderman. Should I be worried?

Dear Phil, many thanks for your question. Is your obsession with Mr Wunderman of a personal nature? If so, I must tell you right away that this is not that kind of column. I've assumed, therefore, that your obsession is professional - and am, therefore, delighted to try to help.

For at least 60 years, thinking people in advertising (yes, Phil: even 60 years ago there were some) have wrestled with one particular chicken-and-egg conundrum. In marketing, does a change of attitude precede a change in behaviour; or does a change in behaviour precede a change in attitude?

High priests of brand imagery and cutting-edge advertising have no doubt: great ads (particularly great TV ads) can transform the reputation of a brand from boring to ball-breaking with just a few exposures. Great ads can turn sows' ears into silk purses and dross into 24-carat gold.

As a result, new buyers flock to buy, old buyers buy more and supermarkets grant 50 feet of extra shelf space. It therefore stands to reason: changes of attitude precede changes in behaviour - a belief warmly welcomed by brand owners since it relieves them of the need to introduce costly product improvements. Image is all; and ads are what image is made from. There are far too many faultlessly documented case studies for this theory to be contemptuously discarded.

Putting an alternative view, for almost as long a time period, has been the object of your obsession, Lester Wunderman. In Being Direct, he wrote: "My own psychological preference is behaviourism, which relates directly to experience. I believe ... that experience provides meaning, which then modifies behaviour, and it is behaviour that creates deeply felt attitudes." He believes that the logical successor to brand image theory is the brand experience: "a gestalt that includes the advertising, the package, where and how the product is sold, the price, the consumer's satisfaction from using the product, the service provided, the continued renewal of the product's uniqueness, and the development of an interactive relationship that bonds the buyer and seller after the sale is made." All this, ten years ago: perceptive then and even more telling today.

There are times when I feel that the which-precedes-what debate is about as fruitful as attempting to decide which is the more important wheel on a bicycle. But the object of your obsession, I believe, is more open-minded in his appreciation of the image-makers than they are of him. And the reason? Good old-fashioned snobbery. Wunderman invented Direct Marketing; Direct Marketing is Below-the-Line; Below-the-Line is Beyond-the-Pale.

Let us not sully our CVs with such blue-collar stuff; we are, after all, architects, not mechanics.

The loftily creative agencies stand to gain more from a study of Wunderman than even the DM agencies: though they may have to read him wrapped in a copy of Art and Illusion. So I congratulate you, Phil, on your obsession: you've chosen well. (Now please don't tell me it was personal after all ...)

Q: Is media-neutral planning just yet another buzzword or should I be asking our agencies to start doing it?

A: I take it you're a client rather than a holding company? Good. Then, yes, you should; and what's more, you should have been doing it for the past 20 years or however long you've been working.

Agencies, inevitably, have favourite media. Unsurprisingly, the media they favour are the media they consume themselves. Some media are sexier than others and better at making creative teams famous. I am not being critical in making these points: agencies have nothing to be ashamed of.

Unless, of course, they divert your money from those channels that would be most cost-effective for you into channels that are more socially gratifying for them.

That's all this buzzword is getting at: a reasonable requirement to make of your agencies, I'd have thought. For more enlightenment, read Lester Wunderman (see left).

Q: My new agency has a hot-desk policy. Fine in practice, but when I stationed myself at one of the few untaken seats last week, I was told in no uncertain terms that the managing director always liked to sit there, and I should move on. How can I best stake my claim to a regular space without appearing like a German tourist?

A: Sorry to be pernickety, but I expect you mean it's fine in theory? If so, I can't agree. I think it's rotten in theory - which is precisely why your managing director declines to practise it. Why don't you all conspire to follow his lead? That should fix it.

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