Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, I work at a top-ten agency and am finding it increasingly frustrating that no-one seems to know or care that the market is changing and that we should be getting involved in digital marketing (blogs and social networks) as well as TV ads. Every time I suggest an idea based on anything non-traditional, my creative director takes the piss. I'd like to move on, but I fear the situation would be just as bad somewhere else. I've even been thinking about setting up on my own but I'm a bit daunted by the financial implications. Are there any agencies that you think are "getting it" or should I think about moving to a smaller specialist?

A: Stroppy people - or at any rate, stroppy people with literary pretensions - are fond of quoting George Bernard Shaw: "A reasonable man adapts himself to his environment. An unreasonable man persists in attempting to adapt his environment to suit himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

A creative director argues fiercely for a production budget slightly in excess of the client's total media budget. The account handler declines to put this proposal to the client. The creative director throws a temper tantrum and is accused by the account handler of being unreasonable. "Exactly!" the ECD cries. "And proud of it! Progress depends on unreasonable men!"

It's one of those "So there!" quotations, like "It's the exception that proves the rule". They're seldom challenged, they bring useful discussion to an immediate end and they're usually wrong.

Your own creative director refuses to accept that his environment has changed. He believes in TV ads and that's it. He makes no attempt to adapt himself to this new environment. He is deeply unreasonable; but far from representing progress he represents retreat. I fear for his future.

And I fear for yours, too, if you hang around.

If your agency had any sense, they'd put you in charge of something: like helping the agency adapt to the new environment, for example. Before you look around, why not suggest it to someone? If there's no-one at your agency who thinks it might be a good idea, then I fear for the agency's future. Setting up on your own would be very scary. There are one or two proper agencies who do already get it - those are the ones I'd go for if I were you. The better headhunters will point you in the right direction. Don't give up; be utterly unreasonable in your persistence.

Q: I notice that some big-spending clients are choosing to run a selection of TV ads and get viewers to vote for the one they like best. Isn't this carrying the search for effective advertising to absurd lengths?

A: We've been here briefly before and it's all quite interesting. It's emerged from a number of studies, both here and in the States, that once perfectly normal people have become respondents in a focus group, they adopt quite a different relationship with the brand. They become proprietorial; the brand becomes their brand; they're much more likely to recommend it to others. This backs up lots of other stuff that suggests the greater involvement people have with a brand, the more likely they are to be brand enthusiasts. So I strongly suspect that the real reason for inviting TV viewers to cast their votes for alternative commercials has nothing at all to do with research or effectiveness: it's just a very cheap way of getting lots of people (perhaps even at their expense? That would be wily) to feel a sense of responsibility for a brand's success. Disciples of experiential marketing are everywhere, these days. I think we used to call it sampling.

Q: A perplexed agency chief executive writes: what's behind adland's new obsession with carbon neutrality? We're hardly environmental sinners on the scale of BP or Shell. Is it a fad or something I should be seriously thinking about for the future?

A: I think it's probably my fault. I wrote a piece last year about the agency selection process and argued that potential clients, faced with a long list of excellent agencies, looked not for reasons to prefer an agency but for apparently objective reasons to eliminate them. The instance I quoted was: "Do you have an office in Kuala Lumpur?" It's so much easier to tell an agency that they didn't get the business because they haven't got an office in Kuala Lumpur than because you found the creative director a wittering wally. This year's KL question seems to be: "Are you carbon neutral?" Being able to say yes won't guarantee your getting it but it might just stop your losing 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.


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