Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, the ad and fashion industries are being attacked on two fronts: the former for creating obesity by promoting foods and drinks and the latter for causing anorexia by using skinny models in photo shoots.

If people are exposed to the imagery in both these two areas of mass communication, how can these polar opposite effects occur simultaneously? Since food ads almost never feature fat people, but fashion ads nearly always show thin ones, the role models on display are average to thin, so why do people end up gaining weight when you'd expect them to lose it? Is it because people with overweight tendencies only "see" advertising for appetising foods and drinks, whereas incipiently over-thin people only "see" size zero models? How does this work? What happens when they go shopping? Alice in Wonderland.

A: Dear Alice, you show every sign of being one of those Jesuitical advertising people who twist every argument to their own advantage and accept no responsibility whatsoever for society's problems. It's true that you expose, in the critics' accusations, an inconsistency of logic that borders on the hilarious; but all that demonstrates is an advertising person's ability to twist every argument to their own advantage. The more convincing advertising's defence of its indefensible trade, the more obvious it becomes that such subversive powers of persuasion need to be legally curtailed.

What you ignore is that Britain is fortunate enough to contain a few serious and well-intentioned people who are conscientiously attempting to protect millions of other people, sadly less intelligent than themselves, from harmful influence. Major influences include parents, peer groups, editorial matter, films, television, computer games, the internet and genetics. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for well-intentioned people to protect the vulnerable from most of these influences: the internet and genetics being two of the more intractable. But these people have to be seen to be doing things: it's what they're for. So who can blame them from homing in on ads and fashion snaps?

It's not enough to be right, Alice. You also need to be reasonable.

Q: An art director writes: "My creative director has just discovered (or possibly thinks he has invented) the internet. Now, whenever we pitch ideas to him, he wants to know how it's going to work online and how we're going to make something that will be a big hit on YouTube, and says Web 2.0 a lot. When will it all end?"

A: For about ten years, your creative director has held firm to the conviction that the earth was flat. Overnight, he has seen the error of his ways; he now knows the earth to be not only round but edible. That's the way it is with men of certainty: they invariably overcompensate. They swing from being deluded in one direction to being equally deluded in the other - while leaving truth languishing somewhere in the middle.

So you have two choices. You work as you presumably like to work: by ridding your mind of poster sizes, 30-second lengths and live links and opening your mind to an Olympian Brand Idea. One of the ways you can tell that you've found an Olympian idea is the obvious delight with which it welcomes all media, platforms and channels. At this point, cheat. Work up the online version only and storm into your creative director crowing with triumph. When the congratulations have died down, express concern about its ability to adapt to more traditional media. This will confirm your creative director its divine suitability for YouTube. The rest is a doddle.

Your alternative: find another creative director - one who realises that the internet is nothing more than an extremely interesting addition to a long-established family. There aren't that many but there will be soon. Perhaps you should become one?

Q: Are the days of the all-powerful creative director over?

A: Oh, I do hope so. Though, of course, they never really existed. There were influential creative directors who combined thoughtfulness and talent; who acted as example, inspirer and editor-in-chief. But there was always an excellent planner to hand and an account executive of almost supernatural selflessness. They were great creative directors, all right, but they were never all-powerful, nor did they aspire to be. There are still some around. There were also, of course, the tyrants, the bullies and the blackmailers. They were granted great power but were greedy for more. And so it went on until they ended with none. I don't think they'll be back.

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

Topics