Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm an advertiser and am beginning to feel the language used by both myself and my agencies ("creative agency", "above the line", "integrated" etc) is increasingly irrelevant and a little out of date. Can you provide any clues as to how the lexicon of advertising will evolve?

A: You're quite right: most advertising language is irrelevant and out-of-date. Oddly, it always has been. Take this "above-the-line", "below-the-line" nonsense; it probably derived from an ancient distinction between commissionable and non-commissionable media. For purely book-keeping purposes, company clerks would draw a line under the commissionable items - mostly main media - before proceeding to list non-commissionable stuff such as merchandising material. Almost immediately, this distinction became imbued with social significance. Above-the-line work clearly belonged to the officers' mess: well-bred, well-mannered, effortlessly superior; while below the line was just as clearly below the salt: sergeants' mess at best, vulgar, a regrettable commercial necessity. You certainly wouldn't want your daughter to marry below the line, goodness me, no.

Against all good sense, this absurd distinction has survived; and, as a result of neologisms such as "through the line", has even been given spurious legitimacy. If anyone reading this knows how these fatuous phrases could be expunged from common use forever, please don't keep it to yourself.

"Creative agency", of course, is relatively new; or rather, has relatively recently acquired a new meaning. It used to mean an agency that was unusually creative. Since apartheid, it refers to any agency, however uncreative, that isn't a media agency; and this at a time when media agencies are getting increasingly creative. No wonder you're confused.

For the future, the first move must be the rehabilitation of the word advertising. Marketing people should use it as the whole of the rest of the world uses it: to mean any of that stuff that gets put out about brands and stuff. (Please: not marcoms.) When making distinctions within advertising, the obvious route is by medium (eg. poster advertising, internet advertising, in-store advertising, urinal advertising). I realise that media now seem to be channels and platforms as well -but since we're in expunging mode, let's expunge them, too. Meanwhile, do please keep up the good work. Agencies and media will adopt an intelligible language only if their clients insist on it.

Q: I've just left my ad agency to become the marketing director at a big client of that agency. Do you have any advice on how I should manage the relationship, given I have friends and enemies at my old agency?

A: While you were still at the agency, it was easy enough to tell your friends from your enemies. Now that you hold the key to everybody's future, and everybody's acutely aware that you hold the key to everybody's future, it's going to be more difficult. If I were you, I'd start with that reliable device, the JokeMeter. Next time you're in the agency bar, loftily accepting drinks, tell the worst joke you know.

Your friends will shake their heads reproachfully. Your enemies, in a transparent attempt to re-ingratiate themselves, will laugh excessively.

The real trouble will start when it's blindingly revealed to you that the work you so stoutly championed while you were at the agency has never been nearly good enough. This will happen within your first month. Please resist the temptation to call an agency review. There are almost certainly people in your agency who for years have secretly despised the work you so stoutly championed and would leap at the chance to do something different. Give them a go. Tough on your old team, perhaps, but not nearly so bruising for the agency. You might even make friends of your enemies.

Q: An agency chief executive writes: "My planners seem to spend as much time blogging as they do planning. Should I have a quiet word about what seems to be turning into an addiction in strategic circles?"

A: No, not a quiet word: a very loud word. And lots of them. Of all the agency skills, planning depends most on rigour, accuracy and precision. Blogging tolerates their opposites. You can get away with sloppiness, guesswork and unconfirmed memory in a blog; and lots of bloggers do. Their defence: others will post additions and corrections so it'll all sort itself out in the end. That won't wash when trying to identify precisely what a client should be hoping to achieve with his 12 million bananas.

- "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.

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