Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Dear Jeremy, do you think the ad industry is doing enough to protect freedoms to advertise?

A: As any politician will confirm, no question containing the phrase "do you think you're doing enough to ...?" can be answered in the affirmative. You can't claim to be doing enough about anything without sounding like a smug bastard. So, no: the ad business is certainly not doing enough to protect freedoms to advertise - and there are quite a lot of reasons, of varying levels of respectability, to explain why.

There's the Catch-22 of being in the persuasion business. The more persuasive the case for advertising, the more discounted it will be. "You see? Those creepy people can persuade us of anything!"

The ad business has been known on occasion to defend advertising on the grounds that it's not actually all that effective. This is like trying to defend back-street abortionists on the grounds that they frequently fail to effect an abortion.

Advertisers have often shown themselves reluctant to demonstrate group solidarity. Sweetie-makers distanced themselves from the tobacco barons in the hope of creating a fire break. It didn't happen. Dominos continue to topple.

The simple concept that anything that may legally be sold may also legally be advertised has long since been conceded.

There may not be a huge number of popular votes to be gained from attacking advertising but there are none whatsoever to be gained from defending it.

Above all, the best case for advertising has relatively little to do with advertising. Countries and markets both work best as a result of muddly bottom-up participation rather than tidy top-down imposition. And the only way muddly bottom-up participation can work is through what has been called The Principle of Competitive Persuasion. It infuses our legal system, our politics and our buying behaviour. We're exposed to many different views, probably contradictory, certainly mutually exclusive. We listen, or not. Absorb, or not. Apply reason, or not. But it's how we decide whether the man in the dock is innocent or guilty, who will form our next government and which pair of trainers we'll buy next.

What needs to be better understood and defended is not standalone advertising but advertising as a smallish part of the principle of competitive persuasion. And the case will be best made by those who dislike most advertisements, have no direct or indirect interest in advertising and who probably despise it as a trivial trade attractive to minor talents and mountebanks.

I bet you wish you'd never asked.

Q: How do you think the creative director's role will change over the next five years?

A: There are 217 creative directors in Britain - and 191 of them will hardly have to change at all over the next five years. The ones who'll have to change the most are the High-Profile Twenty-Six: the Cannes-juried, yellow-Pencilled, TV-addicted, London-based creative directors who had the great misfortune to get to the top in advertising at exactly the wrong time and are only just beginning to realise it.

Outside London, and in direct marketing companies, design houses, digital agencies and brand consultancies, creative directors have remained firmly in touch with reality. They know what they are for. What they're for is to fill any given unit of time or space with words, pictures, sounds and silence; and with such skill that the consequent response of the audience is greatly to their clients' benefit. Simple, isn't it? Undoubtedly extremely difficult to do: but timelessly simple, endlessly flexible, and applicable to all media old or new.

These are creative directors who want to go round the factory; both actually and metaphorically. They enjoy the business of business and imbue their departments with the same enthusiasm. They've never insanely insisted on approving every last item of work before it goes to the client; they hire well, delegate with confidence and practise trust. They know that certain accounts demand work of a kind that will never get them to their feet at the Grosvenor House; so they instinctively praise such work internally and reward its authors.

For a depressingly long time, many of these 191 creative directors felt in the shadow of the High-Profile Twenty-Six; they envied them their salaries, their suits and their occasional appearances in the national press. Sometimes, calamitously, they even tried to emulate them.

Now, and not a moment too soon, it's time for the High-Profile Twenty-Six to learn from the 191. I wonder if they will.

- "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.