Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: What is a "Johnson Box"?

A: Invented many years ago by Frank Johnson, this is what one looks like at the top of a direct mail letter or e-mail. Its use increases readership by 126 per cent and response rates by 149 per cent. Not all Johnson boxes are to be believed.

This column contains:

- One fantastic marketing insight,

- One scurrilous story about a famous adwoman,

- Foolproof instructions for becoming a CEO,

- Inside info on a mega-million hot pitch prospect.

Q: I'm a marketing director in a unit trust company and there's an old chestnut I'd like your help in resolving: is it better for my ad to be in the main news or the finance section of a newspaper?

A: As you know better than I, you'll need to decide whether you're going for the ultimate punter or concentrating exclusively on the intermediary.

If you're going for the punter, you'll need large spaces in the main paper filled with evocative pictures, a memorable name and very few numbers. Punters touchingly believe that famous companies will look after their money more carefully than unknown companies - so IFAs find famous names an easier sell. The aim of this advertisement, therefore, is simply to elicit a small grunt of familiarity from the punter when your company is recommended. If you're concentrating exclusively on intermediaries, you'll need smaller spaces in the financial section filled with nothing but numbers. Even after 100 years, nobody knows which is the more effective approach but I expect your agency favours the former.

Q: I'm the chief executive at an agency and have noticed some of the more quirky London shops are allowing their staff to take on projects such as creating comic books, films etc. It's making me think I should allow my staff to flex their creative muscles more, but I'm wondering what the agency will really get out of it, and what will I for that matter?

A: There are two good reasons why you should not only allow your people to take on such tasks but actively encourage them to do so. First, there's a one-in-a-thousand chance that they'll hit the jackpot; this will reflect well on your agency and see you and your partner in excellent seats on the first night.

But most will fail. This is because most creative projects do. However, this is also good news for you. Your creative people will no longer feel that they're squandering their divine talents on the altar of Mammon and will think more kindly of your warm offices, disproportionate pay and indulgent attitude to working hours. Just don't rub their noses in it, that's all.

Q: Are creative awards to adland as Paris catwalk shows are to fashion?

A: It's a deceptively attractive analogy and even partially accurate. It's just that we don't have scent.

Seventy years ago, when James Webb Young first identified one of advertising's key functions as "adding a value not in the product", he might have been thinking of the perfume trade. Whenever the cyclical clamour for unbranded, generic products breaks out, I always imagine with mischievous delight the effect they'd have on the perfume department in Harvey Nichols. There are the usual flawless sales assistants, but now in unbranded identical smocks. And on the stalls, nothing but anonymous, identical, standard-size bottles in anonymous, identical, standard-size cardboard boxes. No fashion-house names, no brand names, no high-design bottle shapes, no moody photography, no Sophie Dahl. At last a blast of rationality! Bewildered chaps can finally choose gifts for their loved ones on the single basis of their smell/price factor. And their loved ones will just love them for that ... won't they?

What makes a 50ml vial of stuff worth £95 is the reputation of the fashion house behind it; despite the fact that fashion and smells have nothing whatever to do with each other. And what makes the reputation of the fashion house in the first place is not what real people buy in real shops but on what gets shown on the catwalk and what Anna Wintour says about it.

It's true that a Cannes Grand Prix may be as far removed from workaday advertising as catwalk is from Primark. But unlike the fashion industry, we still haven't learnt, if you'll forgive the word, to monetise it.

Q: What's the optimum number of agencies to put on a shortlist?


- "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.