Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: What do you call the category of ads that include Shake 'n' Vac (do the Shake 'n' Vac), Chicken Tonight (Ian Wright), Ferrero Rocher (ambassador's party), and esure (Michael Winner "calm down dear")?

And should agencies be producing more of them? I think Dominic Mills once referred to this category as SBTG (So Bad They're Good).

A: Let me complicate things for you. If looked at through the lens of a multi-dimensional matrix, this intriguing category can be sub-divided into at least two categories and probably four.

First: not all bad ads are bad. The advertising community was more or less unanimous in thinking that "ambassador's party" was hilariously bad but a great many real people weren't. A great many real people bought a great many Ferrero Rocher chocolates as a result of seeing it, quite often as gifts. Please do not sneer. They didn't "believe" the commercial any more than they believed After Eight dinner parties over the years - but neither did they gather nightly in stripped-pine bars to discuss the sublime ascendancy of post-modern irony. They simply found the situation, the setting, the casting and the costumes spread a reassuring aura of quality over an otherwise unexceptional box of chox. And that, of course, had been FR's creative strategy from the beginning. So this was an example of an ad that certainly could have been better but wasn't thought bad by those who paid for it nor by those at whom it was aimed; and who continue to be a great deal more important than a few superior admen who've forgotten what they're for.

Then there are ads that initially show all the signs of being good but over time turn out to be bad. Rude ads, anarchic ads, shocking ads, slaggy ads: all enjoy a brief notoriety and usually sell quite a lot of stuff as a result. And then something happens. It's perfectly predictable but no-one predicts it. You can put Benetton, Pot Noodle and French Connection into the same improbable basket. The cheeky is gradually seen to be tacky - which gradually rubs off on the brand. But by then, of course, the marketing director has moved on, so that's all right. Some ads, just like some promotions, do short-term good and long-term harm. They often attract much early praise from the discriminating - who then fall strangely silent when the damage becomes evident. These ads are not So Bad They're Good. They're just Bad.

Unfortunately, all published advertising case histories have happy endings - so every successive generation reinvents the same dumb strategy.

Q: Are people getting over-excited by the number of views of a viral on the internet, when just one TV spot can still deliver an audience of millions?

A: Yes. But only because they spent five years being under-excited about the internet. Sad, really.

Q: I'm a graduate trainee who's due to start my first job, but I haven't heard anything from my agency since they sent me my letter of appointment several months ago. Should I be worried?

A: No point in worrying. It's all over. This agency sent letters of appointment to more graduate trainees than they could afford. So they instituted one last test: they fell silent. The reasoning: in the fast-moving and cut-throat world of agency life, only the aggressively self-confident have a chance of survival. Two of them staged a sit-in in the agency's reception and were shown to their workstations before a single client could complain. And what did you do? You sat at home for three months waiting for the postman and then wrote a weedy letter to the trade press.

Q: Someone keeps stealing my skimmed milk. It wouldn't generally bother me but the company provides free semi-skimmed milk. Should I set up a camera in the kitchen to see who's doing it, then beat them to death with my Corn Flakes bowl? (I wouldn't use my Frosties bowl as it has Tony the Tiger on it and he's Grrrrrrrrrrrrreat.)

A: We're plunging into the worst worldwide recession for 79 years. The Large Hadron Collider, which cost £5 billion and took 13 years to make, has ground to a halt in its 17-mile inner tube under the Alps. Europe's been thrashed by America at golf. A great majority of citizens dislike the Government while showing little positive enthusiasm for any alternative. Advertising and marketing will soon be held solely responsible for encouraging reckless consumption, hence climate change, hence the end of the world. The summer that never started has now finished.

And you're worried about your skimmed milk. Congratulations. You must be Campaign's happiest reader.

- "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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