Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: My digital marketing manager keeps referring to "white hats" and "black hats" in the context of discussions about the rising cost of PPC and the "natural search" option, assuming I know what he's talking about. I daren't ask him because he says he's a digital native and I'm worried he'll call me an immigrant, but is it the "black hats" who do the "unnatural search"?

A: Stop being so feeble. Your digital marketing manager doesn't assume that you know what he's talking about. He's gone to extravagant lengths to make sure that you don't. All insecure professionals, from Euro-zealots to management consultants, protect themselves from deserved exposure by adopting their own incomprehensible idiom.

Try practising the phrase: "What does that mean?" Ask it not humbly, apologetically or aggressively; ask it in a tone of simple curiosity. You'll be astonished to discover just how ordinary and obvious everything digital really is.

Q: If the anti-car lobby succeeds in persuading the Government that 30 per cent of the space in a press ad or poster should be devoted to a "CO2 health warning", will this accelerate the trend to lower emission vehicles?

A: I've become obsessed by a phenomenon that has no name.

Take these two examples.

While desperately attempting to understand just how the world's most respected financial institutions came to behave with such criminal fecklessness, I've heard two equally convincing explanations. The first, that there was too little regulation. And the second, that there was too much.

In several cities, the introduction of speed bumps and traffic lights has greatly improved pedestrian safety. In several other cities, when traffic lights and speed bumps have been eliminated, pedestrian safety has been greatly improved.

What's going on? It is, I suppose, the nanny effect. Going to the shops when you're only six is a dangerous business - but when you're with nanny you feel safe; you're someone else's responsibility. Then, for the first time, you go to the shops without nanny; and you proceed with such caution that you're even safer.

Increasingly, governments behave like nannies; and the more they do, the safer we feel. We're someone else's responsibility. When we drive through residential streets, dutifully stopping at lights and slowing down for speed bumps, our behaviour's been governed; so we feel perfectly entitled to speed between bumps. Take them away and we're on our own again; reclaiming responsibility for our own actions, doubly alert for small children and wayward cyclists.

It seems that our great financial houses felt so reassured by the existence of the regulators that they didn't feel the need to regulate themselves. If only, they say, all regulations had been scrapped they'd have behaved like the six-year-old nanny-less child: wholly responsible for their own actions and therefore obsessively cautious.

As you'll have spotted, this analysis doesn't help. It's clear that neither tight regulation nor loose regulation works. To be effective, you have first to introduce regulation: and then, disconcertingly, remove it. The only way to keep people behaving responsibly is to keep them in a constant state of uncertainty.

Putting CO2 health warnings in car ads would simply lull people into the belief that somebody else has taken over. This would be just as ineffective as not putting health warnings there in the first place.

I do hope this has helped.

Q: An agency chief executive writes: I have a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach. The end of year is coming. That means the press sharpen their pencils and put bloated assumptions of my agency's 2008 performance in their magazine. It's not that we've had a bad year. It's just our bunker mentality means that we haven't really had time to speak to the press (or return their calls) all year. Any ideas how I can swing the odds back in my favour at this late stage?

A: You could invite them for a piss-up - but they'd simply drink you dry and then write what they would have written anyway. ("You cannot hope to bribe or twist/Thank God, the British journalist".)

You could offer them an astonishing exclusive: you've been incommunicado all year because you've been working on a vast secret brief for a Russian oligarch. But they'd simply add derision to their existing contempt. So just make a note in your 2009 calendar: must try harder.

- "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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