Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm a client based in London and am constantly approached by regional agencies who claim they are as intellectually competent as the big London agencies, but half the price. In your opinion, can this be true?

A: Of course it can be true; or at least the intellectual competence bit. Half the price may be over-egging it a little, but then they are in advertising. Nonetheless, the approach seems odd. Loughborough-based clients complain about having to flog down to London to see their agencies. I'm not sure why London-based clients should be expected to flog up to Loughborough to see theirs.

Q: Is environmentally friendly advertising an oxymoron?

A: A great many people, particularly people who should know better, talk about marketing and advertising as if they were monolithic, single-purpose conspiracies with shared aims and ambitions. "Advertising creates artificial needs", "Marketing encourages wasteful consumption" - there are a great many more. And yet, as I've been vainly pointing out for 36 years now, what we call marketing is made up of hundreds of thousands of companies, causes and institutions - each one operating in highly competitive markets and almost all competing among themselves. The result is a glorious, rough-and-ready democracy in which consumers/citizens are presented with competitive choices. Don't think abut advertising: think about advertisements.

Advertisements can be, and already are, employed by any contender in any sector. In an excellent new book, How Public Service Advertising Works, Peter Buchanan of COI writes: "... public sector communications is a fascinating and dynamic sector, offering a unique set of challenges not usually encountered in the commercial world. Unlike much marketing, it aims to fundamentally change behaviour, often bringing about attitudinal and societal change for the benefit of all."

We're going to need a lot more of this. There's now a grudging, lagging public recognition that our current use of the planet's resources is both toxic and unsustainable - and that changes in both attitude and behaviour (as always inextricably intertwined) are now urgently necessary.

If those changes are going to happen soon enough to save us from a slow, bleak death, we're going to need the best that marketing and advertising can come up with.

So the answer to your question is no.

On 12 September, this column published a letter from Francis MacGillivray: "I am a 16-year-old boy going into year 11 and although I am at an early stage in my life, I am very sure that I want to go into advertising as my career ... I am keen to get more exposure to adland at some well known creative agencies to increase my knowledge and experience in the industry ... Do you have any tips as to how I could approach these agencies without the receptionist dismissing me as soon as I enter their office building?"

We printed his e-mail address - fmac23@googlemail.com - in the hope that somebody out there might be enterprising and public-spirited enough to offer help and advice. I'm now delighted to report that several have: they include DDB London, Archibald Ingall Stretton, CHI & Partners, Ogilvy, JWT, Bournemouth University and the art agency Vue. Francis is ecstatic. So now's the time to give him more advice. After his letter was first published, I received several wise letters from other readers. They implored Francis not to go into advertising until he'd acquired some knowledge of the wider world. I agree. This is what the great James Webb Young had to say more than 50 years ago:

"No limits can be placed on the kinds of knowledge that are useful to the Advertising Man. Indeed, it can be safely said that the broader his education, and the better stocked his mental pantry, the better at his job he is likely to be. Every really good creative person in advertising I have known has always had too noticeable characteristics. First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields."

Or to borrow from Kipling: "What do they know of advertising/That only advertising know?"

So, Francis, I hope we haven't confused you. Keep your interest in advertising; keep reading Campaign; snap up those offers of work experience with real gratitude: but don't forget to stock up your mental pantry and browse extensively in all sorts of fields. Before David Ogilvy became an advertising man, he'd been a researcher, a farmer and an Aga salesman.

- "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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