Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, I am a marketing director who's just found out (don't ask how) that I'm being paid less than our HR director and our IT director. Should I interpret this as a sign that my company values marketing less than these other functions? And why is it the case that something so crucial to a company's balance sheet should be so undervalued?

A: When the HR director spends money, new people are hired. The board can meet them and welcome them and perhaps even pinch them to prove they're real. When the IT director spends money, new desktop computers appear on desktops and a new video-conference facility appears in Meeting Room Two. The board makes frequent use of it; and their faces and voices and trenchant views are magically broadcast to an admiring audience around the globe.

But when the marketing director spends money, nothing whatever seems to happen.

What are we getting for all that money? What can I see, touch, pinch? Some ads, perhaps - but they're all very short and mostly incomprehensible. And what's the point of ads if profits don't go up? And why does the marketing director expect to be congratulated for having spent £110 million on marketing when our share of market has gone from 16.55 per cent last year to 16.75 this year? (And please don't give me that line about not switching off an aircraft's engines just because it's at 35,000 feet. This company is not a Boeing 747.)

There, I fear, is your answer. With mature brands in mature markets, much of marketing is a highly skilled and utterly relentless struggle to end the year almost exactly where you started. Sophisticated econometric studies can demonstrate that, in the absence of marketing, volumes and profit margins would have been 17 per cent lower.

But financial directors don't understand econometric modelling. All they know is that marketing directors are always asking for more money and they never have anything to show for it. And, anyway, they spend far too much of their time with advertising agencies.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I'm getting tired of repeating the same old mantra to my clients: ie. that if you continue to advertise in a recession, you will do better than your competitors in the long run. Is there anything else that I can do to convince them to get their wallets out?

A: If you're getting tired of this same old mantra, just think how your clients are feeling. They've just had their worst fourth quarter since 1933, they're bracing themselves to lay off 12 per cent of their marketing department, the chief executive is demanding a budget cut of twenty million big ones, two of their biggest trade customers are threatening to de-list them and another two have just announced that from now on they'll be paying up after 90 days rather than 30.

And it's at this point that you, the airhead from the agency, sidle in to tell them for the umpteenth time that all they have to do is hold their nerve and their advertising budget - and in only four years' time, they will be jolly, jolly pleased that they did. They know, as you should know, that you're talking rubbish.

There's a lot of literature on this subject: more than 150 separate pieces at the last count. Not one of them claims that, if every single advertiser maintains or increases advertising levels, every single one of them will emerge competitively stronger when the recession ends. This is just as well since it would be mathematically impossible.

It's like the junior minister who once enthused that he looked forward to the time when not only Britain's balance of trade was in credit but so was every other country's as well.

Of all that's been written about advertising in a recession, the best, in essence, all say this. Tough times make people think more. When people think more, they re-assess their behaviour: but not all in the same way. Loyalties may be confirmed - or they may be abandoned. Not all treats are seen as extravagance. Something called value becomes even more important; and sometimes that's the same as price but very often it isn't. In times of recession, the kaleidoscope is given a mighty shake.

The point of all this, and demonstrated over 70 years or so, is that the most successful (least unsuccessful) recession marketers are those astute enough and nimble enough to find new patterns amid the confusion and seize the new chances. Every brand's new chances will be slightly different and all gains made will be at someone else's expense.

That's what you should be helping your clients to do. Advertising will come into it; but only when you've settled on your revised objectives. It's what agencies should be doing all the time, anyway; and never more so than now.

- Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.