Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: My agency is recommending the use of some graffiti artists to produce the new campaign for the brand to give it some "street credibility", but I'm worried.

Won't using people who vandalise public property and cause criminal damage send the wrong signal. Or am I being old-fashioned?

A: And what, may I ask, is invariably wrong in being old-fashioned? Eartha Kitt, you may remember, yearned for an old-fashioned millionaire. If you ever wondered what she meant, recent events have made it clear. Old-fashioned millionaires had a million old-fashioned dollars in an old-fashioned bank. That's two good old-fashioned things already. Many modern millionaires would give a lot for both of them - if only they had a lot to give, of course.

It's old-fashioned to believe that advertising, as an uninvited guest in people's lives, should be well-mannered. It's old-fashioned to believe that the most valuable ingredient in a strong brand is an excellent product within. It's old-fashioned to believe that you should never invest in companies you don't understand. Given the choice, I much prefer old-fashioned cricket to Stanford cricket.

Many old-fashioned things are dead daft and some even dangerous. And many other old-fashioned things are old-fashioned only because they've been true for a very long time and remain so. Please, in future, distinguish between the two. To use old-fashioned, as you did, as a blanket term of condemnation is not to be nearly old-fashioned enough. Old-fashioned people would never do that.

Now then, where was I? Oh, yes ... your graffiti.

As you must surely know, the answer to your question entirely depends on the nature of your brand. If you're the marketing director for Steradent, then I'd question whether your agency is right to want to give it street credibility. They almost certainly want to acquire a little street credibility for themselves while piggy-backing on your budget. (An old-fashioned agency would never do that.)

So I'm very pleased that you were old-fashioned enough to consider the longer-term consequences of their advice.

As I'm not personally in the market for anything for which street cred might be remotely appropriate, I'm afraid I can't help you any further.

Q: In a recent article, a well-known female newsreader complained she and the other women on television news were judged by their looks while their male counterparts are not. She went on to say that at age 44, it was "marvellous" to be considered a sex symbol and "at my age, if someone says something nice about my appearance, I am very grateful". Is there anything us marketers can learn from this paradox?

A: Yes. Just about everything. Quite soon, the Silver-Liners will be looking for what they're bound to call The Recession Dividend. And the biggest Recession Dividend will be the heart-warming damage done to the cult of rationality. Sadly, it won't be terminal - but with any luck, it will set the metric-mongers back for a decade or two.

There isn't an economist in the world, or a politician or a commentator, who has a rational explanation, an underpinning formula or an econometric equation that explains beyond challenge not only what has happened to the world's economy but even why it happened. None saw it coming and none can explain it.

This was always inevitable, since every formula, equation or model is founded on the entirely false premise that people are rational; that there are clear, consistent and predictable patterns of human behaviour that can be measured and charted. From that moment on, all conclusions will be worthless.

The newsreader you mention condemns the fact that women on television are judged on their looks and simultaneously finds it marvellous to be considered a sex symbol. You call that a paradox and so would economists: typically female, deeply irrational, internally inconsistent and extremely untidy - so let's exclude it from our econometric model.

The moment you do that, you also ignore the fact that highly intelligent and experienced people, who know perfectly well that property prices can't keep going on up for ever, commit billions of other people's money on the assumption that they will.

The better marketers have always been better at understanding all this than the most applauded economists. The floundering of the experts is a delight to observe.

Long live irrationality. Just make sure you factor it in, that's all.

- "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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