Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I read your wonderful speech (Posh Spice and Persil) in which you refer to brands being like birds' nests, and took that big thought on board.

But in an "On the Couch" answer the other day, you referred to the need for a "receptacle" to capture all aspects of the brand's communication. Is this another word for "bird's nest", or is it something different?

A: Many thanks for that "wonderful" - but you haven't got it quite right. It's not brands themselves that are like birds' nests. I invented the analogy many years ago to help explain how real people - you and me, for example - build up the character of a brand inside our heads. And we do it quite unconsciously as a result of an infinite number of brand encounters, some trivial, some not; some calculated, some accidental: direct experience, ads, word of mouth, editorial mentions, discarded wrappers, observed users, chance glimpses, product placements ...

So, I wrote: "We (consumers) build brands in our heads as birds build nests, from scraps and straws we chance upon." (I'm the only person to have pointed out that this analogy is inaccurate on at least two counts but that doesn't seem to have diminished its usefulness.)

The receptacle point is related, but different. For 60 years now, it's been universally accepted that the best of advertisements not only have an immediate effect on sales and attitudes, but also have a cumulative effect on the reputation of the brand. Each ad is literally added to all previous ads. And for this to happen, they clearly require some clear, common and consistent identification device to act as a repository. The name, of course, begins to fulfil this function; but all the more effectively when it's displayed in its own distinctive typography. Schweppes, Coca-Cola and Kellogg are obvious examples. The much misunderstood (and thus much derided) pack shot is probably the most effective storage device of them all. It can absorb all those benign messages; and then, when spotted for real on the shelf, re-communicate them. Packs act a bit like batteries: able to store the equivalent of brand energy and release it in concentrated form later.

I do hope that this improbable mix of metaphor and analogy hasn't compounded your confusion.

Q: My agency has proposed the use of a new made-up word in our next campaign, but I'm unconvinced. They contend that as it's been invented for the brand, it's unique to it, and will be distinctive in the marketplace. I appreciate the strength of this argument, but some of my colleagues are concerned that this device might appear contrived or even "naff". The most strongly opposed of them feel it's simply wrong for us to be abusing the Queen's English. I seem to remember that the famous Andrex campaign used the term "stroft" - did this run into any trouble?

A: The most treacherous word in any strategy statement is the word "yet". Luxurious, yet affordable. Mild, yet full of flavour. Founded in 1682, yet still in the forefront of fashion. The word "yet" first draws attention to, and then concedes, the fundamental improbability of these claims - almost as if they're oxymorons. They leave you wholly unconvinced.

It was hoped that the word "stroft" would gloss over this problem in the way that soft yet strong (or strong yet soft) couldn't. I'm far from convinced it succeeded: the internal contradiction remained all too apparent. But, no - it didn't run into any trouble.

Those purist colleagues of yours who believe that's it's simply wrong to be abusing the Queen's English need to be reminded that the glorious richness of the Queen's English owes everything to its having been consistently abused for the past 2,000 years or so.

I suspect that if your agency stops referring to their recommendation as a made-up name and from now on calls it a neologism, you'll all be able to concentrate on whether it's a good idea or not.

Q: I'm a creative who has recently moved agencies. At my last agency, the executive creative director was quite humble, and always made a point of sharing the credit received for good work with the entire team. All my new executive creative director seems to care about is his raising his own profile and it's really getting to me. What do I do?

A: Resolve never again to change agencies simply for the money. Before you signed, you should have spent a couple of hours in the local pub; you'd have heard it all. For now, keep your head down and get on with it.

- "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.