Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: The other day I saw a programme of TV ads from the past and lots of them were still great - why aren't they recycled and re-used, thus reducing the waste of producing new ads which often aren't so good?

A: Lots of reasons; some sound and commercial and some deeply, shamefully irresponsible. Let's start with the first group: it's much the smaller.

Brands, if left alone, age. Or, to be a little more accurate, when brands are left alone, other competitive brands around them get regularly spring-cleaned and prettified. So that a brand that seemed in its mid-twenties 20 years ago, and hasn't aged a bit since, can quite easily seem to be ready for the retirement home when auditioned against all those sprightly alternatives that have been so lovingly and consistently refreshed. Brands, if left alone, decline. The fact that this is relative rather than absolute is irrelevant. All brands appeal relatively.

So there is a genuine danger that clothing a brand in its old advertising, however wonderful, will very gradually condemn that brand to playing smaller and smaller bit parts. And once a brand is considered only for bit parts, it will never be picked to play the lead again.

There are some exceptions. Brands that put great store by their provenance, or brands that are celebrating more-or-less authentic anniversaries, can use good old advertising to great effect. Persil and Hovis have been doing it recently but neither will be doing it for very long.

Then there are the deeply shameful reasons for good advertising being prematurely retired. It's mostly to do with our old friend churn, what I wrote about recently. New marketing directors, new advertising agencies, new company owners all like to make a public statement: "Things are different round here! We're shaking things up!"

And the budget they hijack in order to make that statement is the brand's budget. The trouble is, the brand may well not need to be shaken up at all. What most successful brands need is constant, affectionate maintenance. The real question to be asked of that wonderful advertising from years ago is not, why aren't they still running it? But why haven't they had the intelligence and sensitivity to develop its precise contemporary equivalent?

Agencies don't often look for inspiration from pack designers. But the best pack designers are brilliant at making deft little regular changes to treasured packs so that, while never seeming to change, the packs never get any older. That's an extremely unselfish skill; they're not using the brand's money to say, look at me! But then the best brand custodians have always been unselfish people.

Q: I have agreed to be on a jury for a prestigious advertising awards jury. Other judges include clients, creatives, producers, writers, broadcasters. I have read the judging guidelines and as usual it's emphatically about innovation and originality. My experience as a consumer is that the most memorable advertising is sometimes not that original - it's just well done and engaging. My touchstone for this is "Compare The Meerkat/Market.com" - not that original, but clever, entertaining and strategically very astute. I think the judging guidelines would exclude it. So I'm not sure how hard to fight for that kind of work in the jury room. What do your 89 years of experience suggest?

A: Long ago (as it happens, 89 years ago exactly), the most prestigious creative award I knew was a Silver Quill from the WPN (or World's Press News). Awards were different then. They weren't assumed to be proof of efficacy or evidence of creativity. They applauded finely crafted pieces of persuasion in which some act of imagination had transformed the potentially banal into a delight. They tended to value what Henry J Heinz or George Washington Carver (or possibly both) set as their personal goals: "To do the common thing uncommonly well."

So I agree with you. Doing the common thing uncommonly well is precisely what a lot of brands need to do - and it's uncommonly difficult. It may well be the most difficult thing in the whole of advertising. I certainly reserve my greatest admiration for those who can do it. So perhaps, when you have your first meeting with your fellow jurists, you could suggest that a special award be allocated for just such a category. Examples are few and childishly easy to identify. And large chunks of the advertising trade - meaning those who appreciate fine advertising even more than fine advertisements - will rise up in gratitude for your enlightenment.

- "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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