Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm an ad exec and the media agency my client is using has come up with, in my view, a very lame and expensive content idea for the brand that will add absolutely no value whatever.

Sadly, the client is keen and doesn't mind throwing away a good part of his budget on it. Do I take him to one side and tell him he's wasting his money?

A: Does this client of yours have a consistent history of buying lame and irrelevant creative ideas? If so, it doesn't say much for your stewardship of his business. Or up till now, has he seemed to exercise good judgment - properly questioning the inadequate and recognising the excellent when he sees it? If so, you must ask yourself, why has he fallen for this lame and expensive content idea? And why don't you agree with him?

If you take him aside and tell him he's wasting his money, he'll know exactly why you don't agree with him. Your nose is out of joint, that's why. You're peeved and aggrieved; pained, piqued and deeply put out. You're displaying unprofessional objectivity failure. You just can't bring yourself to accept that a media agency (a media agency, for crissake!!!) should not only have the impertinence to come up with an idea but actually a good idea at that.

So by taking your client aside and telling him he's wasting his money, you'll affect your client in two ways. He'll conclude that your personal vanity precludes you from putting his interests first. And any lingering doubts he might have had about the media agency's idea will be instantly dispelled. From that moment on, it will be a silent battle between the two of you: your client will be grimly determined to prove the media agency's idea was an extraordinary success - and you'll utterly fail to disguise your obsessive desire to see it fall flat on its face.

Being known to pray for your client to make a public fool of himself is never good for client/agency relationships. If the media idea can be made to seem a success, you're dead in the water. And if it's seen to be a dismal failure, you're also dead in the water. How could your client live with your smirking countenance after that? He'd have to call a review, wouldn't he?

Q: I'm a marketing manager for a household FMCG brand, which has a long heritage. Lots of brands seem to be jumping on the nostalgia bandwagon, celebrating their anniversaries and referencing ads from decades past etc. I am loathed to go down this well-worn route, but our agency thinks it's the right strategy for the current climate and I can see some of our rivals are doing well out of it. Do I call a pitch and get new ideas, or stick with the easy option of retro charm to see us through the recession?

A: We've been here before, and quite recently. Making profitable use of a brand's long heritage doesn't need to involve nostalgia. However humble, a brand with a long heritage starts with an advantage; and one, when you come to think about it, that isn't entirely irrational.

Account planners, quite rightly, do their best to deconstruct brands - and identify and isolate their key attributes. Boston grids proliferate. But consumers don't deconstruct brands, particularly familiar household brands. They're either good or not so good. Or in the case of cakes, exceedingly good. If asked to say in what specific way their favourite brands are good, consumers loyally do their best but struggle. They don't use adjectives in their heads. Give them multiple-choice answers and they'll make honest attempts to answer - and in the process be unwittingly misleading. I've been trying to avoid the word holistically - but that's how real people see brands. A long heritage is not just handy for cosy image reasons. A long heritage provides that rare component in a brand's make-up: evidence.

Any stuff that's been around for that long; that's gone through wars; that's seen off fancy new competitors and fancy new fashions; that's faced the scepticism of every new generation only to win them over; stuff like that must be very good stuff indeed, mustn't it? Stands to reason.

Not that you should spell all this out, you understand: you don't need to. The brand's fans will happily fill it all in on your behalf. But any brand idea that doesn't, however subtly, acknowledge the brand's past and provenance will perversely be failing to play the brand's best card.

Q: I'm a hot male person in an agency and I'd like to wear cool shorts and sandals to the office like most of the fit women do - would this be a bad career move?

A: I'm afraid what dooms you is your need to ask.

- "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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