Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I've told a client a lie. Not a big one, but enough to trouble my conscience. Being a good Catholic boy, I feel compelled to confess, yet by doing so this may compromise the agency I work for - and ultimately cause me immeasurable grief. Holy shit. What should I do?

A: I know that in principle, principles shouldn't have a sliding scale but in practice they do. If this lie is not a very big lie, then I don't see why you're so keen to come clean. What's more, good Catholic boys don't say things like Holy shit. Just shut up and keep going.

A: At dinner parties, I tend to get attacked from all sides on how immoral the ad game is and always end up trying (and failing) to defend the industry. What's your response to the old line "Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a bucket of swill"?

A: Do please pay attention. I addressed this question as recently as April 2004. However, I suppose you may be a relative newcomer to our business so let me go over it again.

Next time you're confronted in this manner by one of your sanctimonious fellow guests, first call the entire table to order and then respond as follows. (You would be wise to commit your answer to memory; reading from a prompt card lacks a certain spontaneity.)

"Ah, yes. 'Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket.' A remark usually attributed to George Orwell, as you probably know, though it's occasionally credited to G K Chesterton. It's a fascinating allegory since, as I'm about to demonstrate, it beautifully evokes one of advertising's most priceless social contributions.

"Let me begin by reminding you about the nature of swill. Swill satisfies the most stringent demands of social scientists. Instead of kitchen waste being consigned to landfill sites where it contaminates the countryside and contributes nothing to the concept of sustainability, it is instead consigned to a bucket. Tap water is added and sometimes mash. A stick is employed to stir it to an appetising consistency. Swill is nutritionally well-balanced and strongly appeals to the most discriminating of pigs. Swill is wonderful stuff.

"All that is now required is for the pigs to be alerted to the swill's presence. This is most efficiently and economically achieved by striking the stick (the same stick that had been previously used for stirring, so no second stick is required) against the sides of the bucket. Spurred by this simple signal, the delighted pigs will soon have their snouts in the trough. They will grow fat and healthy and in due course provide ham, bacon and succulent Sunday roasts for their owner's appreciative family. Waste has not only been eliminated but has become productive. And the cost to the farmer? Nothing but his labour."

Your dinner table will by now be in thrall. You take a sip of wine and continue.

"Feeding swill to swine is as admirable an example of recycling as you are likely to find. But, of course, for the cycle of recycling to be successfully completed, that which would otherwise have been waste must be brought to the attention of those who will find it of value. And as Orwell (or very possibly Chesterton) so perceptively saw, the banging of that stick in the swill bucket is a perfect metaphor for the function of classified advertising.

"Long before sustainability became fashionable, long before local councils provided us with multi-coloured wheelie-bins, long before charity shops, advertising has been minimising waste through the efficient connection of those who have with those who want. We in the advertising profession are intensely proud of our contribution to a more sustainable world and are deeply grateful to G K Chesterton (or very possibly George Orwell) for having so colourfully captured it and brought it to the attention of a wider public."

You have finished. Your questioner will be silenced. You have done your bit to persuade a roomful of doubters of your industry's important social and economic role.

As a bonus, you will also have ensured that you never again get invited to a dinner party.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I'm an account executive at a well-known media agency. I recently committed career suicide by sending an e-mail complaining about the overbearing, demanding and downright nasty character that is my boss, to my boss. He's called me in for a meeting after he gets back from holiday in a couple of weeks. Is there any way that I can avoid being unceremoniously shown the door?

A: No.

- "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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