Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I was recently talking to a planner who said that in the next ten to 15 years, planners will actually become the main ECD because the successful big campaigns will all be based on an idea thought up by a planner that the creatives will then use as the basis of the campaign and add the sparkle to it. What do you think?

A: For more than 20 years, I was allowed to have ideas. Indeed, I was expected to have ideas; that's what I was paid for. And then I was made deputy chairman - and overnight, I wasn't allowed to have ideas any more. For more than 20 years, because I was a creative, my ideas, even when obviously puny, would be granted serious consideration. After I stopped being a creative, my ideas, even when potentially promising, were summarily dismissed: not so much rejected as resoundingly ignored.

I long for someone to conduct a human version of a blind-versus-named taste test. In trial after trial, two bowls of identical cornflakes are ranked by consumers for tastiness. When brand names are concealed, the cornflakes score equally well. When brand names are attached, the cornflakes stated to come from Kellogg are invariably found to taste appreciably better than those alleged to come from even the most respected of supermarkets. The cornflakes are still the same cornflakes. The only variable is the believed source.

In my experiment, three people would sit round a table, observed through a one-way mirror by a group from an advertising agency. The three at the table are all dressed in similar nondescript manner and identified only by a coloured card: Red, Green, Blue. An advertising brief is discussed and ideas and solutions proposed. Afterwards, the observing group is invited to complete a simple questionnaire ranking the creativity of the ideas proposed by each of the three participants: Blue, Red, Green.

In the second stage of this experiment, a matched sample of agency people would sit behind the same one-way mirror and observe the same three participants discuss the exact same brief and propose the exact same ideas and solutions. Only this time, the participants would be clearly labelled and dressed to match: Creative Director (black T-shirt), Senior Planner (combat trousers) and Senior Account Executive (the full Clarkson). Afterwards, the observing group is invited to complete a simple questionnaire ranking the creativity of the ideas proposed by each of the three participants: Planner, Creative Director, Account Executive.

I'd wager a banker's bonus to a dish of beans that those ideas proposed by someone looking like, and identified as, a Creative Director would greatly outscore those identical ideas when proposed by someone of unknown and indeterminate title.

The obvious point of this delectable experiment would be to nail for all time the stupidity and dangers of departmental demarcation. Ideas should be rated on merit irrespective of source. The best planners have always been extremely inventive and the best creative people have always been scrupulous and instinctive planners. In his timeless and wonderful book, How To Become An Advertising Man, James Webb Young makes no such distinctions. Every honest agency person can think of occasions when the catalyst for a great campaign has come from a suit.

Planners like your friend must be very silly people (the last thing that planners should be) if they believe that the focus of creation over the next few years will simply shift from one department to another.

The successful agencies will be those that recognise that departments remain necessary for recruitment, training and craft morale; but that great campaigns are never created by a process of baton-passing between departments, but emerge from small groups of clever and inventive people who respect each other almost as much as they respect themselves.

Q: Is it really necessary for our head of planning to go to/speak at three conferences a week? He's barely ever in the office and it grinds my gears.

A: No. People who go to conferences three times a week cease to be useful members of the companies who pay them and become instead members of that permanent tribe of travellers that goes to conferences. That's all they do. In theory, they add to the reputation of their parent company. In practice, they add to no reputation other than their own. The good news is that you won't have to fire him. Some competitive agency will be deluded enough to lure him away. Pretend to be devastated while taking on someone at half the price who will actually do useful things on client business.

"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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