Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: My colleagues are obsessed with playing "jargon bingo" during meetings and I'm really worried the idiot client whose language we're taking the piss out of is going to finally twig. What should I do?

A: You're not only taking the piss out of this client; you're also taking his money. That should worry you quite a lot even if your idiot client goes on being too stupid to notice. If your colleagues think it the height of wit to mock a client while lifting his loot, they must be depressingly juvenile. That should worry you even more.

Nonetheless, becoming all po-faced and reading them stern lessons about morality (as I was on the brink of doing) is unlikely to do much good. So rather than ordering them to stop their silly game, ask them to play another one.

Between you, compile a list of every bit of marketing jargon your client has ever used.

Then agree a translation in simple English for each one. (Inside even the densest jargon, there's usually a reasonable point struggling to get out.)

Next time your client resorts to a favourite phrase in a meeting, compete among yourselves to introduce the translation - subtly, of course. The first to do so scores two points. Every subsequent use of the plain English alternative scores one point. And when the client himself, now equipped with a phrase that actually conveys what he means, finally uses it himself, you all get five points - and points mean prizes. (Resist the temptation to shout Wowee!!! every time this happens.)

And when, undetected, you've finally weaned your client off all his risible circumlocutions (strike them from your list one by one), work out who's won and award yourselves lavish gifts. It won't be as much fun as jargon bingo - but don't underestimate the warm glow of virtue that you'll all be able to wallow in.

Q: I'm just starting out on a career in advertising and I've realised that most people are football supporters and spend lots of time talking about their team. The problem is that I've always been a rugby fan, which I'm learning is a bit of a minority sport in adland. Should I adopt a football club so I can join in the conversation?

A: Cast your mind back: to school and to college. Who were the individuals most roundly despised? You know the answer perfectly well.

They were the Creeps.

The ones who clustered round teachers and prefects and captains of teams. The ones who were always first to laugh at their heroes' jokes. The ones who boned up on Auden because Sir was known to like him.

The ones who needed to breathe the vicarious air of others because their own was so thin.

Agencies have their heroes, too.

And they also have their Creeps. For a year or two, Creeps do disconcertingly well: many heroes find creeping congenial and Creeps advance in their slipstream. But in the long history of advertising, and to its great credit, no Creep has ever made it to the top spot.

Creeps, because their own air is so thin, eventually run out of breath and fail. Their heroes disown them. At which point the Creeps round on their heroes, on their company, and on their trade. They complain of the shallowness of the advertising business when the shallowest part of it was always them. Some find employment elsewhere. Have I answered your question, I wonder?

Q: David Ogilvy said: "Search all the parks in all your cities; you'll find no statues of committees." But surely Rodin's "Burgers of Calais" statue by the Houses of Parliament is of a committee?

A: And as someone else said (perhaps you?): "If you're going to be an alec, you might as well be a smart one."

You know perfectly well what David Ogilvy meant - and why he meant it.

But there's an interesting thesis to be written on the difference between committees and groups. It's probably true that committees have never invented anything either useful or shapely - but groups can be formidable.

It is the conflation of the two that, particularly in our trade, leads to groups being unjustly maligned and individuals over-honoured.

Q: A few years ago, the World Health Organisation warned that we were all going to be wiped out by Sars.

Then it said we were going to be decimated by bird flu and, more recently, swine flu. How should we react to its next apocalyptic announcement?

A: With insouciant vigilance.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4919.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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