A very prestigious but exacting brief. The marketing director has passed us an idea from the chairman's wife, which I have to admit is rather good. In fact, very good. In fact, I think it is brilliant. We can't go back and represent that with a few tweaks, can we? We would have to hand back our fees.
A: Oh yes you can. In fact, you must. You've been granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to demonstrate commercial integrity, incorruptible creative judgment - and the chance to show off outrageously for years to come while enjoying a growing reputation for humility.
You may be a high-end consultancy already; but play this card well and there's no procurement officer in the world who would dare to try talking you down. (You have only one problem and I'll come to that later.)
Tell the marketing director you think it's brilliant.
Tell him you'll need to give it those few tweaks, certainly - not because the idea itself demands them but because there will be a couple of production and application requirements that the chairman's wife couldn't have known about.
Don't get even close to implying that you've made a creative contribution.
You will, of course, because you always do, have to put the chairman's wife into research. Unless your judgment is catastrophically deranged (in which case you'll be writing me a different sort of letter quite soon), the chairman's wife will emerge with flying colours.
When the fantastic new packaging is launched, throw a party at your own expense.
Invite the world's press.
The guest of honour, naturally, is the chairman's wife.
Give her total and fulsome credit and shower her with praise. This will ensure that she showers back.
She will confess to having been herself uncertain about her amateurish designs until they'd received your professional endorsement. She will go into raptures over your open-mindedness and generosity.
Her husband, the chairman, and the marketing director will stand and listen and glow and nod and clap. Your fee, as yet unmentioned, now won't need to be mentioned. It is safe.
The press coverage will be extensive and entirely positive.
And you will be reminded of one of the creative industries' most tested truths: creative reputations are built at least as much through association as through performance. Your company, simply through association, will benefit hugely from work that you've proudly told the world you didn't do. Nifty, eh?
There is, of course, just the one problem that I mentioned earlier. Most of your company, not least your designers, will be bitterly opposed to the plan I recommend.
But don't expect me to sort that out for you as well. Can't you make any decisions on your own?
Q: David Felden from Hemel Hempstead writes: Dear Jeremy, I have another question. What makes a good advertisement? Is it one that other people tell me is good but I don't quite understand myself?
A: People who know absolutely nothing about advertising have no difficulty whatsoever in knowing a good ad when they see one.
People who know a great deal about advertising often struggle (see Private View any week).
The reason is as simple as it is obvious. Both groups use the word good - but use it to mean totally different things.
Knowledgeable people worthily wonder if the ad will work: will it be persuasive, will it achieve its objectives, will it more than justify its cost? If so, that's good.
Ignorant people judge ads not on what they do but on what they are - just as they've judged catchphrases for the past few hundred years. The good ones tickle their fancy and the bad ones don't - simple as that.
The ones that do, they mimic, and so clothe themselves with proxy wit. When virals work, that's why.
When people tell you that an ad you don't understand is a good one, it's nothing to do with the ad. They're telling you that they're cleverer than you are.
Q: Hey JB. Bgr me. Lst tme I hd 2 lrn a lange wz at skl! Ths txtn stf has kld rt of cnv n lng cpy ad. Mjr dis. Wht u tnk?
A: The arts of conversation and long copy have not been killed off.
They've committed unassisted suicide. txtn nt glty.
- "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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.