PERSPECTIVE: IPA's Shared Beliefs raises a question of principles or parody

I must say I was very pleased to be sent a copy of the IPA's new

book, which purports to explain the industry's core principles for the

first time. Most of all, because it proves, without a shred of doubt,

that I know as much about advertising as anybody.

For, even though this small hardback is the culmination of a three-year

qualitative research project and should, by rights, challenge simple

advertising journalists with its profound insight, I understood every

single word. And so did my two year-old son who read it all on his own.

In three minutes. While watching Bob the Builder. It's really that


The book is called Shared Beliefs and was initiated in 1999 by the IPA's

Value of Advertising Committee when "it became apparent that there was

no single compendium of the core views of the philosophies pervading the

UK's advertising, media and marketing communications agencies".

Given that the list of influential books written about advertising has

to be one of the longest documents in the world - from Rosser Reeves'

doctrine of the USP to Ogilvy's Confessions of an Advertising Man - that

premise in itself is somewhat debatable.

Anyway, project Shared Beliefs started life some 40 years after these

classics were published with a spectacularly inane title and two phases

of qualitative research with senior people in IPA agencies.

From that was born the book and where does it take us? Well, nowhere in

particular, as it happens, which is good because it's a fantastic

illustration of the fact that much of the power of good advertising lies

in the instinctive reaction to a good idea and cannot be distilled into

a book of principles. Especially a book that shows on its front cover

two paper cups linked by a piece of string, on its first spread a fuzzy

picture of some people in a crowd, on its second a close-up of some

sperm all swimming in the same direction, on its third a collection of

18 Elvis lookalikes and on its fourth a picture of an ant carrying a


Get the sense that for the first time we have a book explaining the core

principles pervading the business? No, me neither. And that is because

it doesn't, and there are no principles that define advertising - only

systems, experience and talent.

Oh yes, there are some principles in there. For example: "Start with an

end in mind. Creative thinking is the lifeblood of advertising. Keep

your finger on the pulse. Be different. It ain't just what you say but

the way you say it."

Truly, this is the kind of stuff that deserves parody on the Diary page

but, since it is already a parody of the industry at its most inane, I

will spare you the pain. I'm sorry IPA, but, as someone would never say

in a L'Oreal ad, I just don't think this is worth it.


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