Bill Bernbach is famous for saying many things, but one of his most
celebrated quips has passed into business folklore. ’A principle isn’t a
principle,’ said the wise Bernbach, ’until it costs you money.’
Was Bernbach the originator of this little gem of a phrase, or did he
merely appropriate it on behalf of the advertising industry? Either way,
its relevance to this particular business is somewhat tenuous. When has
advertising ever been feted for its strong principles, still less for
waving goodbye to a wad of dosh in adherence to them?
Sure, there are agencies that refuse to even smell the filthy lucre of
the tobacco giants or toy manufacturers - principles to which I
personally wouldn’t subscribe but which (like all good hypocrites) it
warms my cockles to know someone, somewhere holds dear.
But let’s be honest, advertising and principles are not well-known
bed-fellows. Of course, this is a business peopled by fine, upstanding
professionals, working tirelessly to sell more cat food/crisps/toilet
roll. And it’s also an industry that’s more professional, more
results-focused and a nicer place to work than ever.
But examples of corporate ethics that go as far as turning down the odd
five million quid or so of billings are rare and tend to be the domain
of the established players who, arguably, have the luxury of being able
to afford such professional morality.
When a smaller, newer, local outfit working hard to carve out a decent
business and make some money turns down a big client on a principle,
then that’s some principle.
So what’s the principle behind Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy’s
decision to part company with its Bosch client just six months after
scooping the account? On the surface it appears that a few bruised
creative egos are to blame. Miles Calcraft’s work ended up simply being
fodder for a German agency to adapt. Oh, the shame of it.
Yet it does a disservice not only to Miles Calcraft but to all agencies
with a passion for what they do to dismiss this as a case of luvvies
throwing their pencils out of the pram. When you’ve gone through the
pain of a pitch, the triumph of a win and the birth of your first work,
to then accept a role as a secondary agency, simply supplying creative
ideas for another shop to mould into a fully fledged campaign, would be
intensely demoralising and potentially detrimental to your creative
This is a principle which may have cost Miles Calcraft a pounds 5
million account but one from which the agency emerges with its integrity
and fledgling creative credentials intact. For any new(ish) agency
struggling to make its mark and carve out a niche, nothing can be more
precious. I wonder whether the German agency required to adapt the Miles
Calcraft work takes a similarly proud line on its creative product?
Caroline Marshall is on maternity leave email@example.com.