1. How can I stop my hairdresser talking to me when she’s cutting my hair? I know they are trained to engage with customers, but all I want is some peace and quiet to catch up on GQ and Nuts.
It’s with great joy that I’m able to share with you an anecdote recounted to me long ago by Harry, Lord Tennyson, then an unconventional account person at J Walter Thompson.
Harry had been sitting in his customary silence in his customary cubicle in Geo F Trumper’s barber shop (est. 1875) in Curzon Street, W1.
The next cubicle was occupied and also silent; until, that is, Harry heard the unseen barber clear his throat and advance an observation: "Getting a little bit thin on top, Sir."
There was a considered pause; after which the unseen client responded, entirely without heat, as follows: "If we are to descend to personal comment, I might in turn observe that your fingernails are far from clean and your breath would fell an ox."
The silence returned, never again to be broken.
I’m sure you can modify this exchange to suit your particular purpose.
2. My old mum loves jingles. I love jingles too. Why doesn’t my agency’s creative director?
Your mum is a real person. Your creative director isn’t. Your mum is unaffected by fleeting fashion. Your creative director isn’t. Your mum remembers Murray Mints, while your creative director remembers Shake n’ Vac. And, finally, your creative director badly wants to win a Cannes Lion, while your mum isn’t
It’s the word jingle that has killed the jingle more or less stone dead; and that’s a huge pity. Jingles were powerful and popular advertising devices from the earliest days of American radio. These days, agencies and their clients go to huge lengths to encourage their messages to go viral. A good jingle goes viral like spontaneous combustion – and stays viral for decades. Altogether now: "We are the Ovaltineys, little girls and boys. At games and sports, we’re more than keen. No merrier children could be seen, because we all drink Ovaltine. We’re happy girls and boys!"
For a country as good as Britain at both advertising and music, it’s more than slightly shaming that simple cultural snobbery scares us off from employing such an engaging and effective trick of the trade.
But it must surely be nearly time for the jingle’s return; and the first agency brave enough to mount the first big comeback will almost certainly open the floodgates. But I bet they won’t call it a jingle in the press release.
3. Why didn’t the Encyclopaedia Britannica see the internet coming?
It did. Just as Kodak saw digital photography coming. The difficulty arises when you have to do something about it. As the chief executive, you can either spend the next ten years and billions of bananas denying and destroying everything your company has believed in since 1884; or you can eke out a declining existence just long enough to be able to hand the company over to your luckless successor.
4. Are people kidding themselves when they make a distinction between ‘bought’, ‘owned’ and ‘earned’ media?
Only a bit. And only if it leads people to pretend that only "bought" media actually costs money. I still think it’s more helpful to make a distinction between media that goes looking for people and media that people go looking for. That’s the really important distinction and one that should influence every aspect of execution.
5. I’m told that failure makes you more successful but, if so, why am I so risk-averse?
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the value of failure is preached exclusively by the highly successful? That’s because, in the history of mankind, no error-free plodder has ever achieved heroic status. To achieve heroic status, you need to be seen to have been a bit of a goer; to have stuck your neck out; to have defied convention; to have pushed envelopes, invited risk, challenged orthodoxies and deliberately set out to flout the rules.
When these glorification tales are told, often autobiographically, they invariably have happy endings. We hear very little about those who obediently followed such advice; who piled failure upon failure, waiting in vain for the promised return; and who ended their lives puzzled and destitute, their tombstones reading: "I failed at everything. What more could I have done?"
6. What’s the best thing to tell the troops when you’ve lost a new-business pitch? ‘We came second’ or ‘The winner bought the business’ or ‘We never liked them anyway’ or ‘On to the next one’? My business partner has suggested I say ‘Sorry, it was my fault for contradicting our pitch logic during the Q&A’, but surely this will undermine people’s confidence in me?
It was when your head of planning finished his polished peroration and you said: "I think what Brendan was trying to say is actually not that you should be the challenger brand, as he might inadvertently have implied, but rather that you should pre-empt the generic qualities of the entire market."
That’s when you lost the business, and everybody knows it. So there’s no need to tell the troops anything.
7. Dear Jeremy, I’m a junior creative who has been working on an ad that is getting ridiculed in the press. The creative idea was my partner’s, but I didn’t have the guts to tell him (and our executive creative director) that I had an instinct that the spot would get a bad response. Should I speak up now, or hold my tongue?
Not for the first time do I recommend a valued correspondent to put himself into the shoes of others.
This ad is being ridiculed in the press. So you say to your partner: "You know, Barry, I always had an instinct that this spot would get a bad response. And if you remember, the creative idea was yours, not mine. So I thought in a spirit of openness I’d make this clear not just to you but also to the ECD."
If you expect Barry’s response to be one of gratitude and admiration, then the very best future you can hope for yourself is to become Britain’s oldest junior creative. And even that’s more than you deserve.
Partner means partner. Bouquets and brickbats equally shared. You can’t pin the turkeys on him and keep the picks for yourself.
8. In the 70s, Stanley Pollitt used to advise account executives that, when choosing a wine for a client lunch, ‘about halfway down the claret list’ was best. Given price inflation, is this still correct?
Do you, by any chance, work in procurement? Even 40 years later, halfway down is still halfway down.
9. Do you believe there’s a grain of truth in every joke, including those at someone’s expense?
Despite what a great many tellers of jokes clearly believe, a joke isn’t a joke until it has been found to be funny by an audience.
And why a joke is found to be funny is because, in the decoding of it – what’s called "seeing the point" – some truth, some observation, some insight is revealed.
All jokes start as hypotheses: "This should make people laugh: I wonder if it will?" In this respect, jokes are much like ads. "This should make people want it: I wonder if it will?" But, with jokes, you know the answer instantly and, with ads, you may never.
10. Dear Jeremy, What’s your view on hamsters in the office?
I have no view about hamsters in the office. I do have a view about the sort of people who write to their trade periodical asking if they have a view about hamsters in the office.