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25 June 2011

The Ad Man

Tag(s): Marketing, People

Advertising is one of the industries Britain does best. The Creative industries as a whole account for around 7% of GDP, not far behind the Financial Services industry.  I have been fortunate in my career to work with and learn from some of the best in the industry including David Abbott and Peter Mead of Abbott, Mead Vickers; Tm Pile of DMB&B who went on to run Sainsbury’s bank; John Bartle and John Hegarty of Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty; Chris Powell, John Webster and James Best of BMP, later DDB Needham; Chris Woollams of Ted Bates who founded WMGO and later formed CANCERactive, the UK’s leading complementary cancer charity. John Hegarty and Chris Powell were both knighted for their services to advertising. But none of them perhaps quite reached the distinction of Jeremy Bullmore with whom I never worked but from whom I have certainly learnt a good deal.

It was therefore a tremendous privilege to be invited last week to the Advertising Association’s President’s Dinner where Jeremy was presented with the Mackintosh Medal which was  awarded annually up till 1979 but only 8 times since then. The Advertising Association (AA) is the industry association, representing all sides of the advertising industry in the UK- advertisers, agencies, media owners and research services. The AA’s role is to promote and protect advertising in the UK by creating and maintaining a climate of responsibility amongst advertising practitioners, encouraging moderation from regulators and building trust with consumers. The AA is the only body that speaks for all sides of an industry worth an estimated £16 billion of advertising revenue in 2011.

Jeremy Bullmore started at J Walter Thompson in 1954, the year before television advertising began in this country. His first job was as a trainee copywriter with JWT in London and he stayed with that agency until his retirement in 1987.Under his creative leadership the agency was responsible for successful and long-running campaigns for Guinness, Persil, Black Magic, Oxo, Mr Kipling, Kodak, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Andrex and many more.

 He was the co-inventor of the concept of account planning in 1968 and has also been a prolific writer about the advertising and marketing communications business and his witty, concise insights and plain talking advice represent a collection of knowledge of inestimable value. He is a regular columnist for Management Today, Market Leader and the Guardian and his weekly “On the Campaign Couch  ...with JB” is one of the industry journal’s most popular features.

Jeremy Bullmore was born in 1929. He went from school to National Service, then to Oxford where he spent two years not reading English but instead did a fair bit of writing.  He became successively copywriter, writer/producer, creative group head and head of television; then from 1964 to 1975, head of the creative department and from 1976 to 1987, chairman, London. He was a member of the JWT worldwide Board and after its acquisition by Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP became a non-Executive Director of WPP in 1988. He stepped down in 2004 to join the WPP advisory Board in which capacity he still serves at the age of 82 on a part-time basis. In 1997 he was invited to contribute an essay on some aspect of marketing communications to the WPP Annual Report and this became a tradition. These pieces were widely reprinted elsewhere in book form and in other publications and contain some of the best writing on the subject I know.

Much of what Jeremy has written may seem common sense but then such sense is not as common as all that. Here are a few examples:

·         “The consumer has a mind as well as a stomach. The advertiser can only succeed if he seeks and earns the willing complicity of his audience.”

·         “It’s always a good question to put to a new client: we all know what you make- but are you as certain what your customers are buying? Simple as it sounds, it’s a constructively difficult question to answer. You make expensive pens; but that’s not what people are buying. What people are buying will be prestige, or personal pleasure, or the hope of gratitude from a recipient.” After giving more such examples he quotes Theodore Levitt’s famous dictum: “people don’t want a quarter – inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole”. And then with characteristic Bullmore logic he turned this round onto his own industry and asked the marketing communications experts what they thought they were really selling.

·         “Products are made and owned by companies. Brands, on the other hand, are owned by people, the public, by consumers.”

·         Bullmore is constantly original but humble enough to draw inspiration from other prodigious minds. Here he quotes from E F Schumacher’s 1973 classic, Small is Beautiful. “In a passage about corporate organisation, Schumacher writes:

“Without order, planning, predictability, central control, accountancy, instructions to the underlings, obedience, and discipline – without these nothing fruitful can happen, because everything disintegrates. And yet- without the magnanimity of disorder, the happy abandon, the entrepreneurship venturing into unknown and incalculable, without the risk and the gamble, the creative imagination rushing in where bureaucratic angels fear to tread – without this, life is a mockery and a disgrace.” Here wonderfully well evoked, are the two nameless and apparently contradictory policies. In honour of Schumacher, they might be known simply as Order and Disorder, but that hardly does them justice. I like to think of them as Time –and- Motion Man and The Mad Inventor.” And with a deft touch Bullmore takes a weighty idea and explains it with a simple and instantly understandable image- the mark of a gifted communicator.

·         “If creativity means anything, it must surely mean the ability to produce and communicate an idea that helps the money spent on his advertising deliver a higher return to the advertiser.”

·         “You read a compelling advertisement for a piece of electrical equipment and you buy it. And then you open the instruction manual.

It is incomprehensible in seven languages.

The advertisement understood the reader; the manual does not.”

After this brilliant beginning Bullmore goes on to underline the vital importance of unifying brand communication at every level because every brand encounter counts. As communication becomes ever more fragmented in virtual worlds as well as the real one this has never been more important.

·         Another source for Jeremy’s wit that he liked to quote is the economist Robert Chambers: “Quantification brings credibility. But figures and tables can deceive, and numbers construct their own realities. What can be measured and manipulated statistically is then not only seen as real; it comes to be seen as the only or the whole reality.” And Chambers summed it all up like this:

“Economists have come to feel

What can’t be measured isn’t real.

The truth is always an amount-

Count numbers; only numbers count.”

From here Jeremy goes on to demonstrate how brand values are derived from emotional as well as rational needs, and that ,while this was identified by the marketing theorists only comparatively recently, it was understood by ordinary people centuries ago.

·         Like all first-rate story tellers Jeremy tells wonderful stories. “Some years ago, a friend of mine was a lunch guest in the Connaught Hotel dining room – and noticed his host first of all patting his pockets ineffectively and then peering miserably at the menu. No word was said: but within a minute, a waiter had appeared with a velvet-lined tray on which were displayed ten pairs of reading glasses of different levels of magnification. My friend, the guest, has been a loyal Connaught user ever since; and remember- it wasn’t even him who needed the glasses.” From this simple example Jeremy deduces A Theory of Mind needed by brand owners to put themselves in the place of customers.

I have had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy on a few occasions, usually at a Marketing Society Fellows’ event where he was the guest of honour. On one occasion he gave his usual polished performance but I thought I detected a slight gap in his customarily impeccable logic so I crafted a clever and witty question. He immediately looked at me and with considerable courtesy and style answered the question in such a way that I could see that it was I who had not followed the logic.

In Jeremy’s typically self-deprecating acceptance speech he emphasised three qualities that he thought were needed in a successful executive: Self Reliance, Bravery and Humility. Over his long career many have sought him out as a mentor and he has always made himself available. But to one ambitious corporate climber who was clearly asking Jeremy to make her decisions for her he counselled: “You know I’ll always be prepared to listen but you must understand that no one cares as much as you do about your career.” To her credit this story came from the lady herself.

And afterwards I went up to personally congratulate the great man. I said I had never been his client but would have liked that opportunity. He graciously acknowledged that he would have enjoyed that too. But then by common assent Jeremy is one of the nicest people you could ever meet and he probably says that to everyone.

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