The function of marketing is not that it should be liked, or even admired. At best it should be invisibly effective, like a car’s engine. All the same, marketers are human. If you prick them, do they not bleed? If you poison them, do they not die? So it must come hard when marketing is loathed.
Yet from time to time, that is the feeling it arouses. When football clubs routinely change their strip to extract money from the legions of devoted but gullible, it’s marketing that’s reviled; when a defeated batsman makes the long walk back to the pavilion to the loudspeaker accompaniment of “Hit the road, Jack”, pea-brained marketing is the culprit; when centuries-old inn signs are replaced by The Slug and Strumpet, you don’t have to look far for the perpetrators.
Occasionally the victim of such opprobrium is genuinely startled. Like a compulsive wife-beater caught in the act and arrested, the marketer cannot comprehend why conduct that is to him both natural and commonplace should occasion interest, let alone criticism. Camelot, for example, seemed touchingly hurt when research showed that while the Lottery was liked its organisers were not. Nothing learned, however, the company resolved to solve the problem by changing its name. As if cupidity and cant by any other name could smell more sweet.
Sometimes, marketers brassily seek to defend the indefensible. A spokesman for Scottish & Newcastle, though anonymous, nevertheless contrived to make a name for himself when, in defence of the Rat and Parrot chain, he declared: “Names have to change because pubs are dynamic, living entities reflecting the world around them and the customers they serve.” As a loyal servant of the brewing company, he may be relied on to agree that Scottish & Newcastle is itself a dynamic living entity reflecting the world around it. So why isn’t it called Jock & Geordie?
For sheer brazen effrontery, however, the prize goes to Trevor Beattie, the creative genius behind a campaign on behalf of fashion retailer French Connection. His philosophy, or possibly mission statement, is: “I have two views on advertising. One is that it should always be simple with a single-minded message. Secondly, it should get noticed, because otherwise you’re wasting your money.”
As a credo, that is neither original nor exceptionable. It is when he moves from the abstract to the concrete and shows us his work that we see Beattie for what he is. We shall never know the quantity of midnight oil that was burned as he laboured towards the fulfilment of his task, the quires of paper torn up and discarded in despair as he inched painfully towards the elusive goal of perfection, the hair torn from his scalp, the nail bitten from his fingers, the ulcers cultivated in his stomach. What we do know, however – and is there for us to admire – is the triumphant product of his art. Not since Michelangelo tore the sheets from his sculpture of David and the world gasped for all eternity, has there been such a revelation.
What, we wonder in wild surmise, is Beattie’s simple, single-minded message? It is – hold on to your hat – fcuk advertising. That’s it. Two words. And before you say the man can’t even spell, remember they all laughed at James Joyce, and Evelyn Waugh couldn’t spell either. Fcuk stands for French Connection UK. So there we have it, revealed before our delighted eye – a play on words.
We know Beattie wants to get noticed, for he tells us so. But there are many of getting noticed. He might have tried style, wit, inventiveness, guile, artistry, elegance. But like a six-year-old schoolboy at the back of the class for whom all but the simplest mode of expression is denied, he waits for a silence and fills it with a low but audible utterance – “Bum” maybe, or “Poo”. His and the small boy’s aim are identical – to shock by saying something naughty in an inappropriate place, and in so doing to be seen as daring and admirable. In a more enlightened age, the fitting response was a swift clip round the ear. The Advertising Standards Authority attempted something similar and called for the “fcuk advertising” campaign to be changed on the ground that it was offensive.
But Lilli Anderson, a spokeswoman for French Connection, said the company would have none of it. In defiance of the ASA, the advertising would appear in several “style magazines”. French Connection would fight to the death for its brand’s right to be cheap and tacky. “The logo is meant to be a bit of fun,” she explained, “for people to do a double-take and smile.” Like a trompe l’oeil in an Italian baroque mansion, fcuk invites us to look and look again and, the mystery resolved, to share in some small way the ingenuity of the artist. Or perhaps it is like one of those witty little piles of joke shop dog excrement that bring a wry smile to the face of the sophisticate.
Either way, a question remains. Beattie says the message should always be simple and single-minded. What is the message of fcuk? The Daily Mail’s Lynda Lee-Potter has a crack at the conundrum. It is, she says, “If you want to get laid, wear our clothes.”
I prefer to think Beattie was misquoted. What he meant to say of his work was that it is single and simple-minded.