Marketing is like an exceptionally well cultivated organic carrot – seven eighths of it lie below the surface, allowing the gum-booted onlooker to gaze only upon the frivolous fronds above.
How, though, to be sure what the eye perceives atop the manure-larded turf is indeed the foliaceous manifestation of subterranean tuberous life and not, say, a mirage, an illusion, a fantasy? In other words, is the retinal impact of the supposed green and runcinate foliage a true and objective impression of something real or merely a figment upon which the subconscious mind works in order to create a conceptual accompaniment to boiled beef?
I ask these questions as a modest contribution to a debate initiated in the House of Lords, which, even with the death watch beetle of progress in its timbers, bestirs itself to ruminate and digest the matters of the day. Last Friday, their lordships chose to focus on marketing, and, after light introductory speeches by Lady O’Cathain and Lords Borrie and Marshall, the Upper Chamber turned a collective ear trumpet in the direction of Lord Saatchi, who is to marketing what Dr Johnson is to lexicography and, come to that, what Laurel is to Hardy. Such has been his influence that many have come to regard him as synonymous with marketing, its fons et origo. So when he rose to speak, the House readied itself to learn at the illustrious feet that support his slight and elegant frame. Nothing, however, could have prepared them sufficiently for what was to follow, short, perhaps, of a cold, wet towel to soothe the throbbing temple.
Marketing, intoned the Saatchi of Saatchis, is perched between perception and reality. The noble lords had little time to ponder the metaphor hidden there; to imagine perhaps a gaudily plumaged parrot shuffling sideways back and forth along a horizontal pole at each end of which stood the dowdy bird of reality, at the other the stuffed albatross of perception.
“Sensation produced by the same object can vary with the circumstances,” explained Saatchi. “Lukewarm water will appear hot to a cold hand, cold to a hot hand. Colours look different under a microscope. Even the sun in the heaven we see only as it was eight minutes before. What is real? After 2,000 years of human progress it seems the nature of things remains as inaccessible as it was to Aristotle. ‘Fire burns both here and in Persia,’ he wrote. ‘But what is thought just changes before our eyes.'”
Remember, this speech was on a Friday, a day when many of their noble lordships are preparing themselves for a weekend in the country, their thoughts drifting to the crack of gunshot on grouse moor, the breakfast aroma of devilled kidney and kedgeree, the warm welcome of logs blazing in an antique hearth, the tinkle of ice in single malt, the rustle of a maid’s starched pinafore heralding the coronary-threatening glimpse of a well-turned ankle.
If it was indeed into such a reverie that Lord Saatchi introduced the 2000-year-old musings of Aristotle, one can understand a certain restlessness stirring among the red leather benches. But he was not done yet.
“The great philosopher Descartes” – oh, that Descartes – “said he could not be sure that the table at which he was sitting was really there because the only thing about which he could be certain was that while he was thinking that the table might not be there after all, it was definite he was there looking at it, because he thought he was.”
One could forgive those members of the ermined classes present for thinking that the only thing about which they could be certain at that moment was that some bespectacled drudge was talking the most awful piffle and no amount of wishful thinking could make him stop.
Lord Saatchi spoke of Descartes’ universal method for the solving of problems, he dilated upon systematic logical computation and human behaviour, he compared advertising to the Darwinian method of scientific discovery. “The result flows from attention to detail, a habit of being clear, a sceptical perusal of alleged facts.”
Some people, he declared, saw advertising as a mind-numbing substance on which more money was spent than on all the drugs produced by the pharmaceutical industry put together. “Is that belief an illusion?” His voice rang through the slumbering chamber, an empty, unanswered tocsin.
With admirable presence of mind, Lord Hunt came to and intervened to say that Lord Saatchi had run over time. Lord Saatchi concluded with the explanation that he had been trying to describe the “admirable qualities of scholarship which I see as typifying marketing”.
Which reminds me. Marketing is not unlike a Pacific atoll around which a coral reef grows unseen, piece by piece, through the centuries. A process comparable to the slow and imperceptible accretion of a collective wisdom by advertising people which is destined for ever to dwell in warm and comforting depths beyond the reach of those who lack the aqualung of vision and the flippers of comprehension.
As the great philosopher Descartes said – no, not him, his brother – “When the free plastic submarine of conceptualisation in the cornflake bowl of life surfaces through the semi-skimmed milk of realisation, it’s time to put down the spoon of cogitation and have a cup of tea.”