I’ve never met Trevor Beattie – so I’ve absolutely no idea how impish* he really is. Some of us are naturally impish; some of us aspire to “impishness”; and others have impishness thrust upon them. But in Trevor’s case, I rather suspect we shouldn’t be fooled by the bubble perm and the regional accent.

Both Trevor and the organisers of the conference at which he staked the remnants of his reputation on the efficacy of the five-second commercial will have been vaguely aware of the proposition that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

These are desperate times – and there’s surely every justification for the adoption of desperate measures. And yet… there has been talk recently of horse meat in the advertising food chain – and this is a prime example.

But perhaps we shouldn’t dwell on the less funny aspects of this episode.

Clowning was reinvented for the modern era (the so-called counterculture era) by a creative team comprised of Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. The latter is almost completely forgotten now – and the former is perhaps best remembered as Inspector Clouseau. But his greatest creation was one of his last – Chance in Being There.

Chance, a chronically autistic gentleman of advancing years, is, by happy happenstance, adopted by the Washington power elite, who read insights of searing profundity into his every banal observation.

It’s a scenario of increasing familiarity in our neck of the woods. Having suffered something of a collective nervous breakdown last year, the advertising industry is terribly vulnerable to the blandishments of the idiot savant. Its critical faculties have been particularly dulled when it comes to certain rather predictable aspects of the avant-garde, with everyone petrified lest they be accused of being a Luddite.

Happily, some few have escaped with their faculties intact – and in the wake of Beattie’s pronouncement, which was picked up by national news outlets, there was gleeful speculation in some quarters about how he’ll sell the death of the 30-second commercial to a real client in a real pitch. Oh, said one commentator, to be a fly on the wall at that meeting.

I don’t reckon that’s the issue, though. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that this is effectively a done deal. Many clients are as good as signed up to the idea of the five-second spot. The real fun will begin when marketing directors, currently more than living up to their hard-earned reputations as the court jesters of British industry, start telling their chief executives that, with revenues flat-lining and time running out, they now propose to sign up to the advertising equivalent of homeopathic medicine.

When creative geniuses are accused of having a laugh, they often offer up what used to be known as the Christopher Columbus defence – the notion that pioneers are almost always mocked by unimaginative dullards.

And actually, in all truth, I’ll have to admit that I have some sympathy for this defence.

Because I too have experienced such mockery. People used to laugh when I told them I wanted to be a humorous writer – well, let me tell you, they’re not laughing now.

* There’s a more appropriate word than this: but it escapes us.


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