Just how gullible, how stupid, do  suppliers and advertisers think we are?

Well, they think we are dumb. I’ve worked in advertising for a living, so I can spot the dumb approach a mile off. Fortunately I worked in pharma and healthcare, and in the UK you have to be very truthful or you’ll end up with your arse in a legal sling. But I did do some interesting, and amusing, hours working with consumer agencies in the same group of companies. It was a hoot.

This is something that gets my goat to this very day. ‘Free measuring, free delivery, FREE fitting!’ This is prevalent as a message in advertising for floor coverings, carpets, kitchens, window blinds…

But it’s not free is it? It’s not, is it? It can’t be. All of those things, EVERY single cost, has been factored into the money you pay. No such thing as a free lunch, as they say. I used to point this out to my clients when they said, ‘Thanks for lunch.’

‘Don’t thank me. YOU paid for it. You know that. I know that. Lunch doesn’t grow on trees, fall out of the air. It’s on your tab.’

This attitude didn’t endear me to my bosses all the time, as you know since I’ve told you, but at least I was straight down the line.

I used to get into spirited arguments with my consumer agency colleagues, whom I have to say I liked hugely, with this line. ‘It’s NOT free. That’s misleading, mendacious. Who the hell believes that crap? Even YOU don’t believe it!’

‘But the audience believes it.’

‘But it’s lying!’

‘Advertising is all about bending the truth. Even you do it.’

I had one consumer colleague whom I really liked. Very funny, very insightful, very clever. He was a planner. That’s adspeak for a spin doctor. He was a riot, looked every inch an adman. He really looked the part. Dodgy Michael Bolton hair, some seriously expensive suits, drove a Mazda MX5 (I think that’s a Miata in the US, and is a truly inspired bit of automotive engineering).

Had a brilliant adman surname. Zambardino. That’s a good one isn’t it? You could appear on Judge Judy with that name.

His favourite place for a bite to eat was a really downmarket Italian caff in Brewer Street. Back then eight quid would get you two HUGE portions of pasta, bread, and a litre carafe of wine. For a measly eight quid.

This achingly trendy and funny bloke had a hobby. Know what he did at weekends? He used to go all over the place to watch sheepdog trials. He’d put on his wellies, chuck on a very battered Barbour, and go and stand in a wet, windswept field, watching sheepdogs trying to get six stupidly recalcitrant sheep into a pen*.


‘I spend a lot of time at work not telling the whole truth. Sheepdog trials are all about truth. The dogs are good or they’re crap. But it certainly is true, real.’

I admired him for that.

*I miss Phill Drabble and One man and his dog. This was compulsory viewing on a Sunday for Alison and friends and me, and a big dinner, and a shedload of drink. A standard phrase if we were all out and we were getting annoyed was, ‘Oh! He’s worrying them sheep!’ That would defuse things very fast indeed.