It may be right. It may be good. But is it interesting?

David Ogilvy said this about advertising:

‘You can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.’

Here is the same mantra with the key word underlined by me:

‘You can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.’

As my advertising career began with Ogilvy, I have been interested in ‘interesting’ for a very long time.

In today’s world, is advertising interesting?

First, as any adman knows, we need to do is consider the competition which, in terms of interesting, includes all the other things that compete for people’s interest.

Next, we need to establish whether there are different levels of interesting? Are all interestings equal? Or are some more interesting than others? How interesting does an interesting have to be to get noticed?

Is there a league table of interesting where, like those tedious research questionnaires, there is ‘very interesting’ at the top of the table and ‘mildly interesting’ at the bottom? Or is interesting more ruthless than this? It’s interesting or it’s not interesting. An interesting can be interesting but it can’t be more interesting than another interesting. Is that how it is?

If you are not in, you are out.

Talking of cricket, to Englishmen like me the BBC Radio programme ‘Test Match Special’ (TMS) defines our Englishness by evoking happy memories of a balmy childhood, a poetic love of language, hazy cricket pitches on gentle village greens and the reassuring sound of willow caressing leather as the ball bumbles and bounds and bubbles to the boundary.

This week, England played India at Lord’s, the home of cricket. Here, the imagery reflects a wider, more worldly hue. The Far Pavilions, the Nawab of Pataudi, the flashing blade of Tendulkar, the hustle of Mumbai, the heat of Ganganagar and the chilly foothills of the Western Ghats. A world I have known only in words and pictures. But interesting? Yes, for sure.

This year, I have to confess, and hate to say it as I am aware of the treason of the offence, I have felt a feather of negative thoughts and creeping doubts while listening to TMS. I have begun to feel an increasing banality, a predictability, a repetitiveness I have not heard before.

How can this be?

Is it the prevailing media trend where retired cricketers, captains of their country no less, base their comments on the smug belief that if you did not spend years of your life playing cricket, interesting about cricket you cannot be? These people are beginning to bore me. Sorry.

Lesson One. If people find you interesting, don’t take their interest for granted.

In my lifetime, another media institution has emerged. It is the TV arts programme, The South Bank Show. Earlier this summer there was a profile of John Lloyd, legendary producer Of Not The Nine O’Clock News, Spitting Image and Blackadder.

I discussed John Lloyd in an earlier post. You remember. He’s the guy who said:

‘Intelligence is something you’re given. Kindness? That takes effort.’

Interesting thought, eh?

To me, John Lloyd is very interesting. What interests me most about him is his realisation is that, as a BBC employee, he was not getting a share in the commercial success of the programmes he was instrumental in creating. He realised he would have to go it alone and create a ‘format’ which he owned and could develop and expand and profit from himself.

And what interests me even more about John Lloyd is that not only did he recognise this need but he had the talent and intelligence and drive to do it.

He created QI.

QI stands for Quite Interesting.

And so I find QI interesting but, as you would expect, only quite interesting. Perhaps this is why I rarely watch it. Don’t get me wrong, if nothing else is on, if other people in the room are watching it, I am happy to watch QI. But I am only quite happy. For QI is not very interesting, is it? It is only quite interesting. Actually, sometimes I find QI rather facile and even smug. And facile and smug are not very interesting either, are they? Not interesting at all.

Lesson Two. It is better to be very interesting than quite interesting.

Let’s get back to advertising. Is advertising interesting? It should be. David Ogilvy said so.

Attracting my interest is very difficult. I have admitted my interest in Test Match Special and The South Bank Show. But, these days, I am bombarded with interesting like never before.

I have interesting meetings and interesting telephone calls. I receive interesting email and text messages. I find interesting articles on interesting websites. Interesting people say interesting things and link me to more interesting people and more interesting things on Twitter. My Facebook friends are interesting too. They link me to websites whose reason for being is interesting. I love this priest signing his sermon to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. Interesting? Ok, perhaps not. But fun.

And get this. I never do anything without my iPad by my side. It is always with me. Whenever I am reading or watching or listening to anything interesting, I look up any number of thoughts that come to mind. How tall is that lady? Who did she marry? What films was she in? Isn’t she dead? Questions such as this were interesting to me at the time but the next day, minutes later even, they become irrelevant and forgotten and no longer interesting at all.

Lesson Three. Do not assume that what you find interesting will interest other people. There is a lot of interesting about.

Next year, there will be a General Election. Will it be interesting?

Will the party leaders be interesting?

Will they have interesting things to say?

Will they have interesting new ideas to announce?

Will they develop more interesting ways of advertising themselves to us?

Will they have listened to the wise words of David Ogilvy?

It will be interesting to see won’t it?

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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