Here is a very short Seasonal Quiz.
Question: What does Gift Advertising have in common with Michael
Portillo, June Whitfield and the Labour Party?
Answer: They all have multiple audiences.
I once saw a notice on the outside window of an extremely pretentious
restaurant which read: ‘Staff Wanted. No Experience Necessary’. If I’d
fancied a go at being a wine waiter at Chez Gourmet, I’d have been
pleased by this news. As someone who was thinking of eating there, I
Even after 30 years, political parties still haven’t worked out how to
deal with television cameras at party conferences. The audience in the
hall, the party faithful, united in their allegiance and emboldened by
their numbers, is ready for more-or-less anything as long as it’s
unreasonable. Labour leaders at the Sheffield rally just before the last
election gave them premature triumphalism. Michael Portillo at the last
Conservative conference gave them a heady whiff of xenophobia. On both
occasions, the audience in the hall became inflamed with love and
But the cameras were also there, snooping and eavesdropping and relaying
these hot responses to another audience at home. And the audience at
home was altogether cooler: remote and heterogeneous; composed of many
hundreds of thousands of small, sceptical, half-attentive domestic
units. The audience at home loved neither the Labour leaders nor Mr
Portillo. Stoically uninflamed, they registered instead severe
disapproval. And between them, they accounted for a great many votes.
Both the Labour Party and Mr Portillo learned the hard way that you
forget about multiple audiences at your cost.
Convenience foods had already learnt it. They used to think that their
only audience was buyers and servers: ‘Makes a dishonest woman of you’,
promised the domestic caterer that she could get away with it; but the
promise was made in front of the family, the eaters, the real consumers.
These days most convenience foods wisely take their convenience for
granted and go all out on quality. Quality’s of interest to all
audiences - another lesson, perhaps, for Mr Portillo.
And then we have Gifts.
Gifts are different from every other purchase we make. Gifts have only
one initial function: to occupy the space within a parcel. We buy gifts
not because we want them but because we want to get rid of them.
The point of giving is to earn gratitude and affection. We want
recipients to open our parcel and look at us with wondrous, shining
pleasure. We want them to think that we have been imaginative and
thoughtful; that only we, in our sensitive, perceptive way, could have
conceived of that particular present for that particular person. So why
then, I sometimes wonder, does anybody ever choose anything that’s been
advertised as an acceptable gift ten times an evening on national
television since early October?
And, even more puzzlingly: why do some peddlars of gifts put all their
emphasis on how astonishingly cheap their products are? I can only
suppose that, like Mr Portillo and Chez Gourmet, they’re forgotten about
that other audience.
Jeremy Bullmore is a non-executive director of the Guardian Media Group
and WPP Group