How off Burghardt are Base and Burghardt?

On Dec. 12th, Barry Base and I did a Siskel and Ebert. We rose up off the printed page and went live, sharing the podium at a Strategy conference on Advertising Effectiveness.

Of course, deadlines being what they are, I’m writing this before the event, and you’re reading it after. (We were terrific.) But I’m going to get myself totally confused if I try to juggle all my verbs into the past tense, so please bear with me.

The title of our session – we didn’t write it – is ‘How Off Base Are Base and Burghardt?’ I’ve got to tell you, I’ve got a problem right there. In this politically correct era, when Toronto calls its public spruce a Holiday Tree, I don’t see why Barry is entitled to the extra plug. I think Strategy should promote the event at least 50% of the time as ‘How Off Burghardt Are Base and Burghardt?’ Those of us who weren’t born with cute punnable surnames have rights, too.

But I guess there’s meaning in the title. I guess what they’re going to do is attack us in public, with questions like ‘What gives you dorks the right to criticize hard-working adpeople twenty-five times a year?’

It’s a valid question. Base tends to answer it with the Gordie Howe Defence: time in grade. Barry and I have lasted a long, long time, creating ads and running agencies, and we’re not only still standing but making a buck and attracting clients. That gives us a right to spout off.

My answer is a corollary to the above, known as the Woody Allen Defence. Said the Woodman, ’90% of success is showing up.’ Barry and I have met our Strategy deadlines, bi-week after bi-week, for almost a decade each. This adds up to over a third of a million words, or 500 square feet of newsprint which Brunico Communications would otherwise have had to fill with ‘Compliments of a Friend’. This too gives us a right to spout off.

Whatever, we do it. And the plan is to ask us how we do it.

I have a response all tucked away. The estimable John Bradley of Cadbury, who will be chairing our slugfest, has provided me with a historical reel of the great Caramilk campaign, dating way back to its origins in full black-and-white.

I try not to use the word ‘great’ loosely, I just used it about Caramilk, and I stick to it. The campaign has been a) consistently witty and entertaining, and b) has a powerful selling idea (The Caramilk Secret: How do they get the good stuff inside the chocolate?)

In one of the spots I’ll show, a sleazy hustler willingly sells his soul to the devil for The Secret, as the final super silently proclaims, ‘IT’S WORTH IT.’ Nice. Nice nice nice nice nice.

But. But but but but but. The most lauded single commercial in the whole long-lasting Caramilk pool, the one placed in the Clio Hall of Fame, is not, from this pew, a great commercial. It is not even a very good commercial. It is a creative wank.

The spot shows Leonardo da Vinci painting, from life, the Mona Lisa. Let us avoid the elitist possibility that much of the commercial’s audience thinks that Da Vinci does inquests. Let’s just concentrate on the joke in the commercial.

The joke is that the Mona model takes a bite of the chocolate bar and smiles, winding up looking uncannily like the original in the Louvre. The casting director deserves an award. So does the makeup person. But the joke, the punchline, the commercial ask-for-the-order, has nothing to do with the long-running Caramilk promise!! It is a generic ‘This stuff tastes good’ punchline, of the kind that has finished a thousand food commercials long consigned to the dustbin.

Yet because they thought it was cute, a bunch of ad guys voted the spot into the Hall of Fame. They are wrong. I am right.

Everybody who agrees with me, stand up. Everybody who disagrees, throw tomatoes. Hey, I can’t wait to see how this comes out.

Oh, I forgot again, it’s over by the time you read this. Damn. You should have been there.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING * CREATIVE THINKING.’ He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072 or by e-mail at