Someone out there

Where should advertisers draw the line?In this column, two consumers reflect upon their experiences in the marketplace. A male consumer and a female consumer alternate from issue to issue.Front page stories in the last issue of Strategy dealt with the reaction...

Where should advertisers draw the line?

In this column, two consumers reflect upon their experiences in the marketplace. A male consumer and a female consumer alternate from issue to issue.

Front page stories in the last issue of Strategy dealt with the reaction of the advertising industry to the federal election sweep of the Liberals.

Articles revealed the industry feared the Liberals would ‘meddle’ in such areas as limitations on commercial free speech.

In one article, Patrick McDougall, the new head of the Association of Canadian Advertisers, said the aca had recently adopted a policy ‘to become even more protective of its interests in the future.’

But what are its interests? And are its interests the same as its best interests?

It seems to me that there has to be a line of good judgment in advertising. And that, without government encouragement, some advertisers may have little compunction about crossing that line.

Motivational tapes

On Aug. 23, Strategy reported ‘an unusual opportunity for advertisers.’ The story went on to say that one million tapes called ‘Dream Dare Do!’ were being distributed in Ontario schools to children in grades four to 12.

The tapes contain inspirational and motivational messages from Canadian explorer and entrepreneur Jeff MacInnis, the first man to sail the Northwest Passage.

They also contain 30-second messages from eight corporate sponsors which ‘will be specially developed by the advertisers to speak to children in the same tone as the rest of the tape.’

David Maxted, one of the principals of Maxted-Lau, which produces the tapes, said in the article:

‘These [advertising messages] talk to kids when they’re listening to the tape and are in a state of excitement about their own dreams and desires…. It’s not just a commercial,’ Maxted says in the article.

‘It’s companies playing into the positive benefits of being associated with this,’ he says. ‘If you’re part of something that, in the kids’ eyes, is a positive thing, it’s going to translate into greater sales.’

Why does this remind me of the while-you-sleep brainwashing tapes in Brave New World?

Also in the Aug. 23 issue of Strategy, we get a report on booze pop.

The Vivant Group, of Calgary, is testing an original line of non-alcoholic sodas under the brand name San Jose.

The sodas come in four flavors: Rum-Cola, Rye-Gingerale, Gin-Tonic and tequila-flavored Margarita.

Like candy cigarettes

The article described the products as appealing ‘primarily to youngsters who buy the product and consume it much as they do candy cigarettes.’

The last time I looked, Popeye candy cigarettes (which I remember pretending to smoke as a child) had been renamed Popeye Candy Sticks. Why start all over again with pretend booze for youngsters? I already know enough people with drinking problems.

But maybe the government is not the proper body to regulate the advertising industry.

After all, according to Strategy’s Speaking Directly column of Sept. 6, government departments such as StatsCan are now selling the personal information they mandatorially obtained from us in the process of governing.

So maybe the advertising/marketing industry should police itself in these matters. But some policing is definitely necessary.

Because it is obvious the industry cannot count on all its members to value good judgment over the profit margin. And because every time the line gets crossed, the public gets a little more fed up.

There are backlashes against all kinds of things these days, and I think if you get one against indiscriminate advertising, it is going to be vicious.

So perhaps the industry should stop focussing on the stupid stuff, such as ‘Will people skip work because the cne runs a slightly irreverent ad suggesting they call in sick to attend the Exhibition?’ and start doing something about the scary stuff.

Before someone else does.

On another topic entirelyÉ

I would like to take this opportunity to say: ‘Kudos to The Bay.’

I have had so many bad customer service experiences over the past few years that I no longer expect anything when I go into a store. And The Bay was one of the culprits.

Last Christmas, I watched as a salesperson complained loudly that her shift had ended at 2 p.m. (it was 2:12 p.m.), then left her compatriot to deal (unbelievably s-l-o-w-l-y) with a line of eight customers.

Well, this year, things are different.

Recently, I went to do some early Christmas shopping. All over the store I saw salespeople moving around their departments, straightening merchandise and greeting customers – and in a genuinely friendly way. (Odd.)

People kept beaming at me and saying, ‘Hi!’ Not ‘Hi, let me hang over you until you feel pressured into buying something.’ Just a big, friendly ‘Hi!’ and then they would cruise off – but always seem to be nearby when I needed to ask something. (Bizarre.)

At the cash desks I got competence, smiles, chit-chat and, when I paid by credit card, thank-yous by name. (Wow!)

Once the shock had subsided, I realized somebody somewhere had been training and motivating.

Someone upstairs had started a little Christmas snowball of competence and good cheer and had done such a good job that it was now rolling happily along on its own and growing with each new surprised and pleased customer.

If anything, I had gone into that store ready to have snowballs drilled at me and instead had been completely disarmed. I left the store with $150 dollars of my money in its tills and a big smile on my face, a goodwill ambassador eager to spread the news.

Great work, h.q. And to everyone who was working at the Queen Street Bay store in Toronto on Friday evening, Oct. 29, I’d just like to say: ‘Hi!’ And thanks for giving me a taste of how it can be.