Baseline: Advertising in Review: Simplicity that works

I had lunch with an ex-client of mine the other day, who spent most of the time regaling me with outrageous tales of mutual loathing and raw ineptitude featuring the conceits and sins of his current agency.(My friend is one of...

I had lunch with an ex-client of mine the other day, who spent most of the time regaling me with outrageous tales of mutual loathing and raw ineptitude featuring the conceits and sins of his current agency.

(My friend is one of those marketing people who’s locked into a shotgun relationship with an agency he hates like poison, yet can’t fire, due to some convoluted collusion between distant tyrannies beyond his control.

(I suspect such hellish binds have become a major new Distinctly Canadian Dilemma!)

As evidence of the craziness and sheer malevolence of this outfit, he cites the fact that the creative director swears flat out that it is not possible to make a 30-second television commercial in this country for less than one hundred and thirty thousand dollars.

I thought, Wow, there’s a guy with a sense of history!

It’s rumored the average Canadian commercial still costs four thousand dollars per second to produce, but a lot of spots are a long way off average these days.

I’ve done five national 30s for my Young Drivers of Canada client in the past year, for a total outlay of ‘way less than a hundred grand.

And, in some areas, like animation, it appears to me that technology, plus The New Frugality, have dramatically reduced the cost of putting something respectable on air by 50% or more, versus a decade ago.

Reconfirmation of the notion that Necessity is the Mother of Invention is as close as your next World Cup soccer broadcast on tsn.

There, apparently in pursuit of first-generation ethnic audiences, Canadian Airlines International has mounted an opportunistic, funny, imaginative and positively spartan campaign of spots based entirely on one single black-and-white photograph per 30, which demonstrates breathtaking fiscal restraint in a category traditionally addicted to Megabuck productions.

The least distinguished spot pans across a fuzzy b&w photo of a soccer-playing kid suspended in mid-air, and asks, what’s the difference between a kid from Brazil and a superstar, and answers its own question with the estimate, about 10 years.

And, of course, Canadian serves Brazil.

More, well, adventurous, is a spot that pans over a family photo of what appears to be a rather plump, proletarian butcher, perhaps, and his plump, proletarian wife and child, posed in a moment of stupefying Germanic ennui, while the voiceover recites Germany’s past World Cup triumphs and current possibilities.

Join us for this roller coaster of emotions is the final v.o. plea as we continue to stare into these blank, bored, placid faces.

(Well, at least they don’t patronize the target group!)

The killer is a treatment of a shot taken in a pub. Gloomy, grumpy, angry, working-class Brit faces glower upwards at an out-of-frame, over-the-bar television.

The track notes that England, having failed to qualify, must sit out this tournament, and wait in national humiliation till 1998 at best.

Then, a bright idea! Why don’t we fly back over ‘ome on Canadian, and watch this agonizing spectacle with ‘em? After all, misery loves company!

Actually, the World Cup telecasts provide a revealing sampler of special-interest, niche marketing tactics.

MasterCard is there, pushing Pele, for goodness sakes, as though we should be impressed a mythic, foreign hero from a forgotten age has been bribed to shill for a credit card. (Or, perhaps it’s recycling international pool spots from 15 years ago, who’d know?)

Sharper by far are the adidas spots.

Remember Jimi Hendrix playing The Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock?

Well, imagine Take Me Out to the Ball Game played with equally hysterical feedback on some Stratocaster, under gritty, rock video images of rampaging soccer action.

The super says, Soccer isn’t coming to America. Soccer is already here in America. Zoom to adidas logo on freeze-frame soccer ball. And out. Powerful stuff. And, it doesn’t look all that expensive, either.