Viewpoint: Good creative, slow and easy

I know that it's Barry Base's job, in his column over there on page 41, to throw bouquets or tomatoes at new creative.But, I've noticed a disturbing trend starting to happen, and this column says 'Viewpoint' up there at the top,...

I know that it’s Barry Base’s job, in his column over there on page 41, to throw bouquets or tomatoes at new creative.

But, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend starting to happen, and this column says ‘Viewpoint’ up there at the top, so, hey, here comes a viewpoint.

Creative people, and probably the suits behind them, are trying too hard.

Somebody has realized, accurately, that great creative is crucial in the ’90s – simply because there is so much clutter, and so many zappers, that you have to be really good to cut through.

But, great creative is always – always – unforced. Natural. The pieces fit. It feels easy, like the swing of Ted Williams or John Olerud. (Maybe that’s why so many members of the general public think they could do it.)

Lately, I’ve seen and heard a lot of creative that points at itself and shouts, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m clever,’ and then clearly demonstrates that it isn’t.

Instead of rewarding the audience for watching or listening, it disappoints. And, no matter what researchers might tell me to the contrary, I still believe that making me feel rewarded is an important part of sales communication.

In broadcast media, I am suddenly hearing a plague of dialogues with inanimate objects, which should have stayed inanimate.

stp has a know-it-all car engine, which learned its stuff from ‘that cute little red sports car you parked me next to.’ Yeah, right.

Sears has a talking fence that wants to get stained. (Sounds like a Madonna song.)

One of the shoe companies, or soft drinks, or something – they’re all starting to look alike – has a basketball backboard that’s terrified of Charles Barkley. I would be, too, but where does the idea go from there?

My No. 1 unfavorite thing-with-a-voice, however, has to be a radio spot from Royal Bank.

‘Hello. I am an interest rate.’ You’re a what? Okay, okay, you’re an interest rate. I’ll buy that, for 60 seconds. Now, please be a witty interest rate. No, sorry, I work for a bank, I’m not capable of being witty. Well, then, dammit, go away.

I’m not saying that an interview with a talking thing is forbidden territory. Many years ago, an Alka-Seltzer spot with a man talking to his stomach became an all-time classic.

But, it’s a pretty cheap and obvious way of getting attention, a little like putting a lampshade on your head at a party. Once you do it, you’d better get real amusing, real fast, or the impression you make starts going downhill at high speed.

Then, there’s outdoor.

One board in particular manages to do absolutely everything wrong in its quest for attention. It’s for a new big container of Molson Canadian, and the headline is, ‘Who says this country has no litres.’

I saw it. I like advertising. I play with words for a living. And, still, for a good 10 seconds – far more than Joe Average would give it – I didn’t get it. Then, it dawned. Oh, it’s a pun on ‘leaders.’ Now I’ve got it. Now, let’s see, what does that do for me?

If I take the pun through, it becomes ‘Who says this country has no leaders.’ Hmmm. I don’t hear anybody in my crowd saying that.

I’ve heard plenty of people, particularly up until last October, express a certain displeasure with their leaders. But, a shortage of leaders? Hell, no.

So, you’ve got an obscure pun that I don’t identify with. Well, let’s keep going.

If I do accept the statement – if somebody thinks it’s true, and, obviously, Molson does – then where does that leave me? With a total downer.

A company in the business of glorifying Canada, with the name ‘Canadian’ on its label, is telling me that the only leaders (litres) in this country are the ones in its new five-quart jug. Now that I’ve gone to all this effort, have they made me feel good? Nope.

They’ve taken a cheap shot in search of a bad joke. No sale, Molson.

Yes, I know I’m overintellectualizing. Yes, I know the public doesn’t think it through this deeply. But, all I’m doing is trying to outline the subconscious reaction of the receiver of the message. Communication does work, on the subconscious level, and it should hold together when it gets there.

Back to my original point.

Creative people, probably young ones, seem to be overswinging in their efforts to knock one out of the park. So, where are the coaches? Are the creative directors too busy to say, ‘Ease off, relax, swing naturally, be human, feel good?’

Do they stop to question the empathy and believability and potential charm of a talking fence? Do they pause to try a little sample dialogue, maybe discuss what a fence’s character and hang-ups might be? Or, do they just say, ‘Yeah, that’s cute, work it up, I got another meeting.’

As I’ve been known to say before, getting attention is easy.

Just walk out of your office building naked, and you’ll get plenty. Hitting the viewer/listener’s wavelength is a lot harder. And, to do it, you’ve got to slow down, relax, and swing easy.