Advertising in Review: Pick your group and go all the way

Take away everything you don't really need from a piece of marble, and what's left is Michaelangelo's David.Advertising executions aren't dissimilar in evolution.Start with a 600-page book-length description of the genesis, nature and attributes of a product, edit it down to...

Take away everything you don’t really need from a piece of marble, and what’s left is Michaelangelo’s David.

Advertising executions aren’t dissimilar in evolution.

Start with a 600-page book-length description of the genesis, nature and attributes of a product, edit it down to 30 words, and you have a nice little print ad.

Cut a six-hour movie to 30 seconds, and there’s your tv spot.

See? It’s a simple process of taking away the superfluous!

It’s debatable

The catch is, of course, that what’s superfluous is a fairly debatable issue.

Which is what makes the creation of effective advertising such a fascinating pursuit.

Like putting, or raising children.

A bit too much of this? Or, not enough of that? That’s the question! Where did we go wrong?

A lot of people believe the answer is to put a little bit of everything into the 30 words or the 30 seconds, so nobody will feel left out.

The opposed school says speak directly to the passions of the fanatics in your target group, and treat everyone else as eavesdroppers.

I confess an affection for the latter point of view.

I’d rather excite a few hot prospects, and merely confuse the rest, as opposed to boring everyone.

Whether you appeal to the Great Unwashed or to the Chosen Few is a debate richly contested among those who create advertising about Art.

The folks who do the campaigns for the Stratford and Shaw festivals in Ontario, ballet and opera, and so on, perennially vacillate between wanting the ads to flatter the intellectual pretensions of the existing Insider Patrons, or to skin the eyes of the Ignorant and Uncaring (usually by pretending the damn thing is really the kind of kick-in-the-guts stuff Schwarzenegger would have done if he’d lived in the previous century.

Barnes Exhibit

A little ad campaign created to sell tickets to the Toronto stopover of a touring international art exhibit seems bent on titillating both the Unwashed and the Few, but with not much vigor for either mission.

As you’ll recall from the chic magazine hype pieces, The Barnes Exhibit is the result of a collection of Impressionist, post-Impressionist and Early Modern paintings (Matisse, Cezanne, Monet, van Gogh, Renoir and Picasso) put together around half a century ago by the American collector.

Now, thanks to legal hijinks and required renovations chez Barnes, the collection is out on tour, like King Tut was, personally, a while back.

All this stuff is quite juicy and vaguely salacious when you groove on it in Vogue or Vanity Fair, and you can see the creatives going for a little flash in the print stuff with the not-so-deathless headline, ‘In 1923 they laughed at the Barnes collection. Today, they drool over it.’

But that’s their one and only shared nudge-nudge with the Insider Few.

For the masses

For the Depraved Masses, the print heads run to snappy stuff like, ‘Two good reasons to buy your tickets to The Barnes Exhibit today. Sold out in Paris! Sold out in Tokyo!’

And how about the above list of Celebrity Artists under the title of Big men on canvas: Ha ha!

Finally, the shit-kickers are thrown one last Chucklehead come-on, obviously designed to shed their innate Love of Art, and, get this, There are no cows in the Barnes. Only Van Goghs, Renoirs and Cezannes.

Hey, this stuff was written by the Czech Brothers! Somebody stop those guys before they blow our minds!

The tv spot is a bit prettier, and a bit more up-market, especially to look at.

Here, we’re led to believe sidewalk chalk artists have recreated masterpieces from the exhibit, which are then washed away by floods of water as though from a handy hydrant, reminding us of the ephemeral nature of Life, Art and the passage of The Barnes Exhibit.

Okay, I’ll buy a ticket. But I’ll swear to God it wasn’t the advertising.

Barry Base is president and creative director of Barry Base & Partners, Toronto.