Baseline: Granada in the good old days

Jackie Gleason had a comedic bit on television that still cracks me up.Building nicely from a merely authoritative tone into a tower of volcanic rage, he would advise... Be nice...to the people you meet...on the way up...because you're gonna meet...the same...

Jackie Gleason had a comedic bit on television that still cracks me up.

Building nicely from a merely authoritative tone into a tower of volcanic rage, he would advise… Be nice…to the people you meet…on the way up…because you’re gonna meet…the same people…on the way down!

This ran through my head for some reason when I read that once-mighty Granada was getting out of the retail business.

Granada and I go back together, to a time of high tides, green grass and spectacular success.

For a while, anyway, the whole experience read like a textbook case history…stalemate…then, breakthrough! sales! awards!

When my agency won the account in the late Seventies, the world was still in the process of switching from black-and-white to color tv.

Color television sets were housed in carved wooden boxes that could double as High Anglican pulpits, and ran to well over a grand a pop.

But, Granada’s sole business was renting color tv sets to the masses for around twenty bucks a month.

The existing advertising plan was simplicity and tenacity itself, fuelled by the implacable resolve that Price Is Everything.

Fifty-two weeks a year, in every tv guide in the country, the Granada ad was inescapable, surrounded with yellow-and-red chaser light dots, and promising color tv as low as $18.95 a month!

And, if you were dead lucky enough to hit the special deal for Mother’s Day or St. Vitus’ Eve, or the First Friday of the Week, they could be had for $17.95! Or, even $16.95!

Imagine our surprise to learn that such advertising, although it sold several hundred contracts each week, also attracted a consumer group, some 50% of which ceased mailing its monthly cheques within a few months of signing up, allowing Granada to play Find-the-TV-Set!

This monumentally flaky customer base was, predictably, of concern to Granada, and we were asked to address the nagging problem of cease-hires as part of our initial mandate.

First, we questioned a few hundred randomly selected citizens, and found six of them who admitted they’d even consider renting a color television.

Why so few? Because the name Granada on a set in your living room was broadcast news that you were so financially moribund that even a Household Finance would rather eat worms than take your paper!

Worse, a quick check of the socioeconomic status of the average Granada customer revealed the pinpoint accuracy of that assessment.

Our customers were among the dregs of society’s fiscally-challenged.

We needed an immediate infusion of good, grey, middle-class, bill-paying customers. And, we needed an excuse, a way to grant permission to them, to rent a tv set.

This we found in the stereotype of the dreaded television repairman. Our promise would be rent color and never pay a repairman’s bill again!

Of course! That’s savvy! That’s sane! That’s frugal! That’s middle class!

It fell to me to package this sentiment, which I did by creating a neurosis called Popatubaphobia, defined as a morbid fear of color tv breakdown.

I wrote some radio spots that were performed by John Candy and Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin and other Second City talent, and Granada’s sales marched upwards through the thousand-contract-a-week barrier and into the stratosphere, and the Levy-Martin spot, called ‘Psychiatrist,’ won the silver Marketing award for radio.

Euphoria reigned, until the day in 1980 we took a recommendation to Granada that it begin renting something we’d read about from Japan called vcrs.

The client listened, and, sadly shook his head. It was the beginning of the end of our relationship.

Didn’t we know vcrs were only for watching pornographic movies at Friday night stags? That they’ll rent Friday and cease-hire Monday?

Guess you guys don’t understand our business after all!

And, so the world goes.

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