Baseline: Clamato spot digs dorky image

There are certain consumer products which, like beautiful children, never seem to strive or strain or raise a sweat to win the instantaneous adoration of a devoted following.They seem to appear from nowhere, already embraced and feted and celebrated as icons...

There are certain consumer products which, like beautiful children, never seem to strive or strain or raise a sweat to win the instantaneous adoration of a devoted following.

They seem to appear from nowhere, already embraced and feted and celebrated as icons of ravishing sophistication and legendary desirability, riding on the shoulders of an adoring clique.

It’s famous

Invariably, the very first thing you hear about this stuff is that it’s famous!

I’m talking about mystery products like Michelin tires, Wilkinson Sword blades, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Perrier, and, why, yes, Mott’s Clamato Juice!

Suddenly everywhere

Just as there are those who remember the moment when, upon entering certain Manhattan restaurants, suddenly you saw a little green flagon-shaped bottle at every single place setting! so there was a Toronto moment when, especially at lunch, there was a highball glass of bright red liquid before every diner in every cool spot in the city.

The drink was called a Bloody Caesar, the red stuff was Clamato, and, you spent a lot of time telling your friends don’t worry about the stupid name it doesn’t taste like wrung-out clams and you’ll never order a Bloody Mary again.

By 1976, every Sunday Brunch in Rosedale was awash in the stuff, and we used to pester the waiters in the Oak Bar at the Plaza on trips to New York Jesus Christ haven’t you got Clamato juice yet? They were not impressed with us, but, eventually, they got it.

That year, I shared an account with an agency in Rochester, New York, that boasted the Mott’s account.

Driven into the ground

Their version of the legend was that this amazingly palatable product, already irrevocably saddled with the name Clamato, was being driven into the ground with the help of a thoughtfully designed bar-and-restaurant recipe promo featuring the Clamdigger cocktail.

They said the Clamdigger enjoyed modest acceptance in any bar situated within 100 feet of the Atlantic Ocean, and died a miserable death from there to the Mississippi.

Then, one afternoon, a Mott’s salesman schlepped a case into a roadhouse somewhere and made a Clamdigger for the owner. Owner says hey, it doesn’t taste like clams! I’ll take two cases if you’ll let me call it a Bloody Caesar! Seems the roadhouse was called Caesar’s. Boom!

Then, too, there are a number of beautiful children who grow up to be candidates for the Betty Ford Clinic, and other holding tanks for The Extremely Nervous.

There’s a Clamato commercial on tv now that’s very strange, indeed.

A ‘fridge door opens to reveal the beverage shelf, and a very unctuous can of computer-animated Clamato leans out from the back and yells Hey! Back here! Mott’s Clamato! Went to school with your orange juice! Nice guy! And, as a hand reaches for another container, its voice rises in panic hey! no! you don’t want that! And, the door slams shut.

Increasingly frantic

Cut to door opening again, and, this time, the increasingly frantic Clamato can sticks celery in its ears and makes servings suggestions.

Rejected again, the can removes its label, like a flasher working a raincoat, and delivers a very fey something savory perhaps? Slam!

Finally, a hand rescues the can from refrigerator shelf oblivion. But, even in the closing beauty shot with the power line Drink Mott’s Lotts it can’t resist doing a wheee-hoo! when it hears its name! This product is a jerk!

I’m not saying this isn’t a funny spot. Because it is. I’m not saying it won’t win awards. It may.

I’m saying we’re laughing, and the Clamato brand image is going down the toilet.

Inferiority complex

I’m saying this brand is portrayed as having an inferiority complex that would kill a horse. It can’t even con itself out of the ‘fridge!

By comparison, goddamn Cranapple Juice would be Donald Trump.

And, I believe that if there’s one cardinal rule of advertising that you break at your peril, it is to make your product out to be a fool, or a product that is bought by fools.

All those kids who missed those ’70s Rosedale Brunches have to be wondering Why is this product acting so dorky? i got it! i bet it’s because it tastes like clams! Yukko!

Barry Base is president and creative director of Barry Base & Associates in Toronto.

Off-air dubs of ads reviewed in this column were supplied courtesy of Nielsen Creative Services, a division of Nielsen Marketing Research.