Montreal View: Surrealism an unusual choice for insurance ads

Surrealism in advertising, like satire in literature, is tricky to use because people don't always 'get it.'If agencies can get away with using it, surrealism can help create unusual and potentially breakthrough advertising.The current broadcast campaign for local client Belair Insurance,...

Surrealism in advertising, like satire in literature, is tricky to use because people don’t always ‘get it.’

If agencies can get away with using it, surrealism can help create unusual and potentially breakthrough advertising.

The current broadcast campaign for local client Belair Insurance, created by Taxi of Montreal, is a blast of originality – and very surreal.

The radio spots are particularly ‘out,’ and amazingly so for an industry not known for its offbeat, surreal advertising.

House crushed

In one of the two English spots, a man returns home from work to discover his house being crushed by a ’50-ton radioactive, slime-oozing alien spacecraft.’

It continues: ‘And then you are paralyzed with fright as alien beings appear and ask the basketball scores and where to find a good smoked-meat sandwich, but before they abduct you, you think to yourself, thank God, I have Belair insurance.’

Paul Lavoie, Taxi president and creative director, says the campaign is ‘telling people that shit happens, and that when it does, you only have to call Belair, and they’ll take care of everything.’

Brigitte Mittelhammer, Taxi’s account executive responsible for the account, says insurance ‘is pretty much a parity product. It’s not very sexy.

‘I think using entertainment is particularly important with this kind of product,’ Mittelhammer says.

The spots, in English and French, pose the hypothetical question, ‘What if?’ and then present an absurd and highly entertaining calamity with salespitch weaved into them.

‘Anything could happen’

‘Your day is just beginning, and anything could happen,’ the narration in the English spot begins. ‘You could park your car in a no-stopping zone, and a lovely two-truck driver could jack up your car in a very compromising position.

‘A lonely, depressed two-ton rhinoceros that did escape from the zoo could mistake your car for a female of the same species and start an elaborate mating ritual.’

You can guess the results.

The French version is even funnier. The narrator shares with us the story about a man in West Jersey Beach whose car is attacked by three rhinos.

You never know

Okay, he says, this has never happened to you, but, tomorrow morning, you never know. In comes another voice with lots of reverb, sounding like the music from the film Jaws: ‘Rhino, rhino – rhino, rhino, rhino.’

Taxi was given tremendous leeway on this campaign.

For example, absent are the customary five to seven tags that most spots have. These spots end obscurely with the line: ‘Or, it could just be another day. Who knows?’

For the Quebec English campaign, Taxi makes the mistake of casting a ‘Britannique,’ or Brit, to do the voiceover.

People still believe hip English-speaking Canadians revere British accents because they sound ‘sophisticated’ or ‘Monty Pythonesque.’

This may have been partially true in the Seventies and Eighties, but a British accent doesn’t hold much weight anymore, particularly in Montreal, which lost most of its anglophiles to the ‘Queen City’ many years ago.

No prestige

It’s not much fun being an anglophile in a city that has scant interest in England. It carries no prestige.

The English advertising is really funny, but the French really crackles, thanks, in great part, to the casting of Denis Bouchard, the Quebec actor, as voice talent.

Bouchard is a ‘monster.’ This man could read an insurance policy and make you laugh.

Bouchard, who, if he was English would probably be a cast member of Saturday Night Live, is as great on radio as he is on tv. Strangely, Taxi didn’t cast him in the tv spots.


Bouchard is hilarious, with his souped-up joual, complete with a twangy accent on English words that are employed in the script for comic effect.

His style is so confessional, you can’t resist being charmed by him.

Creative credits go to Lavoie, Benoit Pilon and Stephane Charier for the French ads, and Judy St-John for the English.

Michael Judson is president of Judson Woods, a public relations and advertising company in Montreal.