Baseline: It’s time to unearth our skills, insights

We were in Portugal this fall, and, near Evora, we hit a fourth-century Roman villa, relatively well-preserved and recently uncovered.It is a big, two-storey house built of brick, which means it was one of the last structures in Europe to be...

We were in Portugal this fall, and, near Evora, we hit a fourth-century Roman villa, relatively well-preserved and recently uncovered.

It is a big, two-storey house built of brick, which means it was one of the last structures in Europe to be built of brick for the next thousand years!

From the end of the Roman era until the Renaissance, Europeans simply forgot how to build with bricks and mortar.

Now, if a civilization can forget how to lay bricks, it can certainly forget how to create clear, effective, memorable, relevant advertising.

Pick up a newspaper, and you can make the argument that the skills and insights wrought in the creative revolution of the ’60s and ’70s are already unknown to the present crop of Communications Highwaymen.

Take the loony new Century 21 (how it looks on the logo), or CENTURY 21 (how it looks in the body copy, for God’s sake) ad. Please!

The headline, in screamer caps, says power is: innovation.

That’s right, full colon! Smack dab in the middle. Note, too, power is is in reverse type in a black box! innovation is black on white!

Far more astonishing is the illustration, presumably meant to illuminate our grasp of the sub head, which states Introducing Project 2000: A bold new positioning that transforms CENTURY 21 into a whole new company.

It is, so help me, of Albert Einstein’s head inside an electric light bulb!

No, not Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein! Staring out at us, calmly, wisely. But, Albert’s hair is not calm. It is transforming into tiny pinpoint laser beams and radiating straight out into the universe, indicated by tiny specks of light just above his ears. Stopping power? Whoa!

Unfortunately, that’s about it for the communications transfer part because the body copy is pretty much gobble-de-gook and platitudes.

But, we shall never forget that just as albert einstein invented the incandescent light bulb, so…ah…CENTURY 21…um… where does the radiation fit in again?

Now, in case you think this is an isolated incident of banality and ineptitude, the day before, there’s this Microsoft ad in the same paper.

The let’s-jolt-’em-awake headline says he’s fast on the draw. he has nerves of steel. and, after working with duracell, he’s wanted in several provinces.

The body copy (I forced myself) explains that he is Arthur somebody, who is a Solution Provider from an independent company that Microsoft thinks we might like to hire.

And, to help us understand why, they’ve provided us with a photo of him.

Arthur is a bearded man with blazing eyes and bared, clenched teeth. He is wearing a cowboy hat. He is also wearing a bow tie, and a Viva Zapata Bandolier containing flashlight batteries instead of bullets.

Arthur is also wearing chaps, and he’s gunning us down with his twin flashlights. Bang! Bang!

Here’s an apparition no sane parent would hire to work a four-year-old’s birthday party, and Microsoft wants us to turn him loose on our whole freaking computer system!

Why the hell not? He doesn’t work for them, does he? Ha Ha!

Two days later, Toyota, whose advertising seems bent on stimulating our appreciation of life’s imponderables by flinging one-word epithets at us, launches their Avalon. Words like ‘refined’ and ‘elegant’ float randomly under the body copy in large, distracting grey type.

Headline? The word ‘sophisticated.’ One-eighth of an inch high, trapped in a tiny black box. Be still my beating heart! Photo? A sedan. Four wheels. One in each corner. Copy? Forty-seven lines of it, in teeny type, but all capital letters for easy reading! And, predictable? Banal? Pompous? Empty? It’s stupefying!

In the same paper, an Ikea ad. If you cook it, they will come. Snappy copy. Goodlookin’ cookware, well-shot, cropped, drop-shadowed. Big, bold prices. Not rocket science, but a good ad. Wanna see more just like it? Pick up any New York Art Director’s Annual from the early ’70s!

Finally, somebody with the good sense to know the world, and steal from the best!

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