Viewpoint: The Basest sin of all

Hoo boy, Strategy Editor Mark Smyka ought to love this.I'm going to jump all over my fellow columnist Barry Base. I'm going to say he wrote a really dumb column recently, and then Barry can write one saying how stupid mine...

Hoo boy, Strategy Editor Mark Smyka ought to love this.

I’m going to jump all over my fellow columnist Barry Base. I’m going to say he wrote a really dumb column recently, and then Barry can write one saying how stupid mine was, and then I’ll be insulted, and we can get a real feud going, like Roseanne and Tom, or Bettman and Goodenow.

Hey, Mark, that’s going to sell a paper or two, eh?

You see, Barry Base (whom I respect and admire and all that obligatory stuff) wrote a column clobbering the ‘real salesman.’

He named Dave Nichol, Alex Tilley and Mel Lastman, mayor of the suburban Toronto city of North York, as horrible examples, and compared them to Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, and the late John Candy’s guy-with-the-snake-on-his-face.

It seems, if I read the column correctly, that their Basest sin of all is doing tv commercials that lack production values.

Oh wow, Barry, that’s true evil. That’s b-a-a-a-d. That’s got to put them somewhere out there with Genghis Khan and Jack the Ripper.

Commercials without ‘performance’ and ‘ambience’ and ‘editing’ and ‘soaring strings and rose-hued skies.’ Oh yeah, man, they’re going to have real trouble facing St. Peter.

Since I do really respect Barry, I kept looking for the sign in the column that he had his tongue in his cheek. That he didn’t actually mean that finishing your commercial with your store address violates the memory of Leo Burnett and Bill Bernbach.

Well, if he was kidding, sorry, I missed it.

Let me pause for a moment to haul up my credentials.

I’ve got my share of Clio awards, and Andy awards, and even a Cannes Gold Lion, and I know that Dave Nichol will never win one as long as he lives.

But, does that bother Dave Nichol? Somehow, I doubt it. Somehow, I think he’s done quite okay, thank you, ‘sitting in somebody’s basement’ and ‘talking, talking, talking.’

The corporate spokesman-salesman has a pretty damn good record of success over the years – and, no, Barry, I don’t generally like their commercials either.

But, Victor Kiam (‘I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company’) sold an awful lot of Remingtons. Lee Iacocca on camera virtually saved Chrysler.

And, there are two Orthodox Jewish guys in Toronto who sell drapes under the name of Crazy Joe, whose commercials are way out there close to a Second City parody. They’ve been doing it for years, and I’ll bet their bottom line is just terrific.

As a creative man, I would much rather make a beautiful commercial than an ugly one, in the same way that as a golfer, I would much rather hit a beautiful drive than an ugly one.

But, making beautiful commercials is not my job. Making commercials that sell is my job.

Funny thing. There were three signed columns in the same Strategy spread last week – Barry’s, mine, and one taken from a speech by Elliott Ettenberg of Prism Communications.

Ettenberg has been saying for some time, with great success, that the era of song and dance is over. That the only big ideas today come from satisfying the wants of consumers, not from entertaining them.

I don’t totally agree with Ettenberg either, but, this week, I agree with him a lot more than I do with Barry Base. And, I think Barry has played right into his hands.

If I were Elliott Ettenberg, I would take Barry’s column and mail it to all my prospects, with a letter attached, saying, ‘See. Wretched creative excess. Head in the clouds instead of nose to the grindstone. Just what I’ve warned you about. Et cetera. Et cetera.

Alex Kroll, worldwide head of Young & Rubicam, said it best, and, Barry, you should have been listening.

Alex was asked about the many-faceted, and, sometimes, conflicting aspects of being in advertising, and he simply said:

‘I don’t have an identity crisis. I’m a salesman.’

John Burghardt, formerly president of a national Canadian advertising agency, now heads his own communications firm in Toronto.