Baseline: The difference between advertising and publicity

It's always struck me as odd that, in Europe, what we know as advertising seems to be called publicity.It may be that publicity is called something else over there, but, surely, there is a vast gulf between the two forms of...

It’s always struck me as odd that, in Europe, what we know as advertising seems to be called publicity.

It may be that publicity is called something else over there, but, surely, there is a vast gulf between the two forms of information packaging.

For instance, publicity may have vaulted the name Jeffrey Dahmer to a household word status in America greater than that attained by Wendy’s Dave Thomas, but, one would be foolish to invest in a Dahmer Burger restaurant franchise, no?

The difference between advertising and publicity is manifest in the style and content of two beer campaigns currently enjoying top-of-mind status.

Molson Red Dog, a new advertising classic, constructed of pure imagination, fantasy and farce, seems real.

Labatt Copper Vote ’95, The PR Release That Became a TV Campaign, is mired in what passes for reality these days, and rings totally fake.

Red Dog, of course, is the snarly, dangerous little son-of-a-bitch with Tommy Lee Jones’ white-trash-and-proud-of-it accent who prefers doggie sex to chasing mailmen and paperboys, organizes uprisings in canine obedience schools, and thumbs his paw at the butchy old lady teacher, sort of Bull Dog vs Bull Dyke.

She: (her voice distorted to approximate the way a dog hears a human) ‘you’re a bad dog!!’

Red Dog: ‘You better believe it!’

Labatt Copper Vote ’95, on the other hand, wouldn’t hurt a flea.

They would have us believe that, hey, there just happens to be this Labatt’s facsimile of a National Election Night Television News nerve centre, with handbeaten copper anchor desks and shapely staffers milling around handing sheaves of paper to each other.

A pretentious little ‘Newshour’ music sting tinkles away as a bland, boyish anchorperson with a face like a moccasin loafer sculpted out of Wonderbread sah-wingggs his swivel chair ’round to make eye contact with the camera, shuffles his sheaf, and informs us that, by golly, Canada’s first democratic Beer Election is upon us! It’s ‘X’ versus ‘Y’!

Now we whiz to ‘Vancouver’ with reporter ‘Jeffrey Knight’ capturing the Air of High Excitement at a polling station, a.k.a. a bar.

As we start getting sound bytes from ‘voters,’ I kept waiting for the humor to start, you know, like Saturday Night Live would do it, or even Bob and Ray, but, nooooo! This thing is not a parody. These people are devoid of self-awareness. they are doing this thing straight!

And, such bytes! A bouncy blonde bimbo says she’s ‘X’ all the way! All the way? Come on, lady, it’s only a glass of beer!

A guy who looks like a Crash Test Dummie says ‘You gotta vote for something, and beer is a [beeped out] good starting place!’

Wait a minute, you can read the guy’s lips, and he’s only saying ‘damn’! You expect us to empathize with a beer company that beeps a guy saying ‘damn’ in nineteen-ninety-five? Get real!

What kind of candy-ass beer company is this?

And, wait until you meet the two guys who chime in unison ‘we…are…the…’y’…guys!’

Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but, you wouldn’t want to pick up any soap off the shower room floor with the ‘Y’ guys around, let me tell you.

What could only be described as a chick is asked What about the men! How are they leaning? She fixes the interviewer with a go-rotate stare and drawls Does it really matter?

This razor-sharp quip, like, totally cracks up Mr. Wonderbread, back at Election Central Ho! Ho! Ho!

There’s more. A plump reporter called ‘David Rhodes’ rushes between brewery aging vats with a hand-held mike, in a muck sweat of excitement because Labatt’s has blah blah blah English Dark Malts with Canadian Light Malts blah blah blah! What’s the difference? he yells, his face twitching and contorted! beer drinkers think they know!

I’d be willing to bet beer drinkers know the difference between wildly funny creative magic and The Publicity Stunt That Ate Labatt’s. Woof! Woof!

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

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