Baseline: It’s cold out there on the edge

Advertising, as a communications genre, really hasn't knocked anyone sideways since the '60s in America, and the '70s in England.Both creative revolutions could be defined by the genius of the print work produced by Bernbach, Lois, Ally, Della Femina and McCabe...

Advertising, as a communications genre, really hasn’t knocked anyone sideways since the ’60s in America, and the ’70s in England.

Both creative revolutions could be defined by the genius of the print work produced by Bernbach, Lois, Ally, Della Femina and McCabe in the u.s., and that of Abbott, Salmon, Webster and the like in London.

The best magazine and press ads produced in these golden ages were brilliant syntheses of the three classic ingredients of great advertising, relevance, emotion and surprise.

There was always an edge to the creative, but it was a flip, cheeky, funny grace that gave you the damnedest feeling that the writer was bang on your wavelength when it came to attitude, insights, irony and wit.

They made you smile, and told a truth.

You couldn’t help liking these ads, and wouldn’t mind having them over for brunch, if not dinner.

Today, you’re lucky to encounter a print ad that has the charm-and-enticement quotient of the average subway rider.

The best print still exhibits that edge, but it’s more often a threatening, screw-you, in-your-face edge.

There’s funny tv advertising, and try-to-be-funny radio advertising, but there’s no funny print any more!

(Except the great Barneys ads illustrated by Jean-Philippe Delhomme, but not run here.) Charles enjoyed his reputation as a loose cannon. Wow!

What we see here, (and are apparently buying by the tank car full) is the Calvin Klein One campaign. A fragrance for a man or a woman.

The man who sold America Kate Moss as a viable object of lust is back, and he’s brought her friends with him!

Inside the heavy paper, bound-in insert with the tear-and-sniff feature and the bottles shown front and back, you get a police lineup of Kate and the Kids, shot in black-and-white against dead white, Avedon-style.

Such kids! Such androgyny! It’s the nineties, and you still can’t tell the boys from the girls! But who am I to quibble with the stuff of genius?

Black! White! Asian! Their tops off, their flies unzipped, their bikini brief tan lines shown above pants pulled down to the hairline!

A girl (well, it’s wearing a bra) with what appears to be spaghetti glued to her head!

Another (well, it’s topless and it has breasts) with a double-headed end wrench tattooed on her arm!

And they’re watching us. And they’re all really pissed off about something!

Look at the Microsoft print stuff that’s breaking now.

Each ad is four pages long. Headlines in three different type sizes, eight or ten lines deep, that start and stop randomly on the page, like ee cummings’ poetry!

A guy in a wool cap, neck chains and motorcycle leathers who looks like Jack Nicholson’s loony-bin escapee from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, picks his teeth with an ivory toothpick and tells us Rock stars and ceos are starting to dress alike!

(Funny, all the guys in this morning’s Globe and Mail appointment notices still look eerily like ceos!)

In other executions, small black boys muse on the wonder of business as the engine of society, and old guys who hate their jobs are told to stop complaining and contribute!

Microsoft is the new democracy! Microsoft is your work! Microsoft is the engine of business!

Run for the hills, folks! Bill Gates doing for business what Calvin Klein did for sex!

A new Nike campaign features three-page ads with headlines like Pursue pleasure. No matter how damn hard it may be over shots of sweaty, suffering Real Women and long, long, schoolgirl odes to the ecstasies of physical punishment apparently typeset by the

same people

who typeset

Microsoft.

But it never mentions shoes! Or even Nike! There’s just a little black Nike checkmark symbol in the upper right corner of page three! So chic!

Hey! Perhaps Nike is doing for fitness what Gates is doing for…Nah!

And remember the wear a milk moustache campaign? Well who’s wearing milk moustaches now?

THE AMERICANS, that’s who! Christie Brinkley! And Iman!

And who’s gonna go up to Christie or David Bowie’s wife and shout NYA! NYA! MILKBREATH! MILKBREATH!

Not me, or you, or the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, who know an in-your-face Canadian ad concept when they see one!

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