Radio spots send weak signal

So, here I am driving through a Toronto winter, this is really boring, what's on the radio? Oh, God, it's Don Cherry, and he's yelling at me again. Change the station. My finger is now programmed to do that automatically. I...

So, here I am driving through a Toronto winter, this is really boring, what’s on the radio?

Oh, God, it’s Don Cherry, and he’s yelling at me again. Change the station. My finger is now programmed to do that automatically.

I have nothing much against Don Cherry – in fact, I may be one of the few people in this country who’s neutral about him – but man, do I hate the way advertisers use him. When he flogs insurance, he yells at me. When he sells his hockey videos, he yells at the recording engineer. When he was stuck in that lamentable Campbell’s Soup campaign, he yelled at his poor, stiff, straight man, Ron MacLean.

I’m sitting here, trying to deal with road rage – my own and everybody else’s – and Dandy Don is running up and down my spine wearing audio goalie skates. No, advertisers, it’s not cute. It’s annoying and tiresome. The man has a couple of different dimensions to his personality, please try another one. I really do change the station.

So what have I got over here? Oh, this is clever. It’s a parody of Regis Philbin doing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? It’s the fourth one I’ve heard this week.

The Liquor Control Board’s version of Millionaire is slightly forgivable, because at least they had already been doing a quiz format (Which gets you drunk faster, beer, wine or booze?) Their shift to Regis Philbin’s verbal tics – the Brooklyn accent and ‘Final answer?’ – had a little relevance.

But all you other copywriters are just trying to steal a little borrowed interest. And you fail. Somebody once said, you can’t parody what’s already a parody, and that’s true with Millionaire. It’s a laboured joke. What’s worse, it has no connection to your product. Go back to the keyboard, please.

Hey, here’s a new spot. It’s for the Canadian Men’s Clinic, and it seems to be telling me that if I have Bob Dole’s Disease, I should place myself in their hands, so to speak.

The Canadian Men’s Clinic makes quite a claim. They inform me that they have ‘professional doctors’! I sure am glad to hear that.

I’m really tired of those amateur doctors, hanging out at the Lucy Van Pelt lemonade stand with their ‘YOU CAN BE A PHYZICIAN’ correspondence school diplomas. ‘Professional doctors’ are better, I’m sure.

I’ve got a feeling that radio is in a slump. I don’t think the agencies know how to do it anymore. I think there are only two groups these days who are any good at radio. First are the specialists, like Pirate in Toronto and Griffiths Gibson Ramsay in Vancouver (I guess we don’t talk about Koko in these pages), who caress radio and coddle it into its infinite potential.

The second group are the guys at the stations, who hack around in the studios after midnight, doing weird intros and station promos and the occasional car dealer spot. (Rick Moranis started that way at CHUM.) Nobody notices these guys, nobody panics about what they’re doing, so they get to do some pretty insane stuff.

Otherwise, I think radio gets second-class treatment, sloughed off on the way to the TV extravaganza or the big print shoot at Whistler. Or maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there’s hidden genius in the copywriters who have the guts to walk in to their boss waving a Don-Cherry-yelling script or a send-up of Millionaire. Or maybe not.

Wait a minute, here’s one more commercial on my radio, and I’m going to make a comment on it without slamming the creative. It’s for the Reform Party. They want me to send them my viewpoint (they must admire my column) on some issue or other, I forget what.

They do not offer me a mailing address. They do not offer me a phone number. After paying for a commercial soliciting public opinion, the only response mechanism they give me is an e-mail address.

This is not Lotus or Compaq or The Committee for Cybernetic Utopia. This is the bloody Reform Party, fer corn sake! These are the guys who think 1885 was a hell of a year, and are just about managing to come to terms with Gutenberg.

Hmmmm. Maybe the ad business ought to take this Internet stuff seriously.

John Burghardt’s checkered resumé includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘strategic planning – creative thinking’. He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072, by fax at (416) 693-5100 or by e-mail at

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group