The more things change, the more they stay the same

Have you watched Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Yes? I watch it, along with an average of 28.5 million other people, not because I particularly like it, but because I have children. My 13-year-old son watches it obsessively, and his...

Have you watched Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Yes?

I watch it, along with an average of 28.5 million other people, not because I particularly like it, but because I have children. My 13-year-old son watches it obsessively, and his younger sisters are swept along on the tsunami of his hysterical enthusiasm for the show.

The merest hint that we might encroach upon his viewing privileges on a Who Wants To Be evening is sufficient to coerce him into all manner of depravities, such as practising his piano, cleaning up the dog poop in the back yard, finishing his homework by eight, even putting in half an hour of reading for an upcoming book report.

When the show actually starts, he usually calls his tennis buddy (who, incidentally, lives in Guelph) long distance, and they watch the show together, shouting encouragement and advice at the screen while writhing on the floor in spasms of nervous energy. Next day at school, last night’s questions and answers, winners and losers are the subject of lengthy, boisterous and universal banter and analysis.

Now my question is not whether Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? deserves to be the hottest show on television, which it is. Or how any show could conceivably make a hot property out of Regis Philbin for God’s sake, which it has. It’s why has it taken 40 years for somebody to remember people like big-prize quiz shows?

Given all the network geniuses that have come and gone in the four decades since The Sixty-Four-Thousand-Dollar Question was the hottest show on television, didn’t one of them sit bolt upright at three o’clock in the morning and say Jeez, I wonder if the world is ready for another big-prize quiz show?

Surely the greatest ongoing racket in the communications business is the eternal quest for the next new thing. If you’ve lived long enough and tried to pay attention, it finally hits you that the next new thing is actually yet another re-hash of the same old thing all over again only wearing a hat.

This phenomenon was noted by the late, great Bill Bernbach, whose words you might wish to read aloud at the beginning of your next meeting just before the agency

presents The Very Cool New


Bernbach wrote ‘It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop, it will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessing drive to service, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.’

Further evidence that nothing

really changes has been provided by another recent media event, that of the firing of CTV’s Avery Haines for the stuttering-lesbian-black-rubber-leg crack.

Her off-air, impromptu, self-mocking shot at the loonier reverse-discriminatory implications of ‘affirmative action’ must seem inoffensive to anyone who reads this journal. In Adland, we laugh it up bigtime at the genuinely obscene, depraved and salacious jibes that enliven the Creative Guy Subculture, eh? Are we Those Dreadful Advertising People OR WHAT?

What really impressed me was the crazed fury of the perpetually offended, the it’s-my-job-to-be-outraged, the dead-serious, ugly-sounding people on the phone-ins who wanted her fired, hurt, punished for finding humour in reverse discrimination. Apple may not mind if somebody thinks different, but these people hate it.

The more conciliatory merely wanted Haines to undergo a lengthy suspension from her profession, while she endured psychological counselling and diversity training. These are the same folks who turned their neighbours in to the Gestapo and the Red Guard, the Salem Witch prosecutors and the Spanish Inquisition. The good folks who’ve drummed up business for secret police torture cells down through history. And here they are, spewing away on CBC radio, right here, right now.

I began to wonder if there are any minorities or identifiable groups that it would be ok to have a little fun with in Canada in the year 2000. (When I was a kid, you could dis ‘The Japs’, but that was not long after the unpleasantness of Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong. And years later, but still long ago, Bernbach’s agency did a Lufthansa campaign that said The warm, friendly, loveable Germans invite you to fly with them. They were fired, of course, but I think people got it.)

You can still dump on Nazis, probably. As long as you don’t have any fun with it. And advertising people. But I think that’s about it.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He creates this column for fun, and to test the unproven theory that clients who find the latter amusing may also find the former to their liking. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.

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