Radio spots register on laugh meter

I know, I know, I know. I haven't written anything nice about a radio spot for a dog's age. But I have an excuse. It's that, for what seems like forever, all I heard advertised on radio was car insurance for...

I know, I know, I know. I haven’t written anything nice about a radio spot for a dog’s age. But I have an excuse. It’s that, for what seems like forever, all I heard advertised on radio was car insurance for people who don’t need car insurance, because they don’t crash, because they’re too old to crash.

The thought of dumping on poor Wally Crouter, just because he sounds about a hundred and fifty and peppers his spiels with references to pre-World War Two artifacts like marching bands and merry-go-round brass rings, or Don Cherry, just because he will not stop doing Don Cherry, just makes you feel cheap somehow.

There was a flicker of light amid the unending appeals to the elderly and hey-I-drive-too-slow-to-crash segment. A company called Fair Insurance runs a spot where a kind of barbershop trio sings You dinged some driver’s derrière? At Fair Insurance WE DON’T CARE! For the lowest rates in Ontar-eye-air, call one-triple-eight-two-three-four FAIR! At last, rates for the reckless and unrepentant.

Recently though, there seems to be a veritable cascade of funny stuff on the air. In fact, just trying to catalogue a bunch of it for a column frequently left me puzzling over just which gag went with which spot, which is worrying.

There’s a lovely one that charts the pathetic progress of a struggling math student through one blown exam after another, as in…an inspired summer school performance of 54%! tagged with the line Stop sweating the math. Call H&R Block. Not a laugh out loud candidate, but a nice smile-generator that says Why do your own taxes, dummy?

A bizarre spot for Grand & Toy has a guy (obviously a very sick guy) in hospital, when his business supplies rep shows up and cheerfully offers to donate one of his kidneys for a transplant. Courageous, rather black, and totally unbelievable, but funny.

The home office-targeted campaign that IBM is running is interesting from a number of aspects. First, its hero, a bungling entrepreneur with delusions of grandeur is undeniably funny, especially if you’re having a good day in your home office and feel confident enough to chuckle at the foibles and misfortunes of others.

It’s also interesting that the whole call-to-action pitch for a computer company is to pick up the phone and dial 1-800-IBM-CALL. Nice to hear a computer company not pushing an Internet address.

And it’s downright cheeky to spoof that little bing-bing-bing-bam musical sting that happens every time there’s a mention of Intel Pentium Processors in the broadcast media. Whenever it happens in the IBM spots, the hero thinks it’s the pizza guy ringing the doorbell. Or the phone ringing. Hello! We want your business! he yells into the receiver. Gotta fix that phone!

At best, these spots capture the mood swings, the weird combinations of bombast, fear, greed and farce that is the lot of the home office entrepreneur. In one, our hero fears he’s lost his presentation when the cat jumps onto his keyboard, and is saved by calling someone at IBM who helps him retrieve it. He introduces his mother as his VP, Operations. I fired the cat she says.

Purolator is running a campaign under the banner Everything else seems harder after using Purolator. This simple premise is permitted to propel the spots down a slippery slope whereby they feel compelled to show us how hard other stuff totally unrelated to courier services really is.

A radio piece is built around someone trying to record a phone-answering message, and repeatedly screwing it up by coughing part way through or saying orifice instead of office and massage instead of message, which just isn’t all that funny. There’s a slapstick Purolator TV spot in which a guy listening to a boardroom conference call catapults himself out of a swivel chair. The call coming over the speaker from the West Coast office, lamenting the weakness in silver paper clip sales brought about by the soaring popularity of multicoloured paper clips is brilliant, but it took me three viewings to sort out the audio from the video, and several more to connect the whole thing back to Purolator.

Actually, the funniest radio spot you’ve not heard on air was written on spec by my favourite music house, in hopes of selling it to a law firm. Here’s how it goes: They give advice, they seemed so nice/I can’t believe they’re lawyers/! I didn’t have to ask them twice/I can’t believe they’re lawyers/ The things I didn’t understand/They smiled at me, they held my hand/ Gee this legal thing is grand/I can’t believe they’re lawyers! And so on.

It’s still available, too. So go tell your lawyers. We could split the finder’s fee.

Radio dubs reviewed in this column were supplied courtesy of Ad-Watch, a Toronto-based ad monitoring service.

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