Nightmare newspaper creative

They line up together at the starting gate. They race only each other. They fly through the air in gymnastic routines. They do the wave en masse in the stands. They even stand up together for the national anthem. And they...

They line up together at the starting gate. They race only each other. They fly through the air in gymnastic routines. They do the wave en masse in the stands. They even stand up together for the national anthem. And they win every time!

They’re those little Air Canada maple-leaf-in-the-circle logos that populated the TV commercials on the Olympic broadcasts. Reminding us how much simpler and more graphically pleasing the world would be if only one contender was allowed to take the field.

How predictable the results if competition is eliminated! How much more economical it is to make television commercials if no seductive production values are required! No lavish promises made! No standards implied! No competitive edges to hone! In competition with the world? Not in Canada, suckers! Come to think of it, when your only competition involves first taking the bus to Buffalo, why waste your money advertising at all? Now we’re talking efficiency!

OK, now that I’ve got Air Canada off my chest, have you observed the creepy similarity in newspaper advertising art direction lately? Is someone cloning the little devils?

Because The New Rules appear to be (a) buy one page of newspaper, (b) select one image, preferably of a human being doing something peculiar, (c) set the headline in smallish type in a block of coloured ink at the bottom of the page (or possibly just forget a headline entirely), and (e) lay out some body copy, in a block, flush left and right, with absolutely huge leading between each line

rendering it rather more jumpy

and difficult to read than necessary.

After that, it hardly matters what you do. Take the ad for MarchFirst.com. Please! Ha ha! A black-and-white image of a screaming woman, eyes shut, mouth agape, clinging to a chain-link fence. Tiny headline: The first rock star. Copy: Here’s to being first. Here’s to leading. Here’s to altering the face of business by revolutionizing every single facet of your company. Power line: A new world. A new way.

Well, if that doesn’t say it in a nutshell, I’m a monkey’s uncle. This stuff makes Funcow look transparent, sublime! Now what is it they’d like to sell us? What is it they want us to do? Or are we asking too much of a $25,000 newspaper ad?

At least with the ad for BrainHunter.com, you know where they’re coming from. It’s just that you wonder if that’s any place you might want to go any time soon. In what appears to be a hospital room setting, an apparently unconscious woman lies on a gurney while, above her, an enraged clown beats his fist against a malfunctioning computer monitor.

Hey, your worst nightmare come true, right? And like a good neighbour, the copy spells the proposition out for us right up front: Don’t hire a clown. Hire someone that’s right for the job. See? That’s what we’ve been doing wrong! Hiring clowns! Duuuh! Now the rest of the copy doesn’t actually spell out how BrainHunter.com filters out the clown contingent before they show up beside your gurney, but I guess that’s addressed somewhere else. This is, after all, only a newspaper ad.

Another nightmare scenario is billboarded for our amusement and consideration in an ad run by the cryptically-named Invis corporation. At least I think it’s a corporation, although it doesn’t say Inc., but maybe it’s very old-fashioned to say Inc.

Anyway, high above us, from the window of a tall building, some thug is hanging a screaming man upside down. This is so upsetting that some might not instantly notice the little headline above that reads Mortgage Negotiation Method #5. But having grabbed our attention with the murder-in-progress image, they proceed to spoil the fun with the second headline Would we ever actually hang a lender out a window? No. The copy assures us that Invis merely negotiates aggressively with lenders on our behalf. Phew! I dunno about you, but they had me goin’ there for a minute!

The American humorist Dave Barry has a line that goes live a healthy, vigorous life until you’re dead, and that seems to be the message in the Talvest Mutual Funds newspaper ads.

This time, though, the hero-image is of grizzled old geezers. Never mind that they’re doing clinging-to-the-last-vestiges-of-lost-youth stuff like slam-dunking basketballs and playing ‘way up the neck on the ol’ electric six-string. These guys are what thirtysomething art directors think old guys don’t mind looking like.

Listen. These guys look older than you and I will ever look if we live to be a hundred and ten. You and I don’t EVER want to look this old, pal. It’s not negotiable! Which is unfortunate, because Talvest wants us to think about the ton of money we’re going to need to live forever, and ring ‘em up. (Power line: Life’s long. Be ready.)

But by showing us how bad it’s actually going to be if we get there, it raises instead serious questions about the advisability of the whole damn proposition. Note to art directors: Never show old people looking any worse than Cary Grant did in his last movie, or you’ll lose ‘em, bigtime. Trust me. I’m not calling!

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.