CIBC brings visual twist to well-trodden turf

Several years back, when I chaired the Bessies TV Awards, I got a pretty good laugh and a wave of understanding with one line in my welcoming speech. I was talking about the judging process, and I said something like this:...

Several years back, when I chaired the Bessies TV Awards, I got a pretty good laugh and a wave of understanding with one line in my welcoming speech. I was talking about the judging process, and I said something like this:

‘We screened several hundred commercials, and no question, it was long and hard. But when it came right down to it, we only needed one criterion. Envy.’

Envy stands up pretty well as a judging benchmark, whether you’re locked in a boardroom, staring at the tube, or cruising down the highway. Every creative guy, sooner or later, if he’s even halfway honest, has to look up from a well-made ad and say, ‘Sheesh, I wish I’d done that.’

It’s even a bit more bruising when the ad covers turf you’ve already traveled (and believe me, the writer of this column has traveled a lot of turf). Then the honest observer has to add, ‘I coulda come up with that, and damn, I didn’t.’

These musings are prompted by a terrific new campaign for CIBC. (Yes! A big bank doing great stuff! Hell is developing a thin layer of frost.)

They are posters, in outdoor and transit, and they feature Financial Sector Strategy Number One-A – We Make Your Money Work Harder. In fact, that’s the headline.

I’ve played around with the same phrase myself, as have most copywriters toiling in the investment vineyard. I did some commercials for Midland Walwyn, twisting the idea of hard-working money into lines like ‘Money can work, but it can’t think’ and ‘Nobody likes lazy money.’ Barry Base reviewed the dialogue with his usual Base Disdain, but I kind of liked it.

But however good my copy was or wasn’t, it was really just wordsmithing. On the other hand, the CIBC campaign contains an IDEA. And as with most very good ideas, it’s a simple one.

The idea does what good communications should do – it takes something that’s blurry and familiar and jerks it into your attention zone. It features those guys on the money.

Now, I’ve checked the fine print, and they really have names like Laurier and Macdonald, but I think, to most of us, they’re just those guys on the money. (Sports Illustrated once defined Canada as ‘that place with Gene Wilder on the ten-dollar bill.’ Close enough.)

Anyway, the CIBC posters take those guys on the money, who everybody ignores, including most of us ideasmiths. They show them in the exact original engraving style, and they transfer them into working situations. One is holding a jackhammer. Another has a lawnmower. A third, I think, has a vacuum cleaner. (I’ve got to start taking notes.)

They put the money guy in his familiar two-color pigment, and they make the working implement four-color, for emphasis. And then, thank God, they leave it alone.

There’s no silly typeface, no distracting background figures, plenty of white space.

The result, to these eyes, is excellent – particularly when they buy a whole subway car and plaster it with them. It gets my attention, it delivers the message, it makes me smile. Advertising can do a lot worse.

A final note on the development of the campaign. A casual reader might think I’m dinging the copywriter, and saying the art director did all the work. After all, it’s the visual that has the impact, while the words just echo the strategy.

The art director may indeed deserve all the credit, but I doubt it. When a creative team is working well – and this one clearly is – it’s very hard to trace the development of an idea. The writer might suggest the visual, or the AD the headline, or both. Or even more likely, it just sort of grows as they bat things back and forth.

They’ve taken a very familiar subject – money – and made me look at it in a new light. Better yet, they’ve done exactly the same thing for their client. My compliments.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume 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 burgwarp@aol.com