Spots during Ally McBeal a mixed bag

I know I do go on about IBM TV commercials. But I think it's so nice that a company that is deeply implicated in embroiling us all in The Computer Age has chosen to reveal itself to us in little miracles...

I know I do go on about IBM TV commercials. But I think it’s so nice that a company that is deeply implicated in embroiling us all in The Computer Age has chosen to reveal itself to us in little miracles of filmed theatre that are as timeless, elegant and beautifully wrought as anything you might glimpse on stage hereabouts for 75 bucks a ticket.

The fishermen, speculating if their missing mate was devoured by sharks or sold his catch online from the boat is just one more example of how one can use an art form as old as ancient Greece to nudge the human mind toward a commercial decision, i.e. – Maybe I should talk to IBM about e-commerce.

If all 30-second television allegories looked and sounded like they were dashed off by Aristophanes or Noel Coward or Neil Simon, even on an off-day before breakfast, we would all have grown up being allowed to talk during the programs but not during the commercials.

The fact that most of ‘em sound like they were ad-libbed by that drunk next to you at the bar last night serves to remind us that not every copywriting goose is a dramatist swan temporarily misemployed in an ad agency.

Just as there are people who should never raise their voices in song in public, there are writers who should be forbidden to attempt dramatic expression, and compelled to simply rewrite the account group’s brief in point form, with a nice voice reading with some appropriate music under.

I think you know who I mean. Just kidding. But there are spots out there, like the other night on Ally McBeal, that make you wonder if perhaps just a simple product demonstration would have moved our minds, presently reeling with revulsion and disgust, towards an eventual quiet acceptance of, or even a grudgingly benevolent attitude towards the client’s offering, if not a hot-to-trot I’m-a-gonna-get-me-one-a-them decision.

One of the hallmarks of decent creative, which occurred to many of us when we saw our first Volkswagen ad, is that good creative appears to actually be interested in the product it is advertising. We used to count the ways in which American car companies contrived to upstage the vehicles they were attempting to sell us with objects and devices they clearly felt were vastly more interesting than their products, like speedboats, airplanes, people on horseback, dogs, you name it.

A spot I like more each time I see it is the Kia swamp tour one. The tourists are wusses, the driver is a reckless lunatic, and I’m not sure at the end I can tell you what the car looks like. But you come away with a little glow of affection for a cheap foreign car that wants to be so American and macho and fun that when the hubby drums a little jig rhythm on the hood with his hands, you really believe it got his mojo working, like the voice-over says.

Yet why the current Kia Year End Price Kapade spot? Three cars you couldn’t name for a hundred bucks, rolled out onto an ice rink for a look-see, from a maker you’ve barely heard of. We’ve romanced the brand, now we’re trying to Get Retail. So what do we do? We upstage ‘em to a fare-thee-well with clowns on skates for Pete’s sake.

Do you know what an Interac is? Good. Because if you didn’t, the spot with the man and the parrot won’t help. A voice-over blathers about how We all lead busy lives so here’s something to remember and the rest of the spot is a guy trying to get a parrot to say Interac. A man pretending to be embarrassed by a parrot that will not say Interac is not funny. It is not informative. It is not really advertising. One more incomprehensibility: When the Interac logo mercifully appears to end this mess, first a little silhouette of a gas pump appears beside it. Then a knife and fork on either side of it. Finally, two hoops pop up on top of it. Question of the Week: What do the hoops represent? An upside-down egg beater? McDonald’s arches? Bunny ears?

Possibly, the parrot was observing a moment of silence after viewing the current Speedy spot. It’s as ghastly a concoction of bad acting, improbable dialogue and pathetically hopeless gags as you’re likely to see on the tube.

A ’60s VW camper adorned with peace symbols wheels in to a Speedy bay. The fright-wigged, ‘spaced-out’ hippie driving it tells the Speedy guy Lend me a hand, friend as his muffler is louder than Woodstock, man and hippie blames society. Speedy man tells hippie to mellow out. Hippie meditates in yoga position. Hippie plays guitar. Ha ha, what will those crazy hippies do next? Voice-over rambles on about what has and hasn’t changed at Speedy in the past 40 years. Omits to mention Speedy used to have a campaign that didn’t make you want to crawl under the couch.

Most shrimp wind up buck naked on a bed of crushed ice says the guy whose midriff stars in the PC Frozen Black Tiger Shrimp spot, as he munches breaded shrimp in dipping sauce, then slips a couple into his pocket. Simple. Witty. Tasty. Maybe it ain’t Shakespeare. But nobody gets hurt, either.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He writes this column to promote the cause of what he calls intelligent advertising, and to attract clients who share the notion that many a truth is said in jest. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.