Yelling like hell

While the church sexton was cleaning the pulpit, he happened to come across the rector's notes for his last sermon. He was ready to crumple them up when he noticed several of the minister's stage directions in the margin. At one...

While the church sexton was cleaning the pulpit, he happened to come across the rector’s notes for his last sermon. He was ready to crumple them up when he noticed several of the minister’s stage directions in the margin. At one point he had indicated, ‘Raise eyes toward heaven.’ At another, ‘Spread arms wide.’ But it was the bottom of the third page that really caught the sexton’s eye. It said, ‘Argument weak here. Yell like hell.’

Well, I’m back, I’m rested and I think it’s time to start a fight.

Patrick Allossery, who once edited this very publication, now writes for the National Post. He offers his opinion on advertising, much like everybody else in this nation, except that Patrick and I and Base over there [see opposite] do it in print.

Patrick is a good guy. Patrick was also recently very, very wrong, so much so that I’m going to jump on my soapbox and tell him so.

In a Post column in late March, Patrick Allossery slammed Home Hardware for doing a commercial featuring veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces. He charged it with ‘incredible insensitivity in leveraging our sense of compassion and empathy for our war dead to promote…its gardening implements.’

Okay, okay, as Mark Twain said, it is the difference of opinion that makes horse races. You strike me as a little hypersensitive, Patrick, but I am not my brother-journalist’s keeper.

But then, a week later, in another column about a completely different subject, Mr. Allossery returned to his Home Hardware-bashing for five more paragraphs, building up to this purple prose:

‘Just imagine the quick public condemnation of a company that tried to exploit the image of Hitler in its advertising, and you will understand my point.’

Hitler? Showing a couple of nice old guys and a Newfoundland war memorial is comparable to making a spokesman out of Hitler? You’re yelling like hell, Patrick.

I think I want to say something in return.

Patrick starts his original diatribe with a remarkably cynical scenario, in which a host of researchers and ‘under-the-gun marketing managers’ see Molson’s wonderful ‘Rant’ commercial and start ordering their agencies to do patriotism. They all seem unable to find any – he cites lack of sponsorship for the CBC’s Canada: A People’s History – except for the evil Home Hardware, who decides ‘that any attention is good attention.’

Molson’s ‘Rant’ inspired Home’s War Memorial because they both involve Canadianism? Hmmmm, could be, Patrick. I look forward to your next few columns, slamming Superman for ripping off Citizen Kane (both heroes work for newspapers), and Purple Rain for being a sleazy adaptation of Hamlet (both feature lives of Princes).

Come off it. Yes, there is imitation in the ad business, and yes, there is stuff worthy of cynicism. But mostly, we who slog in the trenches (‘Burghardt self-servingly reaches for First World War analogy!’) just try to find a solid strategy that fits our brand and stick to it.

Home Hardware has had the same strategy since long before the ‘Rant,’ and it has stuck to it. Its stores are smaller, as you acknowledge, than its ‘big-box competitors,’ so it emphasizes local ownership and community involvement. Kind of fits well with the brand name, ‘Home,’ I’d say.

A Home Hardware dealer in Winterton, Nfld., provided his time and store’s supplies to fix up a war memorial. A local veteran thought that was great, and wrote a letter to Home’s head office. A good creative team – in full disclosure, yes, I do know these guys – saw the letter and built a nice commercial around it. They even, in your words, ‘attempted to imbue the production…with an air of reserve and respect.’

(‘Aha! The old reserve and respect scam!’)

This is not a Communist plot. This is the way advertising works, and in this case I think it worked rather nicely. Your attack, based solely on having war footage and a corporate sponsor in the same spot, smacks very loudly of political correctness – and I think we have had enough of that around already.

Three years ago, a very talented Italian actor-writer-director created a film that garnered major awards in Cannes, Toronto, Hollywood and elsewhere. His name was Roberto Benigni, and the film was Life Is Beautiful. It is a funny and touching film, but by your standards he shouldn’t have allowed his creativity to go anywhere near it.

It exploited Hitler.

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 or by e-mail at