Lest we forget: Formulas still work

My wife, who, bless her, has nothing to do with advertising, walked in and said, 'Look at this.' I looked, and said, 'I like it. In fact, I like it so much, I'm going to write a column about it.'...

My wife, who, bless her, has nothing to do with advertising, walked in and said, ‘Look at this.’ I looked, and said, ‘I like it. In fact, I like it so much, I’m going to write a column about it.’

It was a four-page black-and-white folder, with production values of about two on a scale of 10. (You could make out the pictures, and read it.) It advertised the services of Kass and Sons Professional Garden Care Givers.

It proved that this communications business is not as tough as we sometimes try to make it.

The ad, apparently produced by amateurs, follows a very clear and professional formula. On page one, it sets up the problem. On pages two and three, it offers the solution. And on page four, it displays customer satisfaction. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom.

Following the formula is the easy part. The tough part, for which we get paid big bucks but the Kass people don’t, is to execute the formula with warmth and empathy and style.

Page one shows two middle-aged male executive types, in a suave business setting where they should be acting like captains of industry, sound asleep. The caption is, ‘NO ENERGY LEFT TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR GARDEN?’

Page two shows a Kass staffer (I’m told it is a ‘Son,’ of Kass and Sons) hard at work, smiling, and looking like the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind tromping around your lawn. The caption urges you to call Kass, and provides a phone number.

Page three shows the finished product, a fine-looking urban garden, with the words, ‘A FAMILY BUSINESS WITH LOVE FOR YOUR GARDEN.’ And page four offers another smile – a literal tree-hugger, an attractive woman with a dreamy look embracing a gnarled and beloved tree trunk. The caption follows Burghardt’s Law #17: ‘When you exaggerate the visual, understate the caption.’ It simply says, ‘COMPLETE SATISFACTION.’

The result of this folder? I know what business they’re in. I feel a certain need for their services. I get a confidence they’ll deliver. And best of all – and advertisers still overlook this far too often – I like them. Nice work, Kass.

The moral of this story, if any, is this: Hotshot creative people sometimes think they should ignore the formulas of our business. Ninety-nine times out of 100, they shouldn’t. Every art has its formulas: Acts One, Two, and Three… Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus… Boy Meets Girl/-Boy Loses Girl/Boy Finds Girl. What we do is bend the formulas to our own use, and invest them with energy and surprise. But formulas become formulas in the first place for a simple reason – they work.

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In a recent issue, I wrote that if the Australians ever do an ‘I AM AUSTRALIAN’ beer campaign, it won’t focus on what the New Zealanders think of them. I was not only unaware, but also a good deal wrong.

A pseudonymous correspondent chided me for not knowing about the Fosters ‘I BELIEVE’ advertising, and directed me to a Web site to remedy my ignorance. Yep. The Australian Fosters spot is just like Molson’s, but not as good. And it is defensive – ‘I don’t keep kangaroos as pets, I don’t wear a cork hat,’ etc.

Joe Blow, my cybersource on the commercial, adds ‘Canadians went ballistic on the Australians for ripping us off. In news articles about the spot, spokespeople from Fosters actually denied the spot was a lift and didn’t understand what the hullabaloo was about…’

Yeah, well, it is an inferior rip-off, and sorry I missed it. Maybe I was traveling. In Australia.

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 burgwarp@aol.com.