Timeless matters

My wife's mother is a retired lady, who raised her only child mostly as a single working mom in a manner that has earned her my undying respect and admiration.

My wife’s mother is a retired lady, who raised her only child mostly as a single working mom in a manner that has earned her my undying respect and admiration.

However, her tastes in media are not necessarily in sync with mine. And quite probably they never were. As a French Canadian girl hailing from Sudbury who did not speak working English until she came south to The Big Smoke at the age of 20, she does not feel obliged to subject herself to the horrific excellence of The Sopranos, for example. Or to attempt to wade through The New Yorker as a weekly ritual in search of Wonderful Treatises on Things You Never Even Suspected You Were Interested In. This diversity provides Cheryl and I and our kids with an affectionate and intimate insight into TV programming and publications that counterbalance our own predilections, and incidentally captivate much of The Known World.

My mom-in-law watches the soaps weekday afternoons when at home in Toronto, and misses them when staying with us during summer spells in Muskoka, as we somehow persuaded our kids to swing a vote to ban TV from our Lake Rosseau house again this year.

But she can still pick up a current Globe or National Enquirer at Windermere, and inadvertently skin the kids’ eyes with stories like Marie Osmond Prays for Mom Who Drowned Her 5 Tots and Top Stars Linked to Mafia Sex Club.

It was, in fact, a copy of the Globe (and we’re not talking the Globe and Mail here) that inspired this issue’s column. There are surprisingly few ads in the Globe, and all of them are direct response ads. There are ads for psychics. For hearing aids. And my favourite, for a contour leg pillow, so much better than that spare pillow you stick between your knees at 2a.m. because it’s contoured to support the NATURAL ALIGNMENT of your body and it’s only $14.95 US plus $4.95 shipping.

What really caught my attention, though, were two ads of breathtaking virtuosity, suspension-of-disbelief and timelessness that merit study, and support the late Bill Bernbach’s statement that we ad makers should be concerned with the unchanging aspects of human nature.

The first is headlined, ‘Amazing High-Speed Diet Pill Produces Extremely Fast Weight Loss.’ It contains two inset photos of what purports to be the same woman. One is a size-16 blowsy, bikinied, blonde leaning on a cheap automobile. The second is a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue babe, in a TA-DA pose against a Caribbean sea, taken, it says, 42 days later, by which time the babe’s a size six and has become a beautiful brunette.

The red subheads, which highlight the best part of 1,000 words of copy, are telling. They go like this: Forces Fat To Leave Your Body…It Is Protected By A Trademark And A Patent Is Now Pending…An Important Word Of Caution (You could become TOO THIN)…Do Not Go Below The Weight Goal Recommended By Your Physician…and finally the what-the-hell-can-you-lose A Lifetime 110% Money-Back Guarantee.

On the back page is an ad with the headline, Monopoly…The Collector’s Edition. Here, the relentlessly successful folks at The Franklin Mint have devised a Monopoly board fully authenticated by Parker Brothers on a wooden box with a lush green playing surface luxuriously framed in fine hardwood with playing pieces crafted in solid pewter and rich with the glow of 24-karat gold electroplate. By the way, it includes double the usual supply of money!

All the damn things that were wrong with every Monopoly game you’ve ever bought, fixed, for only $595 US, payable in 10 monthly installments, plus $9.95 for shipping and handling.

I contend that either of these ads could have run with equal success, and we know these ads are successful, during any year since people wished themselves thinner, or Monopoly was invented, or advertising was invented.

If human nature has not changed recently, why should advertising? Whether in the Globe, or in the back pages of The New Yorker, direct marketers seem to have figured this out.


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 the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners, (416) 924-5533; fax (416) 960-5255.