Keep it simple – and persuasive

About a hundred years ago, when my agency was launching a three-thousand-acre Mississauga New Town project called Meadowvale, the Art Director, Chris Hughes, stumbled upon a kid who wanted to be a photographer. (This was before Chris fell in love with one of our Account Execs and started a rival agency with her as his partner, I might add.)
This kid had put together a portfolio of stuff he'd shot on spec, which somehow caught our fancy.

About a hundred years ago, when my agency was launching a three-thousand-acre Mississauga New Town project called Meadowvale, the Art Director, Chris Hughes, stumbled upon a kid who wanted to be a photographer. (This was before Chris fell in love with one of our Account Execs and started a rival agency with her as his partner, I might add.)

This kid had put together a portfolio of stuff he’d shot on spec, which somehow caught our fancy. On a hunch, we send him out to Meadowvale for a day to shoot anything he saw that caught his eye as novel and interesting. What he came back with knocked us sideways. His impeccable taste, his choice of subjects, his use of lenses that bent things just enough to be weirdly fascinating, the way he cropped things perfectly right in the camera – all were a delight to behold.

Paul Orenstein did many days of shooting for us, and his career took off.

Now, decades later, in search of a photographer for a Muskoka project, I rang the Art Director of Cottage Life magazine for references. She raved about the work one Paul Orenstein had done for her on the cover story of their August issue.

This in turn put me back in touch with Paul, but also prompted me to pick up the magazine for a look-see. Cottage Life appears to have carved out a nice roster of advertisers who are persuaded that cottagers are prime suspects for inducements to buy everything from SUVs and outboards (which you’d expect) to mayonnaise, puppy food and granola bars, which you might not.

Absolut Vodka has contributed an ad seemingly custom-tailored to the book’s audience. The left page features the mnemonic of a cottage screen door with the woodwork cut in the shape of the bottle, headlined Absolut Getaway, with the facing page of drink recipes titled Absolut Get-together.

But the most impressive ad in the book is a rather understated pitch for the Kodak Max HQ disposable 35mm camera. I say understated, as there’s something about a reverse headline set in a block of yellow ink that doesn’t exactly blow your head off, but when you get into it, the long copy is a masterful example of what David Ogilvy meant when he said the more you tell, the more you sell.

The head (my least-favourite part, thanks to the aforesaid yellow) is We sacrifice nothing to bring you high-end 35mm photos. Except the camera.

Beside a close-cut shot of the camera, the only graphic embellishment is two nearly identical little shots of a human head lying at someone’s feet on what appears to be a beach. The head is attached to a kid buried in the sand, of course, but the initial impression is a small grabber. And subtly prepares one for the quirky, chatty body copy.

It begins For the longest time, if you wanted to take pictures…you had to bring a camera wherever you went. (Japanese tourists have known this for centuries.) Japanese tourists? Centuries? Whoever wrote this is recklessly politically incorrect and very funny. I think I’ll read on!

They tell us about the lens, the best lens ever used in a one-time-use camera. About the film. About the flash. All to convince us this throw-away camera takes pictures as well as a regular 35mm camera. (Also the point of the two nearly-identical pix of the kid’s-head-dare-to-compare device).

It’s not quite Hemingway, but if you don’t end up reading it all and saying to yourself you know, I should pick one up some day, I will be very disappointed in you indeed.

Another ad in this pool is headed Part high-end 35mm camera. Part milk jug. The copy begins Yes, it’s plastic. Just like swizzle sticks. Just like pink lawn flamingoes. And just like all other one-time-use cameras out there. But that’s where the similarities end. And many, many words later, it closes with We keep the camera’s shell to recycle. You keep the great photographs. Simple.

Simple indeed. But very nice. Very persuasive.

All my career, I’ve told Art Directors not to think of me as a boss, but rather as a good friend who’s always right. Please fix the yellow, and you’ve really got something.

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 (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.