Solid strategies driven by relevance & emotion

Gradually, the commercials came back on. When they did, it was kind of reassuring. Almost welcome. The world might have changed, maybe even forever, but after all the shock and horror and rage, the human mind seems to crave a moment of rest and recreation here and there.

Gradually, the commercials came back on. When they did, it was kind of reassuring. Almost welcome. The world might have changed, maybe even forever, but after all the shock and horror and rage, the human mind seems to crave a moment of rest and recreation here and there. A return to what passes for normalcy. An echo of the familiar.

I think it was in the film classic All Quiet on the Western Front that the hero, emotionally shattered after the endless shelling and death in the trenches of the First World War, reaches out to touch a butterfly.

A week or two after September 11th, there were a handful of pretty and thoughtfully affecting commercials floating around on CNN.

One begins with a grizzled old loner sidling up to an empty bar at the wrong time of day, somewhere you’d pay a thousand dollars not to be stranded over the weekend.

The guy has stubble on his chin, and wears a well-worn sheepskin coat. Yet his voice is strong, and his manner of speaking reminds one of Jason Robards, down on his luck.

He looks at the tough lady behind the bar. What kind of beer you got? She throws him a glance at the one draft tap behind the bar. Like, that’s it.

Food? he asks. She pushes a bowl of peanuts towards him. He sinks forward, holding his head in his hands for a moment. Anything else? she asks. He looks around the bar and spots an old-fashioned juke box selection unit, the kind that used to sit on the wall over the table in every booth in the diners of the ’50s.

Yeah he says. Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major. The bartender lady looks up. What performance? She asks, and rhymes off three obscure cellists.

How is that possible? he asks.

Our jukebox has every performance by every artist of every piece of music ever recorded she say.

A voiceover kicks in: Could your business use the bandwidth to change everything? Ride the light. Qwest.

They’ve pooled out the idea in another execution. This time the loner approaches the bored, sultry clerk at the check-in counter of a ratty motel in the middle of nowhere. She barely looks up from the book she’s reading.

He: What kind of rooms you got?

She: Kingsize.

He: Room service?

She: Donuts and coffee.

He: Entertainment?

She: Every movie ever made in every language, anytime, night or day.

And so on. It’s nicely shot, even better written. It’s lovely to watch how the shabby choicelessness of the bar and the motel in Nowheresville sets up a startling contrast with the cornucopia of music and movies online, thanks to Qwest.

There’s another pool of spots, for Charles Schwab, which I mention in the eternal struggle to find something nice to say about investment counselors without actually saying anything.

Filmed in black and white, a woman is having her temperature taken by a family doctor who is sitting on the side of her bed. He does his gruff-old-teddy-bear docterly thing, recommending rest and liquids, and then tosses in and we need to balance your portfolio…lay off the junk bonds.

Both this and a matching spot where a mom prepares peach pie for her visiting son, plus some investment notions taking into account current opportunities in the Asian market, tee off on the idea that it would be nice to deal with investment people who cared as much about you as your mom and your family doctor. This ties in wonderfully with the voiceover’s reminder that Schwab advisors are not driven by commission.

Solid strategies, driven home by clear, arresting creative. Relevance, emotion and surprise. No laughs here, but it doesn’t get much better.

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.