Few things more painful than a bad sequel

If there is one rule that is almost never broken in the communications business, it is this one: When it works, do a sequel.

If there is one rule that is almost never broken in the communications business, it is this one: When it works, do a sequel.

Godfathers II and III. Meatballs II, III, and IV. Rockies II, III, IV, and V. James Bond meets lots of different enemies, Hannibal Lecter eats lots of different friends. On and on it goes.

Sequels save a lot of people a lot of work. You don’t have that tough job of character development, you don’t need a casting director unless Jodie Foster has quit, and you don’t have to go face to face with a skeptical producer, because the first version MADE MONEY. You get to coast.

If you do the sequel well, nobody notices that you’re coasting. On rare occasions, you even build momentum. The critics liked Godfather II even better than G-One, though the Toronto Star recently called G-Three ‘the movie nobody wanted to make and few wanted to see’. Speaking of ‘nobody wants to make it’, the public would love to have a Rocky VI, but Stallone has finally gotten rich enough to say no.

Usually, though, the power of the original leaks away real fast. As in Canadian Tire’s ‘Big Spender’ spots.

The first one charmed me. They were trying to remind me of the value of all that Canadian Tire money I have in my bedside drawer, so they showed a bunch of guys on a shopping spree, courtesy of Alpha Guy’s stored-up tire bucks. They borrowed the showstopper song from an old Broadway musical called Sweet Charity, and they put on a very, very nice little feel-good playlet.

The guys took over the Canadian Tire store, buying everything in sight, smoothly ignoring the real-life mathematics (the lead guy must have spent 27 gazillion dollars over two centuries to pay for what they’re buying). They acted like grown-up nine-year-olds, uncoordinated doofuses having a wonderful time, in what therefore must be a wonderful store. It’s good communication, it’s clear, and it’s warm.

Other people must have liked it too, because they sat down to do another one. And somebody looked at the stat sheets, and said, hey, 48.2% of all Canadian Tire purchases (or 59.3%, or 37.6%, they didn’t show me the sheets) are made by women, let’s do the same spot with women! We’ll score a couple points for political correctness, too!

So they made the same spot with women. That’s the problem. They made the same spot with women.

The male spot opens with a man walking into Canadian Tire and shouting, ‘Daddy’s home!’ The female spot opens with a woman walking into Canadian Tire and shouting, ‘Mommy’s home!’ The male spot has men strutting up and down the aisles. The female spot has women strutting up and down the aisles. The music hasn’t changed, the structure hasn’t changed, the second spot is pretty much a photocopy with a sex change.

The male commercial works. The female commercial doesn’t.

The difference is simply that women are not doofuses. (Doofus is obviously a Latin-rooted word, like cactus or alumnus; there cannot be a female doofus, or she would be a doofa.) Women are wonderful and often very funny, but they seldom find their humor by being oafs. When they stumble around the store they look miscast, not comic.

The makers of the second commercial clearly felt this at some level, because in addition to all the stumbling, they fall back on two attempted comic clichés: 1) Woman beats man (at table hockey) and 2) Woman buys ridiculous object because it is on sale. Both attempts fizzle.

From this humble Viewpoint, the sequel-makers should have reshaped the whole ‘Big Spender’ thrust to a more feminine angle, instead of just cloning their successful first spot.

It was my original intent to end this column with a positive example: an ad series where the sequel exceeded the quality of the original. But combing my way through Molson Canadian, Toshiba Notebooks, Fiberglas Pink Flamingos, and more, I can’t think of a single one. Help me. Can you?

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, 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.