Missing out on the big three will make you a monkey

One of the handy little truisms that actually work in advertising is the notion that most advertisements that our industry deems good or even great contain a disproportionately large helping of three elements:
Relevance
Emotion
Surprise

One of the handy little truisms that actually work in advertising is the notion that most advertisements that our industry deems good or even great contain a disproportionately large helping of three elements:

Relevance

Emotion

Surprise

The trouble with pure Relevance is that as much as we want the ad to speak to a relevant consumer issue, relevance alone, like sensible shoes, is unlikely to cause much of a fuss in anyone’s cerebral cortex, if you get my drift.

That’s why big dollops of Emotion and Surprise are splashed around, to make Relevance sexy and cool and memorable. To get our attention, in other words. To lather up humdrum reality into a Feast for the Senses, see?

The Trouble with Emotion and Surprise is, unless carefully and cunningly applied, they can squish your Relevance like a bug and go off on a tangent like an off-course firework, exploding dramatically, but with utterly no beneficial effect.

As we used to say, I know who Charlie Manson is, I know what he stands for, I feel very strongly about him, I will always remember him, but I am unlikely to buy a car from him.

The talent to apply Emotion and Surprise in a manner that allows Relevance to take you out for a lovely dinner and go home with you later is why creative people pull down the big bucks. Or should be, anyway.

I thought of this while driving past a bus shelter board for Hellmann’s mayonnaise the other day. For The Big Image, someone has photographed a jar labeled toothpaste. Someone has made One Big Sickening Mess of whatever is inside this jar (toothpaste?) in an attempt to get it out of the jar.

Now, down below in the right corner is a little photograph of Hellmann’s mayonnaise in the new plastic squeeze bottle. The line reads Our new squeezable format. It kind of makes sense.

I get it. You get it. Just as God put toothpaste in a squeeze container at the beginning of time, so has Hellmann’s, after endless years of screwing us around with jars, blah blah. Relevant? Well, you can’t argue with it. Emotion? Surprise? Big time! Just look at that mess of icky glop!

The trouble is, I think you don’t say Mother Dog, I’ll get me one and toast up a Turkey Club for lunch. No, you say I bet it would be pretty gross to brush with mayo, or Toothpaste on a Turkey Club? Yuck! At least I did.

Wait, there’s another stunning campaign out there that is Emotion and Surprise Gone Nuts personified. It is the Conseco campaign we have all seen because it is running on CNN, and we have a war to manage.

The spot opens on busy office floor. Cut to a cubicle where a guy is sitting behind a desk, ear to the phone. He is motionless. Man comes in with papers. Bob, can you make sure Carol gets this? Man leaves. Bob stays motionless. Carol comes in, takes papers. Oh, thanks Bob, have a good night! Man comes in with paycheck, throws it on Bob’s desk. Pay day, Bob! Bob does not move.

Cut to man and woman by elevators. Man: Husband’s still in there working late again? Woman smiles. What a trooper! Woman goes to Bob’s cubicle.

Takes paycheck. Leaves furtively. Bob does not move. Voice-over: How do you plan on providing for your family after you pass away? Conseco Insurance policies can give your loved ones a regular monthly paycheque!

If you think that’s black, there’s another one. An old lady on a park bench is approached by an organ grinder’s monkey. Monkey has a little jacket on, and holds a Styrofoam cup of money he’s begged. Monkey starts talking to old lady! She recognizes the voice! It’s her dead husband, come back as a monkey. Yes, a monkey. The monkey slips her some dough. Come back Tuesday it says, I make a killing on Tuesdays. And by the way, wear that red dress I always liked!

I’m not sure how middle-aged women would respond to these spots. As a guy, my issues are how I’d deal with coming back from the dead as a monkey and still having the hots for my widow. Or how soon I’d rot, a corpse in a cubicle.

Conseco’s campaign addresses relevant issues. Their executions are as horrifically funny as anything you’ll see on Saturday Night Live. And if you think it’ll sell a ton of insurance, I’ll buy you a banana.

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.