Crimes of imagination and technique

A friend of mine who spent 20 years as the VP marketing at one of the country's largest advertisers employs a pithy little metaphor to describe the relative importance which ad agencies ascribe to creative development for the various media. He says they do the TV storyboards in the cab on the way over, the radio scripts on the way up in the elevator, and the print in the reception area while they're waiting to be ushered into the boardroom.

A friend of mine who spent 20 years as the VP marketing at one of the country’s largest advertisers employs a pithy little metaphor to describe the relative importance which ad agencies ascribe to creative development for the various media. He says they do the TV storyboards in the cab on the way over, the radio scripts on the way up in the elevator, and the print in the reception area while they’re waiting to be ushered into the boardroom.

This would be funnier if so much print advertising didn’t mostly look like it was conceived in three minutes in a stuffy waiting room by two hung-over juniors who’ve never seen a good print ad in their short, brutal lives.

Here’s a quick tour of the myriad crimes of imagination and technique noted in the last issue of Toronto Life magazine for the year 2001.

Nuthin’ different ’bout our product, right? Godiva Chocolates are to ordinary chocolates what Ferraris are to ordinary cars. So let’s devote 97% of the ad to a mugging fashion model munching an itsy-bitsy one-centimeter-square bonbon. The headline? ‘Weeks AND WEEKS of party planning finally rewarded.’ Come on, party planning? If you’re looking for non-sequiturs, how about a nude on a horse?

The Checkerboard Square School of Art Direction. When in doubt, create a matrix of squares and put something dull in each one. An outfit called HomeSense (with a little roof on the ‘H’ of the logo, of course) shows us greenish-hued shots of towels, pillows and candlesticks under the headline Gifts that say you shouldn’t have. Prices that say you really didn’t. Cheap gifts for people who really aren’t worth it. See also the Wella ad. Checkerboards, blah.

We couldn’t think of a way to show you what’s special about our product, so we decided to try to tell you. Couldn’t do that, either. Seiko shows us a really big photo of a perfectly ordinary-looking watch with fake-looking gee-whiz blue cosmic rays shooting out behind it. A glowing blue typeface headline tells us it’s A UNIQUELY COSMIC EXPERIENCE! Copy claims a unique holographic dial that seems to present time in three dimensions. What a pity they couldn’t show it. Or explain it. Maybe do TV next time? Or print a holograph, whatever. As it is, this is a $7.99 watch ad for one that starts at five hundred bucks. Fugedit.

See also the Movenpick ice cream ad. The line? Amaze your senses. Sure, we’ll try anything at this point. The shot? Either a tiny ball of what appears to be ice cream sits on a single pecan, or, perhaps it’s a huge ball of ice cream sitting on a loaf of Calabrese bread. In any case, the copy denies it’s ice cream at all.

Invent a copy point benefit nobody ever thought of before. Then try to imagine why. A Subaru ad shows a Outback wagon parked in a river. Crocodile Dundee has left the forest. The headline reads, in four different type sizes, START A RARE BUG COLLECTION ON YOUR WINDSHIELD. The copy suggests you can compete with entomologists. Ever wanted a car like this? No?

The Wet Bird Flies at Night Approach. I think it was Johnny Carson who invented a guru character who, when asked the meaning of life, said A wet bird flies at night. When challenged, he’d say You mean a wet bird DOESN’T fly at night? A Wines of France ad is so bankrupt in its inability to tell us anything significant about french wines that the headline over the shot (the same grinning ‘Gallic’ stud shot in every Wines of France ad) bears the headline One great experience deserves another! I can’t wait for A stitch in time saves nine! Or Please walk on the grass! Things we can all agree with are nice.

We’re only kidding about this, but we couldn’t think of anything else. In a Pledge grab-it mitts ad, a cat experiences serious static cling in the presence of what looks like an oven mit. The head says Nothing attracts hair like (logo). Then, a line of mouse type negates the whole damn thing, and I quote, Not intended to be used directly on any animal, like ‘Cookie’ here. At least we know what name to put on the misleading advertising warrant.

Nobody reads headlines anyway, and we liked the shot. Motorola has a new phone. They say It draws a lot of stares. The girl on the phone is staring at a teenage guy reading stock market quotes in a newspaper. Nobody is staring at her. The headline says IS IT SO WRONG TO STARE? Technically no, but in this case, yes, you’re wrong, wrong, wrong. And the checkerboard art direction sucks, too. See also the Waterpik ad headlined LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT. REPEAT. REPEAT. Why? What the hell is wrong with this Waterpik shower head that I have to do it OVER and OVER and OVER?

I could go on and on with the ads in one lousy magazine. Hey! Perhaps I shall!

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.