The end of loyalty, shame and post 9/11 sensitivity

A guy who was once a client and remains a friend is between marketing gigs, after an unfortunate altercation with the latest in a series of Big-Brand-Name-Player employers.

A guy who was once a client and remains a friend is between marketing gigs, after an unfortunate altercation with the latest in a series of Big-Brand-Name-Player employers.

Unaccustomed as he is to slumming around phoning people’s voice mail as a mere supplicant instead of as The Magnanimous Spender of Megabucks, he sent me an e-mail marveling at the number of prominent people client-side in our industry who do not return phone calls. And that’s not even mentioning the nobodies who don’t return phone calls.

He wrote that he hoped I had not spent my career suffering the indignities of a call-back-impaired client-side corporate world which he has suddenly encountered for the first time. I went ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha and then e-mailed back with the observation that since roughly 1985, loyalty has been dead and courtesy has been gravely, possibly terminally ill.

That started me wondering whatever happened to shame, which seems to have gone out for a pack of smokes some time ago and has not returned.

As evidence, I submit the latest Subway TV spot. Just in case you were wondering exactly when the world went back to its normal, grubby ways after Sept. ll, I’d count back to the day the Clay Henry, Formerly Fat Fireman spot broke.

Immediately post 9/11, we teared up with George Bush, his arm around a shell-shocked fireman at Ground Zero. Heard how an obsequious Paul McCartney walked in to New York firehouses with handfuls of free tickets to the benefit rock concert he organized. Watched Mick and Keith and The Who palling around with some of the surviving firefighters on stage. Got teary again when The New Yorker’s Halloween issue cover showed smiling, adorable little New York kids going trick-or-treating door to door universally dressed up as firemen and cops.

So it was bound to be only a matter of time until somebody said I bet those dead firemen can help us sell bologna sandwiches! So they came up with Clay Henry, a fireman whose personal tragedy was not getting incinerated in the World Trade Center, but getting fat eating burgers and fries and who is now trying Subway on for size.

Clay has already slimmed down dramatically, thanks no doubt to a diet of preserved meat, mayo and fluffy white buns tempered by grief, as evidenced by his holding up the elephant-sized fireman pants forced upon him by the notorious burger-and-fries evil-doers.

What’s more, casting has provided him with a chorus of manly firemen who follow him around and sing about him, in a just slightly over-the-top manly way so reminiscent of the Monty Python skit where they sing I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay, I sleep all night and I work all day and turn out to be self-proclaimed transvestites in the next stanza.

As Clay Henry and the singing firemen motor through suburbia on their fire truck into the sunset, or possibly the Advertising Hall of Mind-Numbing Bad Taste, there’s a cut-in shot of a previous Subway television hero, standing at the curb waving limply. He is, I believe Jared, the chinless, bespectacled nerd who starred in the weight-loss role in a previous campaign. Now, he’s a normal-sized, just slightly pear-shaped bespectacled chinless nerd. Jared, the most unprepossessing presenter in television history! A guy who missed his calling as a spokesnerd for Wimpy’s.

This thing is so close to black, outrageous parody it makes your teeth hurt, but something tells you the irony never occurred to them. To film firemen singing weight-loss ditties extolling Dagwood Bumstead sandwiches just 4 months after 9/11 is just their idea of good advertising.

In the last shot, the firemen clinging to the back of the truck admonish us to Eat Fresh! Does that strat turn you on?

Fresh is one of those words it’s easy to agree with, like it’s better than stale. But are Subway fluffy white buns fresher than the burger chains’ fluffy white buns? Their tomatoes and lettuce fresher than Wendy’s? Are char-broiled burgers fresher than refrigerated salami? Is fresh a fast-food position with legs?

Cultures is a restaurant chain founded on fresh. Once there were something like 80 Cultures restaurants. Now there are about 20. And the guy who thought up Cultures sold it, and now owns the ascendant New York Fries. Fresh, smesh, whatever. Would you like a nice rich cheese sauce with your big fat fries? Yum!

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He writes this column to blow off steam, and as a thinly disguised lure to attract clients who may imagine working with him could be a productive and amusing experience. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.