Our mission: Getting consumers to the ‘maybe in a pig’s eye’ stage and beyond

Once upon a time, I contrived to have lunch with not the ad manager, not the marketing manager, but The President of a very major global purveyor of household cleansing products.
My ad agency had acquired a certain cult reputation for interesting creative work within a 50-foot radius of certain Toronto bars where agency people went to drink, and I had launched myself upon what was, retrospectively, an insanely quixotic crusade to persuade people who made laundry soap and sink abrasives that they needed a 'creative' ad agency.

Once upon a time, I contrived to have lunch with not the ad manager, not the marketing manager, but The President of a very major global purveyor of household cleansing products.

My ad agency had acquired a certain cult reputation for interesting creative work within a 50-foot radius of certain Toronto bars where agency people went to drink, and I had launched myself upon what was, retrospectively, an insanely quixotic crusade to persuade people who made laundry soap and sink abrasives that they needed a ‘creative’ ad agency.

At the chosen suburban hotel venue, we met in the fancy dining room. But before the shrimp cocktail arrived, my guest advanced the opinion that spelled death to my hopes. Draining the last of his gin martini, he leaned over and said, regretfully, that creative advertising would not serve his product portfolio well, because, (sigh, alas) his products were boring.

I believe I muttered something to the effect that sir, there are no boring products, only boring advertising, but it got me exactly nowhere. Ninety bucks later I was back out in the parking lot looking for my 240 ZX.

Now we mostly agree that our job as storytellers on behalf of commercial interests is, at the end of the day, to make our clients’ products and services interesting to the right people and therefore worthy of consideration.

Yeah, consideration is one hell of a long way from nowheresville, and to create something that wins sufficient interest in a consumer’s mind to merit consideration is why we pull down the big bucks.

Remember in Dumb and Dumber when the Jim Carrey character asks the girl if he has a chance with her? The girl says maybe one in a million, and Carrey’s rubber face lights up like he just won the lottery. Yeahhhhh!!!!! he yells. Well, that’s us.

Our storytelling mission is to elevate something from (1) I never heard of it through (2) It never crossed my mind to (3) Yeah, but it’s not for me and onwards to (4) Well maybe in a pig’s eye and finally (5) Okay, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to take a peek at one.

Where we dissolve into a thousand very small points of divergent light is in determining the approach we take to making something that’s perfectly, lobotomizingly boring into something people perceive as cool, or useful, or for whatever reason, interesting.

And the trick is, folks, not just the execution has to be interesting, it has to make the product interesting. Because at the end of the day, an interesting execution will not sell a boring product.

Volkswagen, in the great original campaign, said things about cars in a way they had never been said before so they knocked you sideways and it made them famous. But they did say a few real things about the car. It didn’t need water. It was ugly but it worked. It had a rear-mounted engine. (The traction thus created was made memorable in the great TV spot about how the snow plough man got to the snow plough. But the reason why was the rear-mounted engine.)

Another classic campaign, for Frank Purdue’s Chickens told you It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken. The executions were fabulous and funny, but the payoff was the fact Purdue chickens were better-tasting because they ate better stuff than ordinary chickens, which you could tell because ordinary chickens were white and Purdue’s were yellow. A fact!

Which brings me to the new Saab campaign. Got it? Wait, there’s a parasail guy being pulled over a desert landscape by a car, and although the guy up on the chute is yelling over the radio to the driver that it’s time to change places and let me drive for a while the driver is having such a good time driving he won’t answer the guy on the chute. Oh, NOW you remember! Yeah, yeah, that’s a Saab ad.

Isn’t it great to be in an industry where you can make lot of money telling a car company it would be really great to have their car pull a guy on a parasail? Boy, you’re gonna have to hire bouncers to keep people from rushing the showroom doors, once they realize that…well, whatever.

And have you seen that great little Oreo spot? The little old man grabs some Oreo cookies and all this brown stuff comes off on his fingers and he goes WHAT THE HECK??? and it turns out they’re new fudge-on-the-outside Oreos. What a concept. What an execution. It’s ugly, but it works.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He creates this column for fun, and to test the unproven theory that clients who find the latter amusing may also find the former to their liking. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.