Welcome to the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot awards

If you have a couple of seconds to spare, write me a list of brands you wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. Stores you'd rather avoid being seen shopping in. Places you'd rather stay home than book a holiday to. Clothing labels you'd snip off rather than be caught dead wearing.

If you have a couple of seconds to spare, write me a list of brands you wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Stores you’d rather avoid being seen shopping in. Places you’d rather stay home than book a holiday to. Clothing labels you’d snip off rather than be caught dead wearing.

My list would include anything Don Cherry hustles. Sleep Country Canada. EuroDisney. Benetton.

Okay, what was it persuaded us to give all this stuff a lifelong swerve?

The advertising, silly!

You see, it is perhaps the central delusion of the marketing mind that if you spend a million bucks advertising, you’re guaranteed a million bucks worth of positive persuasion.

(That’s like believing you could buy indulgences from the village priest before marching off to battle in the 13th century to guarantee you didn’t come back in nasty bits on your shield. Gods of war and advertising are not that easily bribed.)

Unlikely, to say the least, that a million buys a million. If you persuade brilliantly, you’ll get 10 million back on your million. And if not, it’s perfectly possible to achieve negative numbers. To persuade more people a brand is not for them than vice versa.

Ogilvy once figured out, after years of measuring media advertising, that more people who didn’t see Ford ads bought Fords than those who did see ‘em.

Advertising is information packaged in a way that invites people to make decisions. If you contrive to package your information in a way that invites enough people to decide your stuff ain’t for them, you’re funding your own eventual demise. Remember K-Tel!

This month’s contenders for the K-Tel shoot-yourself-in-the-foot awards have to include the embarrassingly, excruciatingly un-funny Penzoil radio spot now on air, the take-off on The Sopranos.

The actor playing the shit-for-brains thug is made to ramble on about how he asked Penzoil what’s in it for me? if he did this commercial, and was told it was money which meant they were talkin’ his language. He can’t remember the product is motor oil until prompted by a flunky. Then we have to go through the double entendres about protection bein’ a good ting, yaknowwhadeyemeen?

As ‘humour’ this stuff wouldn’t make it past an alert high school newspaper editor. As ‘advertising’ it is terminally unlikely to persuade car nuts to drain the Quaker State out of their crankcases and replace it with Penzoil, trust me.

They’re pitching a car-cult product to an élite niche market, and they’ve got the audio equivalent of a dribble cup. Puerile. Pathetic. Destructive.

Britney Spears ain’t my cup of tea. But I have daughters eight and 10, and I can understand Pepsi betting on Britney to get my girls’ attention. But a really bad Pauley Walnuts imitator who doesn’t even know Penzoil is motor oil?

Again, if you will allow me a personal anecdote, we have two houses and two Weber barbecues, which cost basically a thousand bucks a pop. (Please note, you can buy a barbecue in the same hardware store you buy your Weber, that looks about the same as a Weber, for a quarter of the price of a Weber.)

So why is Weber paying to run a radio commercial featuring a stoned-sounding, airhead party girl, free associating about how Dante could have had better, like, pool parties if the author of The Inferno had used a Weber?

When we insiders are pitched to purchase our insider brands, we insist they inform, or flatter, or otherwise cater to our insider-cool understanding of that brand.

If Weber can’t hire an ad agency who can figure out a coherent argument, blandishment, lure or benefit as to why I should pay a six hundred dollar premium for their product, maybe I have to reconsider replacing my Webers with Webers when rust and corruption finally take their toll.

Once our brand’s ads telegraph the idea our brand doesn’t like, respect or even understand us any more, hey, it’s over!

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.