Likeable but pointless doesn’t make the grade

I've always wondered about the line attributed to ad lady Mary Wells concerning why our advertising should be likeable. She said that if we could get them to like us through liking our ads, then perhaps they might buy something from us.
This is why the car sales person starts with a joke, right? Well okay, but there's a point at which the effort to be liked is so frenzied and distracting that any reason to buy is garbled, buried or simply ignored in the process.
I like dogs. But the phone company that devotes its advertising to endearing pictures of cute dogs is one I've never given a moment's consideration to.

I’ve always wondered about the line attributed to ad lady Mary Wells concerning why our advertising should be likeable. She said that if we could get them to like us through liking our ads, then perhaps they might buy something from us.

This is why the car sales person starts with a joke, right? Well okay, but there’s a point at which the effort to be liked is so frenzied and distracting that any reason to buy is garbled, buried or simply ignored in the process.

I like dogs. But the phone company that devotes its advertising to endearing pictures of cute dogs is one I’ve never given a moment’s consideration to.

Likewise the one with the frogs and insects. And I don’t even like insects.

There’s a radio spot running in Toronto that contains about 25 seconds of Abbot and Costello’s immortal Who’s On First routine. It’s so dazzling it’s all you can think about for the next 25 seconds, by which time the spot is over and you’ve missed the point of who the advertiser is and why they ran the Abbot and Costello thing anyway.

If the problem with Who’s On First is that it’s so funny it blows away the message content of the spot, how about the stuff that’s not funny? Like the car fluid experts who are sure we’d find it compelling to use their services if they ran a spot where people called up and asked brainless questions about irrelevant fluids, like what the blue stuff in the jar where the combs are kept in the barber shop is. These people are two-time losers. They didn’t sell us anything, and now we think they’re dorks, too.

If you can convince the client their product is too dull and boring to merit a relevant selling message, perhaps they’d go for something entertaining, like 25 seconds of the chariot race from Ben Hur with their logo on the end. Or, come to think of it, 25 seconds of Abbot and Costello’s Who’s On First .

One company has never for a moment doubted their products are interesting, compelling, fascinating. That company is Apple, and their ads are consistently fascinating, too.

It helps, you might say, to be selling perhaps the coolest and most astonishingly beautiful desktop computer anyone has ever seen. But the image of the product is positively teeny in this execution, and the people who make Apple’s ads believe it is not uncool to sell like crazy. Like, with copy, Dude. No distractions. No jokes. No auditioning for the copywriter’s leap from the hell of advertising into stand-up comedy stardom at Yuk Yuks.

The ad is without traditional headline or traditional logo. The image of the guy will not make it in GQ magazine, either. The best you can say is the kid looks a bit geeky, but honest, pleasant, possibly even bright. Your kid brother’s best friend.

The killer copy is set up as an e-mail on a computer screen. And the closest they come to a headline is in the Subject box. It says I’m Glad I Switched.

The rest of the copy is the e-mail text. It starts Dear Apple- I heard you were looking to hear from people who’ve recently switched from a PC to a Mac. My reasons for switching were simple. I wanted a better computing experience than I had with my PC.

He proceeds to admit he initially had concerns about switching. His whole life was on the old machine. His illustrations, writing, banking records. He says It’s like being stuck in a bad relationship: It works on some level so you don’t want to make the effort to change. Hey, come on, that’s nice writing!

But he found it was all simple. Transferring my files was simple. All my word processing, illustration and Quicken files just loaded right up.

In the last paragraph he hypes the features that let my family enjoy our digital gadgets, cameras and video cameras. I honestly don’t think there’s anything I can’t do. Then, okay, one little half-baked joke about how it can’t make him coffee in the morning, and we’re out.

And your eye drifts down again to that teeny, lovely little close-cut photo of the Mac, and you’re saying I could do this! And you take the bait and go to apple.com/switch, or I’m very mistaken.

This ad is undoubtedly a product of good research, good art direction, good thinking, good writing. It believes in the wonder of its product. It sells. Intelligently. And you know what? It’s rather likeable.

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.