Don’t let the vampires suck the blood out of your creative

Once upon a time, back when the earth was still cooling and television was new, TV upset a lot of people in the advertising business. It was too complicated, and they didn't know how to deal with it.
Ads were only supposed to do one thing at once. Either they sat there nicely on the printed page, without any sound, or they boomed out over the living-room radio, without any pictures. Television, fer corn sake, did pictures and sound at the same time, and besides, the pictures moved. It was sort of like trying to pat your head and also rub your stomach; the two actions had a real tough time fitting together.
So the pundits of that era coined a scary new phrase that fledgling TV advertisers should fear beyond all else. They called this phenomenon 'Vampire Video'.

Once upon a time, back when the earth was still cooling and television was new, TV upset a lot of people in the advertising business. It was too complicated, and they didn’t know how to deal with it.

Ads were only supposed to do one thing at once. Either they sat there nicely on the printed page, without any sound, or they boomed out over the living-room radio, without any pictures. Television, fer corn sake, did pictures and sound at the same time, and besides, the pictures moved. It was sort of like trying to pat your head and also rub your stomach; the two actions had a real tough time fitting together.

So the pundits of that era coined a scary new phrase that fledgling TV advertisers should fear beyond all else. They called this phenomenon ‘Vampire Video’.

Vampire Video occurred when some tricky device happened with the camera, and the audience got so danged excited about these quick-cuts-or-somethin’ that they forgot to pay attention to what was being sold. Vampire Video, y’see, sucked the blood out of the selling message.

Vampire Video became a real buzzword (before ‘buzzword’ was a buzzword), and every time you sat in a darkened room to screen your first rough cut, you had to worry a lot about whether you had created a bloodsucker. But as buzzwords do, the phrase gradually died out, even though the phenomenon didn’t. (Just watch a couple of today’s spots in which the special-effects techie has gone mad, and you’ll see Vampire Video at its best. Hey, what were they selling there?)

Well, let me tell you, what goes ’round comes ’round (whatever that means). In the summer of 2002, radio, which spawned television, which developed Vampire Video – radio itself has come down with Vampire Audio.

Vampire Audio occurs most often when the copywriter or the radio producer seems to have decided that the ad’s subject is dull. Let’s say, it’s a special 40% off promotion. Or maybe the spot is supposed to flog some new rent-a-video that couldn’t draw flies when it was in the theatres.

Apparently what happens is this. The creative guys say, ‘There is no possible way to make this product/ service/offer interesting, and we’re supposed to get people to listen, so let’s mess around with the voice.’

The result is one of two things: an amusing commercial, or an annoying commercial. In the first category goes the one where they’re staging an audition, and six or seven bad announcers read the same copy over and over. In the annoying category goes the super-smarmy voice who pushes videos. I think he’s supposed to be a Hollywood type and therefore funny, but the sound of his voice gets my finger pushing the station-switch button faster than Don Cherry.

In either case, though, the same thing happens to me, the listener. I’m so busy listening to the trick voice (or voices) that I can’t begin to assimilate what they’re actually saying. The device has sucked the blood out of the message. Vampire Audio.

I’ll debate the original premise: i.e., this offer is so boring that we have to borrow interest. Years ago, when Young & Rubicam did monthly house ads in Fortune magazine, they had a classic about a carpenter’s nail. It was art-directed in a clean, strong style ahead of its time, it showed call-outs of the nail’s unique advantages, and it concluded with ‘There are no dull products. There is only dull advertising.’

By coincidence, I’m sure, Home Hardware has an excellent new radio spot – the start of a series, I’d guess – talking in great detail about hammers. It explains intelligently about how you need a light hammer for Job A, a heavy hammer for Job B, how you can pull your mistakes with the claw end, and so forth.

I am the kind of home handyman who is far likelier to pound his thumb with a hammer than anything else…but I listened to every word. I don’t remember the voice, I remember the message. And I think well of Home Hardware for having brought it to me, and I believe they might give me good carpentry advice the next time I need it.

Save the vampires for 2 a.m. on The Space Channel. Make your product interesting, not the device you build around it.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING * CREATIVE THINKING.’ He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com.