Just snappy doesn’t cut it, you need to go deep

You know, Writing is not all that hard. Art Direction is not that hard either.
Finding something worth writing and art directing about, now that's hard.

You know, Writing is not all that hard. Art Direction is not that hard either.

Finding something worth writing and art directing about, now that’s hard.

I love the McDonald’s campaign that shows us how hard people like stockbrokers have to work to earn enough for a burger. And they show a broker taking a golf swing. Two point five seconds, and he’s done it.

I want to see the one with the $300,000-a-year advertising copywriter who averages 4.5 30-second television spots a year. About one minute’s production, in the can, nothing over two syllables, and he’s bought a Porsche! What a wonderful country this is!

You can probably sense that I believe it behooves such talents to not just pen a few snappy lines the folks will understand for their money, but to find something a bit enchanting, memorable, provocative, whatever about what they are paid to write about.

The great example that comes to mind of a writer-storyteller who demonstrated the kind of inspired, inventive crackpot genius I’m advocating was whoever conjured up the strategy that introduced the first Gillette double bladed razor.

There was a little animated sequence in the spot, which fantasized what happens on a man’s skin when the new double blades encounter a sprout of the morning’s stubble. The first blade just bent the damn thing over so it was stretched out and vulnerable as hell, and then the second blade sliced it off right at the shoe-tops.

This, of course, is complete nonsense. But that’s the stuff great stories are made of. Sounds true. Makes a weird kind of sense. Sticks to the mind like chewing gum on your shoe.

It’s bang on mainstream in the traditional descriptor of advertising folks as young men and women trained to lie with enthusiasm.

Now, Gillette has come out with three blades. What a story they could have told. Scientists have proven after 20 years, beard stubble has become hip to the second blade. The stubble has acquired immunity, so to speak. It sees the first blade coming, and hunkers down, sniggering. It lets the razor pass over while it counts to two. Then it stands up straight and stretches. And BOOM! that’s when the third blade catches it from behind and it’s in the sink before it knows what hit it!

Okay, Gillette didn’t do that with the three-blade, did they? Noooooo! Instead we get the jet pilot Mach 3 sound barrier stuff. Which is my point. Nobody goes deep any more.

Writer: Which word association with the number 3 is the most macho? (a) Three Little Pigs (b) The Three Stooges (c) Three Blind Mice (d) Mach 3?

Suit: Mach 3!

Writer: I’m going for lunch now. I might go by the Porsche showroom, too.

Not even trying to invent a persuasive argument for the quality, the uniqueness, the usefulness of a product is pervasive. Just glance around, folks.

You’ve seen the Haagen-Dazs print ad, in which the only thing its creators could bother thinking of is showing somebody diving, as in off-a-diving-tower diving, into a tub of the stuff. Gosh, I’ve always wanted to try a $5 per half litre ice cream with the tiny, crumpled body of a diver splattered on its frozen surface.

And the Nescafé coffee TV spot, where a guy’s $150,000 whale-tail Porsche gets stolen. When the police find it being stripped for parts in some felon’s garage, the only thing the guy is excited about is the cold half-cup of Nescafé he had in the plastic mug on the dashboard when the car was stolen.

They even have him slug it back. Yuck. This is not just lazy thinking, it’s embarrassing.

If you’re going to lie with enthusiasm successfully, there at least has to be some suspicion planted in the beholder’s mind that there is a hint, a whiff of veracity or probability regarding the events and circumstances you’re asking the folks to buy into. You can’t just stand up and make a fool of yourself and be persuasive at the same time.

Palmolive has gone to the trouble to create a new line of scented dish detergent. The commercial says your family will now fight to do the dishes if you buy Palmolive Spring Sensations. Think so?

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.