OK, when the ad sucks, PR does work better

The last time the two of us got together in this space, I mentioned that a guy who once wrote a number of books (actually the same book a number of times) full of great insights about advertising branding and positioning had written a new book. It's about how advertising is dead, and how the new way to influence people is (gasp) Public Relations. I tried to point out that perhaps news of advertising's death was a tad exaggerated.

The last time the two of us got together in this space, I mentioned that a guy who once wrote a number of books (actually the same book a number of times) full of great insights about advertising branding and positioning had written a new book.

It’s about how advertising is dead, and how the new way to influence people is (gasp) Public Relations. I tried to point out that perhaps news of advertising’s death was a tad exaggerated, and went on to point up little instances in one’s personal everyday life as evidence that if advertising is used properly, as in advertising is information packaged in a way that invites people to make decisions, it works quite nicely.

Of course, the same thing could be said of Public Relations. It too is information packaged in a way that invites people to make decisions. If you package it, it’s an ad. If the press packages it, it’s PR, to make things simple.

Today, I have a further personal example of how this works, or doesn’t, depending. A few days ago, there was a piece in the National Post’s car section about a car I hadn’t realized existed before. Suddenly, I was interested. Seriously.

Now let me cut for a moment to a little personal history about me and cars.

I have owned an MG, a Triumph TR 3, two Austin-Healeys, a Jaguar XK 120, a Corvette Sting Ray, and five Datsun/Nissan Z cars, from a 240 to my present vehicle, a 4-seater Nissan 300 ZX. I clearly suffer from a lifelong case of ego mis-appropriation in that I use exciting automobiles as a crutch for a flawed self-worth image. Whatever.

The 300 ZX is a fabulous mental prop, and a lot of fun to drive too. Only I should have bought two of them and put one away. ‘Cause trouble is, it’s 12 years old. Since Nissan discontinued the model in the mid-’90s, I’ve been unable to find anything else at twice the price I want to drive, or use to prop up my self esteem. (Five times the price, yes.)

Now, Nissan has woken up and brought out the 350 Z. But the damn thing only has two seats, and I have four kids and two large dogs. As a family, we own a Ford Windstar, which serves the entire population just perfectly. But ‘my’ car cannot be a two-seater if I am to avoid the appearance of total and pathetic mid-life crisis for the next 10 years. I need a hot car with four seats.

Remember the National Post piece? It showed a photo of a Nissan 350 Z-looking car, and the line under read …Instead of being overshadowed by its supposedly sportier and lighter Nissan 350 Z sibling, the Infiniti G35 Coupe surprises with its stunning good looks and lively performance.

Sibling? Stunning? I am spellbound! This is my 4-seater Z car!!! Only it’s called an Infiniti. The marque that inspired perhaps the most misguided, ridiculed, disparaged and spat upon launch campaign in advertising history. (A pompous folly of visual haikus about clouds and rocks and water which, by the way, omitted to show an actual car. But I digress.)

I read on. This thing not only has 4 seats, but the same Z car 3.5 litre engine, it’s only 85 kilos heavier, same sexy wheel and brake options as the Z. I clip the article. I go to the Infiniti Web site. There I find a Road & Track review that puts the G 35 top of the heap against BMW and Mercedes-Benz and Audi among many others at twice the price! I find a dealership. Go to the showroom. All in the same day. Chalk one up for public relations!

Okay. This morning, I was flipping through the current issue of Toronto Life magazine that I’ve flipped through five times before. Behold, I see this ‘ad’ for…quick, what the hell is it? Go figure what the hell it is.

In reverse type, in a tiny black box, in letters less than 1/8 inch high, it says INFINITI. That’s it for branding, folks. The blind headline, which is really not a headline but the first and only legible few words in the first of 33 lines of irrelevant, illegible and unreadable light gray type says Work out. Harder. To be fair, the last line, #34, buried in ‘they’ll-look-at-you-prepare-to-be-noticed’ crap is the news that the little shot of the car you’re looking at is The new 280-hp G35 Coupe.

With no information in a headline or copy, and lousy brand I.D., the only information in the full-page ad is the little shot of the car. With the space they wasted on drivel, they could have run five ads just showing the car. (I might have noticed one of them).

As always, somebody actually paid money to run this ‘ad’, and paid the people who perpetrated it. Imagine the pitch somebody bought, full of how uncool it is to sell (i.e.: provide relevant information) and how many awards it will win from really cool people who think it’s cool to do ads that don’t sell.

Advertising may survive, but this kind of ad is dead. Until agency creatives can deliver information as persuasively as newspaper car writers, it is advisable to keep the children away from the advertising budget.

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.