TD Waterhouse ad a real page-turner

One of the great myths perpetuated by advertising agencies is that of seamless internal integration. According to this legend, creative teams and strategists and media people spend their days in constant interaction, anticipating each other's needs and building a unified, quite glorious plan to boost the client's sales like stink.
It ain't necessarily so.

One of the great myths perpetuated by advertising agencies is that of seamless internal integration. According to this legend, creative teams and strategists and media people spend their days in constant interaction, anticipating each other’s needs and building a unified, quite glorious plan to boost the client’s sales like stink.

It ain’t necessarily so. In real life, the media people hunker over their phones and terminals, the account types sit building documents that you dare not drop on your foot, and the creative types are out seeking inspiration in a pint of Creemore. Nobody talks to anybody, except maybe about what J.Lo wore to last night’s Grammys. (I once wrote an agency ad consisting of musings about the company’s move from University Avenue to Bloor Street. It included the observation, ‘I hear the Media Department is really nice. I must go there some day.’ My boss cut the line.)

With this hard-earned negativity packed neatly into a corner of my brain, I opened The Globe and Mail the other day. And do you know what I found? I found an ad that was something close to a triumph, not only for the creative team, but also for the strategists and the media department as well. Damn. If you can’t believe in cynicism, what can you believe?

When I first came upon the ad, I saw a full-page close-up of a sixtyish man, in two-colour green and white. (The green quickly signaled the advertiser, TD Waterhouse. The TD empire has done a great job of owning that shade of green.)

There were five call-outs beside his face, with their directional lines pointing to the man’s wrinkles and smile lines. The captions read, ’1987 Black Monday’; ’1995-1999 Unprecedented growth’; ‘Enron declares bankruptcy’; ‘July 24, 2002 Second largest Dow gain ever’; and ‘Nasdaq hits 3,000′. The headline said, ‘YOU’VE SEEN IT. WE’LL SEE YOU THROUGH IT.’

‘Very nice,’ I said to myself. ‘A nice clean way of presenting this crazy recent market, empathizing with the client, and building confidence. Good work, TD, I think I’ll turn the page now.’

I hadn’t seen nuthin’ yet.

As I turned the page, I realized that the man’s picture had been printed on just four of the Globe’s six columns. The next page revealed the same five call-outs, directed at a woman’s profile. The bad-news lines pointed at streaks of gray hair, the good-news ones at attractive jewellery. The headline read, ‘TIMES CHANGE. YOUR GOALS SHOULDN’T HAVE TO.’

And then there was a third page, with the same five call-outs repositioned next to a man’s belt. Marks on the leather showed that the belt had been loosened when good things happened, tightened with the bad. Nice, nice, nice.

Being a guy who pays attention to ads for a living, I started to look more closely at how this ad was put together. I’d already figured out – slowly, I admit – that it consisted of a four-column page followed by a five-column page followed by a full six-column page. Then I looked at the backs of the pages, figuring they would be dummy type or some such, with TD Waterhouse having placed this ad as an insert.

Nope. The once good gray Globe had been so co-operative as to print four columns of real news on the back of the four-column page, and five columns of news on the back of the five-column page, without any competing ads at all. To get their full complement of news, the readers would have to plow through the whole TD Waterhouse ad, whether they were as enchanted as I was or not.

Nice work, Media Department. That must have taken some negotiation. (‘You want Canada’s National Newspaper to do WHAT???’)

And the strategic thinkers did their job right, as well. There is no hype in this ad. There are no stupid promises, claiming to have a secret formula to predict this horrible market. There’s just calm reassurance, good consumer understanding, excellent ‘tone and manner,’ positioning TD Waterhouse as the good guys.

Media, creative, and account management – often about as co-operative as Saddam, Sharon, and Bush – worked together extraordinarily well on this one. Next time the market has a decent day, somebody ought to buy them lunch.

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.