Wolves came to our boardroom

Media sellers should strive to keep incredulity at bay

Wolves came to our boardroom.

I mean real wolves, not metaphors for predatory, carnivorous sales reps. The Discovery Channel made its annual new-season pilgrimage to our company, bringing two wolf pups along for the pleasure and entertainment of the PHD buying group.

It’s one thing to ask a bunch of young humans to sit through a TV sales presentation, but it’s inhuman to put young wolves through that ordeal. There’s only one place for those animals to be and it sure as hell isn’t in our fifth-floor boardroom. Ah…but then who really cares if I have a problem with dragging nature’s most supreme creatures around city streets, from agency to agency? That’s just my opinion and besides, a lot of the buyers thought they were cute.

There is, however, a much better reason for Discovery to drop the petting-zoo approach to its brand positioning, and it has to do with the imagery produced by placing humans and wild animals in close proximity. It causes an atmosphere of disbelief, which is not the state of mind sellers should engender in buyers in an upfront TV-market environment.

The 2002 Booker prize winner, Life of Pi, by Toronto’s very own Yann Martel, goes right to the central story line of human and wild beasts in close proximity. Sixteen-year-old Pi and his family are in the zoo-keeping business. They immigrate to Canada from India and, while in transit, their boat sinks. Pi ends up the sole survivor except for a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a tiger. They’re all floating about in a lifeboat and they’re all way too close for comfort.

The reader finds this situation hard to believe and it is the skill of the writer and matter-of-fact telling of Pi’s day-to-day struggle to find food and drink and safety that keep disbelief at bay. Pi, his boat and the last remaining animal, the tiger, eventually run aground in Mexico. The tiger takes off without even a goodbye growl; Pi ends up in the hospital and is interrogated by two officials. They don’t believe his wild story and so Pi offers another version of events, which is accepted to be the truth. The reader is left wondering which version is true, which in turn forces us to come face to face with the possibility that life just doesn’t have any ‘true’ versions.

Life of Pi carries a post-modern theme. Our world is susceptible to subjective interpretation. Today, and this is especially true in our business, media truth is in the eyes, mouths and PowerPoint presentations of the beholder.

So I ask you…should a specialty channel or any other media vehicle associate itself with iconography involving the placement of human and wild animal in the same room? Is that the appropriate underpinning for a TV sales presentation? Isn’t that situation just too bizarre? Doesn’t it tend to turn truth into allegory?

The act of buying and selling time is nebulous at the best of times, but media buyers get very nervous when they think they might end up with a pile of allegory rather than a pile of TV GRPs.

Rob Young is one of the founders of Toronto-based media agency Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell, which is now PHD Canada. He can be contacted at ryoung@phdca.com