Bossy Powerline? Slug ‘em and run

In a column 'way back last year, I recalled a New Yorker cartoon that showed a man eye-balling a teabag he's dangling by its little steeping string. If I could put this into exactly the right words, I'd be pulling down six figures on Madison Avenue! says he.

In a column ‘way back last year, I recalled a New Yorker cartoon that showed a man eye-balling a teabag he’s dangling by its little steeping string. If I could put this into exactly the right words, I’d be pulling down six figures on Madison Avenue! says he.

Ah, the lure of that elusive, perfect Powerline! And how odd that there have been so few perfect Powerlines in the last 50 years of advertising.

A clue to this may well be that too many advertisers advertise their aspirations instead of presenting information that invites us to make a decision.

The American psychiatrist Dr. William Glasser has an interesting insight for ad people. He says the reason there is so much misery in the world begins when we are about six months old, and discover there is someone other than ourselves in the world, and this someone wants to tell us what to do.

He goes on to say that by the time we are three years old, we have developed sophisticated defence mechanisms to deal with people who tell us to do things we don’t want to do. Like Mom. And Advertisers.

(I tried this idea on my 10-year-old daughter. She said this is the story of my life. I asked her how she coped with people telling her what to do. She said I slug ‘em and run as fast as I can.)

This could be why advertising invocations that tell us what to do make the advertiser feel good, but don’t actually persuade anybody.

The great Powerlines, in fact, do not boss you around. Think about it.

We’re Number Two. We try harder.

Where’s the beef?

I love New York.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

When I wrote Get me there Swissair, or I’m not going! I was swinging for a hit in that league.

If a great Powerline is information packaged in a way that invites people to make decisions, what are its characteristics? I think it goes like this:

(1) A great Powerline confirms your suspicions. It rings true.

(2) A great Powerline contains a benefit if you believe it. It serves you.

(3) A great Powerline flatters you to repeat it. It’s fun to say!

See how all of the lines above, if you re-read ‘em, do this to a lesser or greater degree.

In contrast, sharp contrast, try this: If you live in Toronto and listen to the radio, you’ve been inundated by invocations from a company called Dexit. A Dexit is a little plastic thingamie that lets you pay for coffee in some coffee shops without using coins or paper money.

Stop fumbling! Stop breaking a twenty! Stop running short! Stop using bank machines! shout the spots. Feel the hairs rising on the back of your neck? Somebody is trying to make us stop doing something we’ve been doing happily for 10,000 years, and it’s pissing us off!

When I get tired of feeling the jingle in my jeans, whether it sports the Queen’s likeness or the head of Julius Caesar, I will let you know.

Meanwhile, like my daughter, I will not walk, but run in the other direction.

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.