Dogs, dimes, Viagra: battle of the airlines

Once upon a time, there were three airlines. Each one wanted to bring Toronto folks the same news. By odd coincidence, each was prepared to fly us to Montreal for seventy-five bucks, give or take a buck or so.

Once upon a time, there were three airlines. Each one wanted to bring Toronto folks the same news. By odd coincidence, each was prepared to fly us to Montreal for seventy-five bucks, give or take a buck or so.

As you might imagine, each airline plotted a different route in order to be first and foremost in our conscious minds the next time those minds decided to tap our bodies on the shoulder and suggest a toddle off in the direction of Montreal.

Perhaps inadvertently, the three airlines, by dint of the spooky similarity of their selling propositions, provided us with a tiny, perfect laboratory of the mind. A way to assess the power of ideas to implant the identical piece of persuasion. Information packaged in a way that invites us to make a decision, as I am wont to carp.

In my estimation, one did so with classic wit, clarity, grace and memorability, and the two others, well, as the kids say, it was like going up through your asshole to brush your teeth.

Just for fun, why don’t you try to guess which airlines are which? I’ll try to be fair, balanced and totally non-judgmental hahahahahaha!

First, the finest minds at WestJet took a page in the Toronto Star. Not a bad start, all things considered. They bought a second colour of ink, too. Which although it was green ink, indicates they’d heard that a second colour often increases readership of newspaper ads in a manner that justifies the cost of said second colour. Perhaps. Even if it’s green.

And if it had been Aer Lingus instead of WestJet, with a big shamrock, the damn green ink would have looked almost…but nevermind.

Then things got really weird. Across the top of the ad, they showed the rear end of a WestJet jet. And with the green ink, they typeset a headline that read Friendly, reliable, loyal, dependable…it even has a tail.

Now I’m an ad guy. Moreover, I am, or was, an airline ad guy (I created Swissair’s ad campaigns in Canada for seventeen years). I own two dogs. But Holy Retrievers, gang, what were these people thinking?

I’ve boiled it down to two possibilities: (a) they sincerely believed the most persuasive accolade an airline can bestow upon itself is that it resembles a dog, or (b) they have not worked that much in English before, and it just occurred to them that the English word for the back end of a plane and for the back end of a dog are the same word, and they were higher than kites, and in that condition they found this funny and wanted to share.

Curiously, in the remaining subheads and various blocks of copy, nowhere in the ad is there any further reference to dogs whatsoever. There is, however, the figure $74 and the word Montreal in juxtaposition, occupying perhaps one two-hundredth of the space on the page.

The ad that rival Jetsgo bought in the Globe and Mail on the same day has the same $74/Montreal info, only smaller. The overwhelming portion of the Jetsgo effort is even weirder, if possible.

It is a colour snapshot of a suited man, arms raised aloft, briefcase in hand, posed triumphantly in front of a white clapboard house. But get this: over the man’s face, the art director has pasted a big, round, green smiley face! Over this apparition, burned into the blue sky, is the headline Oh yeah, I can go all day!

To paraphrase Dorothy, I don’t think we’re in Oakville any more, Toto. For a moment, you think jeez, we’ve stumbled into some kind of alternate universe Viagra ad. Go all day? Oh Yeahhh, baby!

The final submission, friends, is an Air Canada Rapidair radio commercial. Vaguely Victorian voices, male and female, exchange clipped, rapier-sharp Noel Coward style shots.

Sonja, I’m leaving you says the man.

How? she asks, you have no money.

I do have some savings he responds.

Oh yes, that drawerfull of dimes she sneers. How far do you think that will get you?

Well you can imagine. And once you have, it’s hard to forget that however you feel about Air Canada these days, they’ll get you to Montreal for a drawerfull of dimes! You can’t get that drawerfull of dimes out of your head for love or money, can you? And that was the idea, wasn’t it?

Barry Base is president and creative director of Barry Base & Partners Limited, Toronto. We’re serious. He makes ad campaigns. This column is a loss leader, for Pete’s Sake. Barry clawed his way up through four major ad agencies and founded his own firm when still a small child. He hopscotches the highlights of his career to date on an egomaniacal Web site at www.barrybaseandpartners.com.