Ever heard of the fundamentals of advertising?

Lord Kenneth Clark writes that in the Middle Ages, men not only forgot how to build with brick and marble, they forgot they had ever known how to build with brick and marble.

Lord Kenneth Clark writes that in the Middle Ages, men not only forgot how to build with brick and marble, they forgot they had ever known how to build with brick and marble.

They erected wooden huts among the ruins of the Roman Forum, and believed that the massive structures that towered above them were the work of a race of giants or monsters, or some weird natural phenomena.

If you were around in the days of the business we used to call advertising (as opposed to, say, brand engineering), when giants like Bernbach, Chiat, Ogilvy, Gossage, Della Femina, Freberg, Abbott, McCabe and Wells walked the earth, you know how it feels to live in a lean-to under the vestibule of the Temple of Jupiter.

Twenty-two years ago, Ogilvy observed that there are just about infallible formulae for constructing advertisements that grab attention and don’t let go of it until the message has been firmly implanted. Try telling this to agencies. They’ve never heard of the fundamentals of advertising. Mention formulae to them and their frail creative souls shrivel.

Try asking the Wal-Mart Greeter at a major ad agency what the infallible formulae for constructing advertisements are, if you want a bit of a laugh.

Ha ha ha ha! Skate! Skate!

A recent New Yorker article on the state of advertising, cautiously subtitled Do ads still work? says that the AFLAC Duck campaign, in which a duck quacks the highly forgettable anagram for the American Family Life Assurance Company, was born in the ancient tradition of Ring around the collar and We’ll leave the light on for ya.

I would suggest it helped double AFLAC’s business in four years because through good luck or good judgment, it confirmed Al Ries and Jack Trout’s axiom that you have to be IBM or JFK before people can relate to your company if its name is its initials. So don’t bet the farm on the idea that a firm calling itself MBPXL (I am not making this up) will enjoy a long run on the Fortune 500 list.

Recently, a friend asked me to work with a bright young art director to create an ad for his new product. I wrote it, and she set it up on the page.

When she e-mailed her first cut, I sent her the following:

‘On page A17 of today’s National Post, there is a spread about salt. It is headed The forgotten killer. A great head. A great, classic, readable type face. The photo is a container, a salt shaker. Nothing else. No gimmicks. No decoration. The copy is 20 times as long as our ad copy, but

readable, inviting, integrated into the layout. It is a classic, compelling, beautiful piece of art direction. This is what I am trying to achieve in our ad. Advertising is information presented in a way that invites people to make a decision.’

I thought about it, and sent another

e-mail the next day: Here is the odd thing about page A17 in yesterday’s Post. It looks exactly like a page in Gingrich’s Esquire in 1962.

A Bill Bernbach Avis ad from 1964.

An Ogilvy ad out of New York in 1975.

A David Abbott ad from London in 1981.

A Chiat/Day ad from California in 1986.

A page out of Wenner’s Rolling Stone in 1992.

An Atlantic Monthly article in 2002.

An IKEA ad from last year.

And it was in yesterday’s Post.

This is not a fashion accident.

These people study how people notice, read, remember and act upon information that interests them. Sometimes, that information is received in the form of an advertisement.

Weird, eh?

Barry Base is president and CD of Barry Base & Partners, Toronto. He clawed his way up through four major ad agencies and founded his own firm when still a small child. See highlights of his career to date on an egomaniacal Web site at www.barrybaseandpartners.com.