Plan for media, but create for mediums

Two thousand years ago, the Catholic Church determined that if you want people to believe something, you gotta tell 'em every seven days.

Two thousand years ago, the Catholic Church determined that if you want people to believe something, you gotta tell ‘em every seven days.

Later, Procter & Gamble decided the correct frequency was three times a week.

This is why we have media plans.

Because the damn human brain, with which we are still being issued two hundred thousand years after its shortcomings became glaringly apparent, dumps 85% of its short-term memory every 24 hours. That’s why.

But what media plans do not tell you, kids, is how to put a message into a medium so that it makes the earth move in that medium.

Take print.

I have it on good authority that some people actually read books. What’s more, thanks to the Internet, it’s getting worse and worse! Amazon! Chapters! Barnes & Noble! Aaaagggghhhh!!! People are reading copy!!!!

Try to find a print ad that (a) provokes you to read it, with some headline like ‘Lemon,’* or ‘Attention Jews,’* and (b) then gives you about 110,000 nicely persuasive written words, not in teeny reverse type, or set flush left and right in stupefying blocks.

You know that car you lust after? Did you find out about it in the manufacturer’s ad, or by reading the road report in Car & Driver? That’s what I thought. Once again, car ads are conceived in what we used to call The Lucky Girl School of Advertising. As in Lucky Girl…Her Man Drives a Jaguar! Lah-dee-dah. Bullshit.

I don’t care what you say, Designed to Outperform…(also known as the Dot Dot Dot School of Advertising) is not a viable headline.

Radio is a wonderful medium. Creative folks like it because the screen is bigger. Just ask Orson Welles. But when the ‘copywriter,’ who is actually auditioning for a gig at Yuk Yuks next Thursday, gets finished painting the word picture, and we’re left with a guy burying a dead squirrel decently (remember?) for an airline, or a plutonium-plated, jet-propelled rocket booster with ejection seats for a cellphone company, it doesn’t matter how big the screen is. The picture is wrong.

Once upon a time, we used to believe British TV spots were better than North American ones because there had never been commercial radio in Britain. So television ad concepts sprang directly from visual prompts, like film and television and stage (think Shakespeare) rather than being radio-with-pictures-tacked-on, like here.

TV is the show in show-and-tell. Watch Holmes on Homes. Was Canadian Tire so old-fashioned to show us guys using neat tools we’d never seen before? How exactly did that pressure washer get into your garage, buddy?

When I was still a small child (though with my own ad agency) a Brit named Lester Bookbinder (one of God’s Little Jokes!) started shooting food, like lettuce and onions and tomatoes whatever in slo-mo surfing on splashing waves of spring water, and oh my gosh did it make you salivate, bark and paw the screen. How much great food prep and imaginative shooting do you see on TV? Hot mozzarella string-stretching between pizza slices is now unremarkable, okay?

And television was built for the Cult of Personality. You gotta love the two guys who play the Mac and the PC. If you stay up after 11, you know the PC is a mock commentator on The Daily Show. Dingdingdingding! Added Bonus! When is someone gonna get Lewis Black to do a spot?

As Boy Wonder, I used to cast John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Dan Aykroyd, Andrea Martin and Dave Thomas to do my stuff whenever I could. Nobody knew who they were, of course. But I did.

And if this was an ad on the Internet, you’d be gettin’ the fidgets, ’cause it’s already probably too long, and it’s not typeset like mcsweeneys.net

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.

* ‘Lemon’ was the famous one-word shocker Volkswagen print headline, admitting a VW bug had been spotted leaving the factory with an infinitesimal flaw, subsequently rectified. ‘Attention Jews’ was the headline on a handbill on a post outside the Brooklyn apartment of a friend and New York ad guy, who used it ever after as an example of a head masterfully crafted to grab the attention of its target audience.