MACLEAN’S REPORTS

The gloves are off in the ad game. Now you name—and knock —the competition

PAT ANNESLEY August 1 1968
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

The gloves are off in the ad game. Now you name—and knock —the competition

PAT ANNESLEY August 1 1968

The gloves are off in the ad game. Now you name—and knock —the competition

JUST IN CASE you hadn’t missed them, you might like to know that Brand X is kaput and beep beep is off the air. Advertisers have decided it doesn’t pay to be coy in the comparisons they make with their competitors’ “inferior” brands, and they’ve quit beeping their rivals’ names off the soundtracks of those slice-of-life TV commercials. Instead, in a trend that’s gone so far it may never be reversed (unless new laws or costly lawsuits intervene) U.S. manufacturers are boldly printing headlines like:

THE NEW ELECTRO-COATED PERSONNA OUTSHAVES GILLETTE

Even the most junior of junior account executives can remember when such tactics were unthinkable in Canada. But here’s a sampling of ads that have appeared in Canadian magazines and newspapers since the end of those gentler, more gentlemanly days:

For Salada Foods:

Last summer you thought young with Pepsi. You made things go better with Coke. You freshened up with 7-Up. You had a crush on Orange Crush. You sparkled with Canada Dry. This summer rest up with Salada Iced Tea Mix. It just quenches your thirst. Two newspapers (Winnipeg's Free Press and Quebec City’s Le Soleil) refused to run this ad. “They were beside themselves with fright,” exults Toronto adman Jerry Goodis, whose agency created the campaign. “Our attitude was, screw ’em. And we sold a helluva lot of iced tea, I’ll tell you.” For Volkswagen:

Why Ford Swears By Volkswagen In this one, the agency decided to make hay out of a VW customer they had located by the name of Ford. Only the Toronto Star balked. When the ad finally appeared in the Star, it read: Why Mr. Ford . . .

For Canadian Motor Industries, introducing the Toyota car to Canada:

It Goes Like a Volvo, Lasts Like a Volvo etc.

For its punch line, the ad pointed out that Toyota was several hundred dollars cheaper than its well-established competitor. Some seasoned advertising people predicted this ad might result in more mileage for Volvo than Toyota. Not so, says Vin Steel, vice-

president of Ronalds-Reynolds, CMI’s agency. “The ad was successful. There was a lot of awareness, and it accrued to Toyota rather than Volvo.”

For Clairtone Sound Corporation: With RCA, General Electric, Zenith, Westinghouse and so many other U.S. giants to choose from, how come a lot of Americans are buying Canadian stereos and color television sets? What’s Clairtone got that the Americans haven’t?

The ad goes on to knock “the U.S. giants” on a number of quality and style points. It’s the first in a series planned by Clairtone’s new agency, Lawrence Wolf (Canada), a Buffalo and Toronto-based outfit named for its head man, a brash, superlativespouting, cigar-smoking 31-year-old who thinks Canadians are the greatest, Expo was the greatest, Pierre Trudeau’s the greatest — and that Canadians will respond to such “strategically sophisticated” advertising.

For American Motors:

Why does a Rambler American cost $289 less than other compacts? Could it be because there is no annual model change? You can bet your boots it is!

This ad goes on to stack up Rambler against the Valiant, Falcon, Chevy II and VW in a chart listing price, seating capacity, trunk space, etc. A Javelin ad carries a similar chart comparing it to the Mustang, Cougar, Camaro and Firebird. Both ads are by McKim/ Benton & Bowles, and the agency points out: “This is valid factual information available to any prospective buyer who wants to take the time to make his own comparisons.” In the U.S., American Motors is running much bolder namenaming ads. An Unfair Comparison Between a Rebel and a Fairlane is a typical headline. But when McKim imported one of these and asked for a reaction from several Canadian newspapers, Toronto Star, Windsor Star and Calgary Herald, among others, didn’t like it. McKim decided to leave the unfair comparisons to the unconservative Americans.

The name game has other limitations. It’s strictly for the little outfit

struggling against the big competitors. Admen generally believe people would resent a big company like Ford picking on its lessers. Says Lawrence Wolf: “If you're Goliath and you try to do it, you do nothing but drum up business for David.”

Some agency oldtimers think the new approach is wrong. “I don't believe in it,” says Peter Hunter, president of McConnell Eastman, “and I don't think our industry should adhere to it.” Jack Milne, managing director of the Institute of Canadian Advertising, says: “Basically, it’s frowned on by most agencies. Or so they say when they're talking out loud.”

But, as Wolf sees it, a huge percentage of advertising is ineffective, a lot of consumers are pretty bored with white tornadoes and Super Chicken, and to get their attention

and persuade them to buy, an adman has to do something. “By naming names and making a comparison, you’re just talking to the consumer directly and earnestly.”

The big holdouts arc to be found among newspaper publishers, though Wolf believes “it’s not so much a matter of moral fervor as a matter of good business.” But even if the newspapers soften, don't expect broadcasters to adopt the gloves-off approach. Not in Canada. The CBC has a firm rule against derogatory statements in advertising, and it tends to interpret this rule very broadly. Just how broadly was best demonstrated the time CBC’s commercial-acceptance office refused to carry a Volkswagen commercial which knocked (are you ready? ) Volkswagen.

PAT ANNESLEY