REVIEWS

Don’t say Canada can’t poroduce good television: look at our commercials

DOUGLAS MARSHALL August 1 1970
REVIEWS

Don’t say Canada can’t poroduce good television: look at our commercials

DOUGLAS MARSHALL August 1 1970

Don’t say Canada can’t poroduce good television: look at our commercials

REVIEWS

TELEVISION_

DOUGLAS MARSHALL

THERE’S A SENSE in which Canada’s supposedly moribund television production industry is very much alive, gloriously healthy and ready to take on the three corners of the broadcasting world in arms. Unfortunately, this professional confidence is confined to that area of television the average viewer likes least, the 12 minutes out of every hour when the public airwaves ripple and thunder across the country with commercial messages.

A few weeks ago some 600 representatives from the selling side of broadcasting gathered in Toronto for the Eighth Annual Television Commercials Festival. Six months of intensive preparation had gone into the festival. The result was a true occasion, as slick and polished as any Academy Awards presentation. It was all exciting and satisfying — Hey, Canada really can do these things rather well — until one remembered that the creative accomplishments this festival was justly celebrating had little to do with the other four-fifths of television — the programs. These days it is difficult to imagine creative Canadians from the entertainment side of the business gathering to congratulate themselves on anything except the fact that a few of them still exist.

The top English-language award went to a Javex bleach commercial. It’s the one where a not particularly bright man is watching a hockey game in a pristine white shirt. Fans in surrounding seats splatter his shirt with hotdog mustard, rub a Fudgicle into his shoulder and finally shower him with hot chocolate. Throughout the scenario the word

“Javex” keeps flashing on to the screen. In the end the man breaks into a maniacal cackle of relief, presumably because he has remembered his wife keeps a supply of Javex.

This commercial is worth closer analysis because it evidently combines those values the advertising agencies themselves judge to be the most effective. The format (by Rose - Magwood Productions Limited for MacLaren Advertising) is unquestionably professional; it represents 60 expensive seconds of the most advanced production processes available. The message is built around one simple dramatic situation consumers can easily identify with. The name of the product receives frequent exposure. And the hard-sell pitch is moderated by a faint trace of humor.

Yet for a living-room viewer, this commercial has two flaws. First, the nameflashing technique is dangerously close to subliminal advertising and in any case becomes incredibly annoying after a time. Secondly and sadly, because this is where entertainment and commerce overlap, the acting was ’needlessly bad.

However, comments and production and performance become irrelevant in the advertising world when measured against the only test that counts: does it sell the product? This commercial evidently does. “I hate that blurb,” said a housewife attending the Awards Dinner. “But I buy Javex bleach.” Among other award winners equally successful in this regard:

□ The Ray-O-Vac battery commercial featuring a beautifully complex toy robot.

The robot runs down and is revived again by Ray-O-Vac. The message is simple, direct and utterly inoffensive.

□ The “All Hurry Team” commercial for Gulf Oil in which Wayne and Shuster introduce a nationwide team of athletic Gulf attendants. This was one of the festival’s low points. The Gulf series is vulgar, condescending to Canadians and pathetically unfunny. It also capitalizes egregiously on the fine “We Worry” public-service messages for industrial safety, a plagiarism that is not mitigated by the fact that they were both produced by the same agency (Vickers and Benson).

□ The mail-early message for the Canadian Post Office, which advises people using the mail to “avoid the Christmas blush.” Although the postal situation makes this plea sound ironic, it had the right touch of wit and urgency last winter.

□ The Bank of Montreal fairy tale in which a little old lady hobbles into a vast, marble-hailed bank as if she owned it. This commercial just avoids becoming cloyingly sentimental by maintaining a whiff of selfmockery.

□ The punchy commercial for Pollution Probe in which, as Stanley Burke rambles on about what a nice world we used to have, a spinning globe is methodically dolloped with garbage. This commercial, undoubtedly the most imaginative of the last season, was selected by a special panel of consumers.

As most of these winners indicate, Canadian-made commercials are gaining a sense of humor and shedding some of their contempt for the intelligence of the viewers. We are still afflicted by the Man From G.lad and his ilk. But these are mainly American invaders and their numbers are perceptibly declining. We may soon be left with a typically Canadian absurdity: the best television commercials in the world interrupted by the worst programs. □